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Changes to the structure of the family

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1659 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The structure of the family has changed drastically in Ireland and many Western countries has seen a major change in the nature and structure of the family in recent times. In recent years due to a change in demographic trends in terms of marriage patterns, occupational structures, fertility and pre- determined socially constructed norms. According to Galliagan (1998, cited in Tovey & Share 2003) there has been a change of structure in Irish society due to modernisation, secularisation of society due to the church not being dominant anymore and woman becoming dominant in society in terms of roles and family planning. There are arguments that these issues have occurred for better or worse in terms of making Ireland a modern society (Tovey & Share 2007).

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The concept of the family has changed from being of an extended family in pre-industrial society which contained two or more generations living under one roof. The role of the family was primarily a unit of production and reproduction which revolved around the farm. In comparison in industrial societies the nuclear family consists of two adults living together with children. This type of family structure was referred as the “stem” family. A new type of family has evolved due to separation known as the blended family which consists of two previously married people who co-habit with their respective children (McDonald 2009). This is conveyed by Russell (2004 cited in Tovey & Share 2007) that half of all couples in Ireland were dual earners. Family patterns have changed dramatically over the past several decades. This is justified by anthropologists Arensberg and Kimball who identified the family as being a typical traditional family with several generations living together. This type of structure had an patriarchal approach which resulted in gender roles as the male being the breadwinners and females being the homemaker (Hillard 2007).

As a result of modernisation and industrialisation it has led to changeable demographic trends in terms of marriage , fertility, divorce, gender roles, one parent family’s and contraception. Galligan (1998 cited in Tovey & Share 2003) points out that from the 1930’s to the 1960’s woman suffered legal discrimination in terms of employment, property rights, family law and social welfare. This is highlighted by Tovey & Share (2003) which states woman who previously worked in the public service from 1932 to 1973 had to give up their job when married due to the marriage bar. However this has changed significantly in recent times due to demographic studies which shows that woman’s participation rate in the workforce was 54 per cent in 1996 compared to 28 per cent in 1971 (Tovey & Share 2003). This has been mainly achieved through feminism which enabled woman to have a say in how society is operated which occurred in the late twentieth century (Hillard 2007). They argued that there was unequal power relationships within the family and highlighted that woman should have important roles in society in terms of carers and decision making (McDonald 2009).

The Central Statistics Office 2006 shows that the trend in contemporary Irish society of family patterns has resulted in six types of family units which consists of husband and wife (225,773), cohabiting couples (77,781), husband and wife and children (516,404), cohabiting couple and children (43,982), lone mother and children (162,551), lone father and children (26,689) (CSO 2006). Due to these trends in the family there is now a huge amount of diversity in terms of what a family can be defined in terms of. Tovey and Share (2003) highlights key trends due to the changing phenomena of the family caused by a marked decline in marriage, birth and fertility rates and people remaining single. This is conveyed that in 2001 births outside marriage made up nearly a third of all births in Ireland which shows that there has been changing attitudes towards social values in terms of the family.

There has been a change in the typical related marriage and living arrangement patterns. Previously if a man and woman lived together without being married they were said to be living in sin (Hunt 2005). Since the 1960’s due to approaches of egalitarianism and individualism in Western society it has led to change (Hillard 2007). Due to secularisation peoples views on this subject has changed drastically in the last century. The 2006 census shows that there was 77,782 cohabiting couples without children and 43,937 cohabiting couples with children (Hillard 2007). The International Survey Programme (ISSP) shows changing attitudes in Irish society. This is shown as in 1988, 83 per cent of people surveyed believed that people who want children should have to get married. While in 2002 the figure dropped to 53 per cent. There is now a considerable amount of people having civil marriages as 3,683 in 2002 were married in a non- church setting (Hillard 2007). Due to contraception being introduced it has led woman to be in control of family planning due to birth control. This has resulted in families having smaller amounts of children. According to Galligan (1998 cited in Tovey & Share 2003) this has reflected modernisation of Irish society which was once prohibited due to Catholic acts in 1929.

Attitudes relating to marriage has changed dramatically since the introduction of divorce in 1997 by the Family Law Act. Divorces was the fastest growing martial since 1996 (Mc Donald 2009). The 2006 census justifies this statement with there being 59,500 divorced compared to 9,800 in 1996 (CSO 2006). According to Hetherington (1991 cited in Hunt 2005) in terms of gender men are less capable of coping with divorce than woman which leads to deteriorating levels of physical and mental health. Another reason is due to longer life expectancy this is shown as life expectancy at birth has risen from 57.9 years for both sexes in 1926 t0 80.3 years for women and 75.1 years for men in 2002 (Fahey 2007). Due to changes in cultural attitudes which once saw marriage as a sacred and spiritual union between two people. Marriage is now viewed as a personal and practical commitments which can be ended by divorce if there is breakdown in the relationship (Hunt 2005). As a result there has been a significant increase in the number of one parent families in recent times. The 2006 census states that there was 189,200 lone parent families an increase of 23 per cent on the 2002 census. There is a vast gender difference in terms of lone parent families with nearly 86 per cent of them being female (McDonald 2009). Therefore the role men play in society has been diminished.

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In terms of gender roles in the family setting these stereotypes have changed dramatically in attitudes. The woman’s role in the family was previously being the homemaker whose job it was to rear the children , do the housework and prepare the meals. This is shown as in 1971 there was only 8 per cent of married woman in the labour force. While in 2006 52.4 per cent of married woman were in the workforce (Hillard 2007). However now there is a more egalitarian approach to gender roles due to woman participating in the workforce which has enabled them to an income, power and status which they previously never had. Beale (1998 cited in Tovey & Share 2003, p255) states “Irish society has industrialised and urbanised, and as traditional values and ways have been challenged and questioned, every aspect of women’s lives has been to scrutiny and change.” Tovey and Share (2003) suggest that there are three common viewpoints about how gender differences have changed in Ireland over the last three decades. One view is that there has been positive progress in woman’s involvement in the workforce. The second view is that there has been little change and woman are still being discriminated in terms of employment and social life. The third view is that gender inequality is changing and that now it is men that are at a disadvantage.

A new phenomena called the symmetrical family has emerged. The segregated roles of gender such as a “mans job” and “woman’s job” has demised into more integrated roles. This has resulted in improved rights and status for woman. Previously traditional functions of the family involved the mother looking after the children full time. However due to woman becoming more dominant in modern society there has been a shift in childcare to other social institutions. This involves sending children to nurseries, crèches and pre-schools while both parents are working. However this results in high costs and shows a shift in the structure of the family in modern society (McDonald 2009).

Due to society becoming more diverse family arrangements will continue to change. The changing phenomena of the family is evident and is expected to bring more changes ” For example, a rise in numbers of single people; considerably smaller families; the rise of one child families; increasing levels of lone parenthood; more gay and lesbian couples; and more voluntarily childfree people” are predicted to happen (Tovey & Share 2007, p259). This leads to the family being complex due to issues relating to divorce, marriage patterns, cohabitation and single parent families. There are questions on how modernisation has influenced society “Whether such changes can be described as a good thing or a bad thing in the Irish context remain very much open to debate, research and analysis”. (Tovey & Share 2003, p247). The family is regarded as one of the most basic and important institutions in society and is under constant evolution due to the changing patterns in society and will continue to do so for some time (McDonald 2009).


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