The Approaches to the Concept of Family in Society

Table of Contents


This paper is about the concept of family as defined by the functionalist, Marxist and feminist approaches. The modern era gave rise to the concept of the “nuclear family” with its attendant benefits and problems. While traditionally, family meant an extended gathering of people including all the siblings, parents, and close relatives, the nuclear family restricts itself to parents and children as the unit of a family. While this concept has largely served the purpose of providing and consuming in the market-driven economy, there have been criticisms of this model. This paper explores some of the assumptions and criticisms of the modern concept of family.

Functionalist approaches

This approach holds that the concept of the nuclear family is “good” from the point of view of society and it views the family primarily about society and the functional aspects of the family as opposed to the idealistic mores of the traditional family. This approach holds that the parents provide for their children and turn them into responsible citizens of society and make them productive from the point of view of the market economy. However, this approach has been criticized by many because the break-up of the family into nuclear units has also meant single-parent families that are being blamed for the rise in crime and general lawlessness that corrodes the fabric of society.

Marxist approaches

One of the main criticisms of the functional approach comes from the Marxist school of thought that holds the family as being tools of the capitalist class ready to be exploited for its purchasing abilities and serving the interests of the capitalists in providing ready-made workers who would willingly participate in the economic system with no costs to the employers. This approach holds that the family provides obedient and conformist workers to the capitalists to exploit them for their productive abilities and the cost of raising children is something that the employers need not worry about.

Feminist approaches

The feminist approach holds that the structure of the family is repressive towards women and the concept of family is something that the patriarchal society has imposed on women as a means to subjugate them. This approach further holds that the work done by the women in the family is productive and needs to be accounted for. This gives rise to the alternative systems of GDP calculation.


Apart from these three approaches, there is the new right approach that holds the family as a unit of equality with both parents working and sharing in the responsibilities in the household. This approach is most suitable because the current economic paradigm favors men and women in equal measure. Hence, if we critically evaluate the three approaches, we find that this approach towards treating the unit of family and the members in it as equal gains much ground, and variations of this are dysfunctional. Prominent social scientists like Francis Fukuyama have called the destabilization of the family the “The Great Disruption” and have called on the state to play a more proactive role in providing support to dysfunctional families and better, ensure that the family retains its unique character in society. In conclusion, it is the position of this writer that there should be scope for choice in determining the structure of the family and the ideal version would be a combination of state support and individual choice


Fukuyama, Francis. (2001). The Great Disruption. Viking: New York.

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