Symmetrical Family Sociology Definition

Topics: FamilySociology

This sample of an academic paper on Symmetrical Family Sociology Definition reveals arguments and important aspects of this topic. Read this essay’s introduction, body paragraphs and the conclusion below.

The family is the basic structural unit of society. The detailed structure of the family varies enormously due to circumstances such as social class, ethnic background and cultural influences. The family system in Britain is sometimes loosely referred to as ‘patrilineal’. This is down to surnames and titles are inherited from our fathers not our mothers, but there is no moral code in Britian that says a mothers family is not important, it is usually down to personal preference.

Britain can be best described as ‘multi-lineal’ system.

All though Britain is not strictly ‘patrilineal’ some people believe we still live in a patriarchy society, where men have more power than women. And some feminists believe there is still the patriarchal family. Where the family is dominated by the male and women are classed as inferior and have no equality.

This paper is going to look at the way relationships between men and women have changed within the family in Britian. Firstly it will look at the way structures of men and womens roles within the family have changed with time and the social and demographic occurances for these changes.

Willmott And Young Symmetrical Family

It will look at the research on family life in London by Willmott and Young and their theory that there was a rise in the symmetrical family.

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The paper will then move onto the feminists views of the Symmetrical family and review Oakley’s own research onto shared conjugal roles within the family which provided evidence against Willmott and Youngs theory. Moving then to look at other research carried out by Pahl, Edgell, Yeandle which like Oakley’s research was to measure the symmetry in roles within the family. The structure of familys and relationships between husband and wife have changed considrebly over the years.

Sociologists divided these changes into phases. About 150 years ago before britian became based on industry, most people worked in argriculture. Husband and wife were generally equal. This phase 1 pre-industrial family was characterized by shared purpose of economic production where home and work was one. Although husband and wife relied upon one another, sociologists have stated they didn’t have close relationships. 2nd phase industrial family saw women lose their independence. Equality laws which were put in place restricted the hours women could work. Roles between Husband and wife became segregrated.

Men were the sole breadwinners and were the ones whom would take charge within the family. The role of mother and housewife became the norm for women. There was however a difference between the working and middle class. The middle-class women were not expected to do any work only to supervise the cleaning lady or nanny, while the husband would go out to work to provide for the family. In the working class child-rearing and household chores were solely the responsibility of the women. The men would work all day then socialize outside the home. The women was increasingly home centred and often close to other females members of their family.

Phase 3 the contemporary family happened between 1930’s and 1950’s. There was a significant change between the relationship between middle-class husband and wife. They had a more closer relationship, made joint decisions and enjoyed leisure activities together . This marked a move towards equality. The wife was still responsible for housework and child-rearing but the husband would help. (Moore, 159) Now that we have briefly looked at the changes in the history of families the paper will now look at Wilmott and Young studies.

They researched family life in London and found that family life in britian was becoming increasingly symmettrical. Abbott, pg140) The family is home centered and there conjugal roles are similar. “The ideal-type symmetrical family is balanced. Both husband and wife work, each contributing to the family income. Domestic roles along with caring for children are shared. ” (Wilson, pg 64) The rise in Symmetrical family is down to social and demographic changes. Contraception meant women could choose to limit having children. There was better living conditions aswell which meant home was more attractive with men choosing to stay at home watching television. (Moore, pg 185).

There were a number of legal changes also which some say brought women near equality to men particurly in the employment sector. There was the Equal Pay Act in 1970, Sex Discrimination Act in 1975 and Employment Protection Act also in 1975. Women gained financial independence from their husbands by working. (Wilson, pg58) Other legal changes that which could of affected men and women’s relationships was the 1969 Divorce Reform Act which introduced new grounds for divorce aswell as changing the way people looked upon women who divorced. Marriage was now seen as mutual commitment rather than “legal enforceable contract” (Allan, Crow, pg 24)

Feminists argue that the family is not Symmetrical. They state that household roles are not joint and it is still regarded as the women’s duty to look after the children, cook, do house hold chores and go out to work. With men only helping occassionnaly and then being seen as good husbands. (Moore, pg 185) Feminist Ann Oakley critisised Willmott and Young’s theory that husband’s “help” around the home is not accurate, as could just mean washing up once a week. She conducted her own research on 40 housewives aged 20 – 30. She found that middle-class husbands did help with some domestic chores the majority was left to their wives.

Only a quarter of them helped to a high level with childcare. In Oakley’s view even though there has been an increase in women working being a housewife is still seen as there primary role. Yeandle (1984) argues women now face a “double burden” of responsibility by contributing to the family budget, childrearing and domestic chores. Women seem to have less time to concentrate on their careers as they are never “off duty”. The domestic division of labour does have its critics. Oakley’s investigation may have overlooked tasks which men generally seem to do such as DIY, fixing the car and decorating.

This approach also ignores that a women may get satisfaction from keeping a home, being a mother and going to work. Also Oakley only interviewed wife’s therefore making her claims bias as the husband got no say as to what jobs he did. Another approach to measuring the symmetry of the family is to examine the division of decision making. Pahl (1993) interviewed 102 couples with children. She focused her study on each partners financial contribution to the family income and whether it effects who makes the decisions within a family.

His results showed that the most common result was that the money was shared but the husband had the most control over it and the wife had a lower income. The least common result was where the women had most control. Overall in some couples there was equality but most cases it was the men who had more patriarchal power. Stephen Edgell (1980) conducted research on middle-class and professional couples. He found that women had the bulk of decision making responsibilities such as buying food, clothing and decorating whereas the men dominated important decisions such as moving home, holidays or major purchases such as a new car.

His theory for this was that men usually earn more than their wife’s, meaning they are financially dependant on their husbands which means they have a smaller right in decision making. From all this evidence it shows that all though women’s employment opportunities have increased it has little affect on conjugal roles. It backs up the theories of Marxist and Feminists who see women’s domestic labour as exploitation. Radical feminists see their biological role of childbearing as the reason for oppression by men whereas Marxists see economic power as their oppression.

After looking at the above it does show that there has been a move forward to equality between men and women. It would seem there is still quite a way to go before there is real symmetry between family roles as shown by Edgell, Pahl. Yeandle and Oakley. From the studies though it does show that men are becoming more involved at home within the family and the relationship between husband and wife has greatly improved in terms of decision making, it’s the roles of domestic housework which seems largely segregated. All though there is still some patriarchal power it is nothing like it once was.

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Symmetrical Family Sociology Definition. (2019, Dec 06). Retrieved from

Symmetrical Family Sociology Definition
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