Assess the View That Roles and Relationships Are Becoming More Equal? (24 Marks)

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Some sociologists see roles and relationships among couples as becoming more equal however there are a number of sociologists who are critical of this view.

Sociologists argue that a number of changes have taken place in gender roles and relationships within families. They suggest that changing attitudes to gender roles and increased participation by women in the labour market have led to more equality in modern family life. For example, Young and Willmott believe that the roles among couples are becoming more equal as they see a trend towards the symmetrical family. In a study of families they conducted in London, they found symmetrical families were more common among younger couples, people who were geographically and socially isolated and the more affluent. Young and Willmott saw the rise of the symmetrical family as the result of major social changes that took place in the past century such as changes in women’s position, new technology, geographical mobility and higher standards of living. Another sociologist who supports this view is Gershuny. Gershuny found that men were making more of an effort to do housework when their wives were in full time employment. He explains this trend towards equality in terms of gradual change in values and parental role models. However, he found that men still tend to take responsibility for different tasks. Similarly, Oriel Sullivan found that there was an increase in the number of couples with an equal division of labour and men were participating more in household tasks. Sullivan and Gershuny’s views are optimistic similar to Young and Willmott’s ‘march of progress’ view.

On the other hand, some sociologists are critical of this view. Feminists are much more cautious about drawing such a conclusion. They point to inequalities of power and control that persist in modern family relationships. Ann Oakley criticises Young and Willmott’s view that the family is now symmetrical. She argues that their claims are exaggerated...