Family Role

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This five-page paper discusses the nature of the family in the developing world and examines whether the family is more important, less important, or neutral in the movement from technologically simple or agrarian societies to industrial societies.

The Role of the Family

Family systems, like biological organisms, evolve with time and circumstance. It seems readily evident from an examination of the nature and role of the family in the developing world that form may indeed follow function. Many sociological studies conducted in recent years have indicated that the nuclear family is found at both the primitive and modern stages of economic evolution. The nuclear family predominated in early societies with subsistence hunting and gathering economies where food supplies were uncertain, and still predominates in modern industrial societies where the marketplace requires the geographical mobility of small, nuclear systems. This pattern of family roles in society, established over long centuries, still applies in most of the developing nations of the Third World. Examinations of the sociological histories of various areas of Europe, Asia, and South America provide us with useful examples of the durability of the nuclear family. The nuclear family has always been important in the Third World societies of Eastern Europe, where households have been small and based on monogamous marriage, even where polygamy has been permitted. Ties to both parents' relatives have been and still are respected, even when descent has been traced through only one line. Bonds between parent and child have always been legally and emotionally important. (Wolfe 198) Many families in Third World nations are products of discontinuity. The intensification of agricultural production and the development of social systems based on land ownership have been important developments, as have changes in inheritance systems, which have evolved towards passing wealth to daughters as well as to sons. These inheritance systems, common to South America, favored the members of the immediate family over the lineage structure that controlled property in African systems. (Allan and Crow 102) It is of interest to note that the family and its place in society have been affected in many Hispanic societies in South America by declines in religious belief as modernization develops. "The Catholic Church's authority often competes with new value systems and the church generally loses respect and membership as progress advances." (Smith 154) More significant changes in the role and importance of the family are generated as Third World nations begin industrialization, which reduces the traditional productive functions of the family. Many Third World states have been primarily rural, agricultural societies, but in many cases land ownership becomes more centralized and towns expand as modernization continues, creating both a larger middle class and a landless proletariat. The middle class is often a diverse group including owners of large enterprises, managers and professionals, and small traders and shopkeepers. In many African, Asian, and South American societies rural family households did much of the work within the home, and depended upon merchants to provide needed materials and marketing. Women and children were vital to the labor force, and the economic value of children as sources of family income encouraged high fertility. While landowners tend to become fewer, more powerful, and richer as modernization and industrialization develop, families who lose access to land and have to turn to household manufacture become poorer. What agricultural jobs remain are mostly for men, resulting in a decline in the participation of women in agriculture. Families in the developing world have to adapt as industrialization brings workers together in factories and dramatically reduces opportunities for handwork in the home. This...
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