The Change in Family Roles in British Society

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Family structure and family roles within British society have changed dramatically over the years. This essay will explain the changes in the roles and relationships within the family in the last century. The arrival of the industrial revolution and the rise of capitalism can be seen as the main factor which led to the change in family roles and structure in modern times. Michael Young and Peter Willmott in their book The Symmetrical Family suggest that the family in England has gone through four stages: The Pre-industrial family: The family is seen as an organised unit of production; family members worked together as a unit in the manufacture of agricultural items or textiles. The early industrial family: Family members at this stage are employed as wage earners. This kind of family prevailed in the 19th century when wages were low and unemployment was the enemy. The family's economic function was taken over by large scale industry. In response, families extended their network of relationships to include relatives. Women were for the most part responsible for this. There was a central relationship between a mother and her married daughter; by contrast the husband-wife relationship was weak. Women formed an ‘informal trade union’ from which men were excluded. This kind of family may still be found in long established working class areas. The symmetrical family: The nuclear family has become emphasised at the expense of the extended family and the ‘trade union’ of women has been disbanded. The husband is important once again within the family. Husband and wife share decisions, and work together, hence the term ‘symmetrical’. This kind of family emerged in middle classes and spread into working classes. Work is important in shaping the nature of family life. There are five reasons for the rise of the symmetrical family. The increase in male wages and the employment of women, the decrease of male mortality and unemployment rate, the increase in geographical...
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