Marxists see all society’s institutions as helping to maintain class inequality and Capitalism. Therefore, the main contribution of Marxism to families and households has been to explain how the family functions to maintain the interests of the bourgeoisie, and maintain the Capitalist system. Marxists’ contributions have drawn much criticism from New Right and Functionalist sociologists, who question whether Marxism can help us to understand the family in contemporary society.
Marxists are all in agreement that there are several functions of the family that are fulfilling for capitalism. Marxism is a believer in the separation of classes and the oppression of the lower working class. Marxists would argue that capitalist society is separated in to two social classes. Engels would say that monogamy became more important so that the children of the capitalist classes would be able to inherit their parent’s property, companies and wealth. He argues that Capitalism depends on the patriarchal monogamous nuclear family. As women were becoming wives to working, successful husbands, they then became designed directly to do housework and socialise the children. A criticism of this would be that Marxists ignore other family types, such as single-parent families and same-sex partnerships. Also that Marxists ignore things such as domestic violence within a household.
Thus, David Cooper concludes that the family inhibits the development of the self and conditions its members not to accept the shared norms and values of a harmonious society but to submit to the commands of a controlling, exploitive capitalist one. Using his research on the family, he states that parents make their children aim at getting ‘respectable jobs’ and any dreams are pushed aside. Society is like a piece of clockwork and has a cyclical cycle. From a Marxist perspective, "The family prepares the individual for his/her induction into the role s/he is to play in an exploitative society: the role of endlessly obedient citizen." Like Marxism, Cooper too has similar understanding of the family however they do not attempt to relate the family to other aspects of the social structure such that for example there is no consideration of the relationship between class and family life.
Due to functionalism’s very positive outlook on family life, functionalism can be seen as only ever looking at the harmony of family life and therefore ignoring the possible conflicts and any negative sides of family life. Functionalists argue that families perform vital functions for society and without the stability they claim society would eventually fall apart. Murdock argues that performing these functions the family links up with other institutions, providing future pupils for education, workers for the economy, and so on. The family is seen as very important in passing on the norms and values, which are universal in society. Murdock believes that because of the nuclear family either alone or in its extended form, performs these vital functions. It’s inevitable in every culture. Functionalists would argue that Marxists ignore other things the family was designed for such as moral support and intimacy.
Similarly the New Right believe that the nuclear family is the best time of family for society. Murray believes it’s a stable environment for appropriate socialisation. Charles Murray states that if we were to remove the idea of ‘Familial Ideology’ from society we would introduce the ‘underclass’. This essentially is what Murray believes to be a class beneath the working class. This could eventually lead to a collapse in society. Therefore the New Right understanding of the family highlights the consensus of the family. This method of explaining the family provides a positive insight. The Marxists understanding of the family highlights the sinister side of the family. Marx states that the dark side of the family based on conflict. Whereas the New Right’s understanding is much more positive and believe that the nuclear family is best.
As a result, Marxism has contributed several key concepts to the sociological understanding of families and households. However, many of their ideas are based upon the assumption that the nuclear family is the norm. In contemporary Britain, families are changing and the concepts of Marxism do not seem adequate to assist sociologists to understand the family in it’s new and diverse forms.