According to functionalist sociologists, the family is a key institution of society. It performs vitals functions for the maintenance of society as a whole and for the benefit of all its individual members, for example according to George peter Murdock, it provides for the stable satisfaction of the sex drive and thus avoids the social disruption and conflict that could be caused by sexual ‘free for all.’ The family also reproduces the next generations and thereby ensures the continuation of society over time.
Functionalists tend to see the nuclear family as the ideal family type for modern society. For example, Parsons argues that it is the family structure best equipped to meet the need of industrial society for mobile labour force. The nuclear family performs two essential functions. Firstly when Britain began to industrialise from the 18th century onwards then the extended family became redundant and made way for the nuclear family. Parsons believes that this change happened because the needs of the society changed, he identified that post-industrial societies have two basic needs. First people had to be geographically mobile, as in a modern society. Therefore people had to be able to move to where the work was available. This mobility would be easier for the nuclear family than the extended family. Secondly there was a real need for a socially mobile workforce. The pre-industrial family had many functions but due to the industrial revolution these functions have now changed into just two. The first is the primary socialisation of children and the second function is stabilising adult personalities.
However, not everyone accepts the functionalist view of the family and its role, as the rise of the nuclear family was due to the march of progress, also functionalists like Anderson criticised Parsons and claims that