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The concept of the nuclear family defines a couple and their
dependent children, regarded as a basic social unit (Bittman & Pixley 1997:
1-3). The nuclear family is largely linked to industrialism, with the belief it
was a product of this evolutionary change. This notion will be explored through
Talcott Parsons, who argues that it was the nuclear family that encouraged the
development of the industrial revolution (1955: 17-45).

The pre-industrial society illustrates families satisfying
the numerous requirements of their relatives. Parsons views the emergence of
the isolated nuclear family in terms of his theory of social evolution (1955:
17). The evolution of society involves social institutions evolving which
specialise in fewer functions. Therefore, families no longer perform a wide
range of functions. Instead specialist institutions take over many of the
functions of the pre-industrialised family (Parsons 1955: 17-19). Parsons
argued that the nuclear family is an adaptable form aligns with economic,
political and institutionalised values that stress achievement rather than
ascription (1955: 20-22). It is argued that the smallness and relative
isolation of the family from other kinship ties is an adaptation that makes
possible the spatial and status mobility of its members which is required by
the modern industrial system (Parsons 1955: 22).

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Parsons argues ‘status is achieved rather than ascribed’ in
an industrial society (1955: 34). Judgements are founded upon values that are
collectively applicable to everyone and the family status is ascribed to values
that are applicable to specific persons only. These two kinds of values however
may be a conflict within a family. For example, if the father is a labourer and
the son is a lawyer, the collective values would place the son on a higher
social status which may undermine the father’s authority. However, the
particularistic values of family life would give the father more dominance,
status and authority within the family. Either way, the values may create
conflict. The nuclear family however, deters these conflicts as the nuclear
family is an adaptable force to the requirements of an industrial society (Parsons
1955: 34-36).

Parson’s argument that the Nuclear Family was an adaptable
force that encouraged the development of the industrial revolution is weakened
by Peter Laslett (Parsons 1955: 17-22; Laslett 1972). Laslett identified that
between the 16th and 19th century, approximately 10% of
households contained kin beyond the nuclear family (Laslett 1972). This
suggests that the pre-industrial family system did not live in single
residences but instead seems to have been the normal kind of residence group.
However, Laslett found no evidence that extended family was extensive that gave
means to the minor nuclear household of modern industrial society.

Through Talcott Parson’s argument, it is evident
that the nuclear family is not related to industrial society because it is a
product of it, but rather because it may have been one of the encouraging
factors of its development. Although Parson’s argument may be discredited due
to Haslett’s findings, it is still important to recognise that the nuclear
family is an adaptable force that aligns with the economic, political and
institutionalised values that stress achievement rather than ascription. 

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