The issue I have chosen to investigate is whether the nuclear family is disappearing from our society. I have decided on this topic as I feel the rise in diversity in the family structure is extremely relevant in today’s changing society.
Post Modernists argue that most people now live in a series of different family structures in the course of their lives. There is greater interest and acceptance in the diversity of the family and more people are getting divorced however, I do not believe that the nuclear family is vanishing.
My hypothesis is that the nuclear family is still the ideal form.
Context and Concepts:
One major concept that informs my research is that of the nuclear family. The nuclear family is where two generations of family members are living in the same household. The nuclear family consists of two parents and their dependant children. Another key concept is that of diversity. Diversity means variety of family structures in modern society. These concepts are important because some sociologists believe that changes and diversity in the nuclear family structure are leading to the nuclear family disappearing altogether.
Robert and Rhona Rapoport did a study in 1982. They drew attention to family diversity, fining that only 20% of families in their sample fitted the ‘cereal packet image’ – male breadwinner and a female housewife and their children.
The Rapoports identified five types of family diversity in Britain
1) Organisational, where there are variations in the family structure, household type and kinship structure.
2) Cultural, where there are differences in lifestyle of families or different ethnic origins and religious beliefs.
3) Class, where there are differences between middle and working class families.
4) Cohort, which refers to the period in history of the family.
5) Life cycle, where the lifestyle of a family depends very much on what stage in the family life cycle it has reached e.g. ‘newly wed’ couples without children will have a different family life from those with dependant children.
Robert Chester (1985) argued that the changes had only been minor. He claimed that the evidence found by writers such as the Rapoports was misleading, and the basic features of family life had remained largely unchanged for the majority of the British population. A point that Chester made was that households containing parents and children contain a greater percentage of the population than the percentage of households they make up.
Many of those who lived in other types of household would either have experienced living in a nuclear family in the past, or would experience it in the future. He said, ‘the 8% living alone are mostly the elderly, widowed, or else younger people who our likely to marry’. He described the nuclear family as ‘one which is normal and is still experienced by the vast majority’. According to Chester there was little evidence that people were choosing to live in a long-term foundation in alternatives to the nuclear family. However, he did accept that some changes were taking place; in particular families were no longer conventional.
The main research method that I shall use will be structured questionnaires with closed questions where the participant has a series of clear questions with tick boxes for the answers, for example, ‘Do you live in the traditional nuclear family structure?’ The questionnaire will also have a few attitude scale questions so that I can gain the participants opinion through an attitude scale, for instance, ‘Do you see the nuclear family as ideal?’ The scale will range from 1 to 6, 1 being strongly agree, 6 being strongly disagree.
Questionnaires are used to gain a qualitative sample of research and this will make the final results more representative. An advantage of questionnaires is that they are less time consuming than an interview and are also more anonymous, so is more likely to gain more accurate results.
Before I hand out my questionnaires, I will create a draft to make sure that a sample group can understand it. I must take care to put in any explanations about certain terms they may not understand, e.g. nuclear family. Due to time restrictions and practicality, I will not be ale to conduct a full pilot study. I will get a small sample to complete the questionnaire first to ensure there are no problems. For my sample I will use just one class from the college.
To conduct my main research, I am going to hand out questionnaires in a college. I have chosen Guildford College as the particular college and I will distribute the questionnaires as the students and college workers are on their way to the canteen. My preferred method of entry will be to ask passers by if they would like to participate and this allows me to answer any questions they might have and reassure my participants of that the questionnaires are strictly anonymous. Therefore, people can fill them out there and then or go and eat then come back with their filled out questionnaire.
An advantage of conducting my questionnaires in a college is that there is wide range of age. I will include everyone that walks past no matter his or her age, ethnicity or disability. To gain a better sample, my sample will include students, teachers, office workers, librarians and caretakers.
Once I have the results from the questionnaires I will be able to analyze the results more closely, and from the results obtain a conclusion.
There are many problems that I may encounter in this study. A major problem is that because a have a small sample size, the sample may not be representative of the area and will definitely not be representative of the country as a whole, e.g. the majority of students and college workers may live in an area where most o the families are Nuclear, suggesting there is little diversity, or in contrast that Surrey has the highest divorce rate.
Therefore, creating more single parent and reconstituted families. There are ethical considerations to be made as well, people may not want to talk about their family, or it may be upsetting for them, even if the questionnaires are anonymous. What’s more, it might be possible that the respondent’s family structure may have changed several times, which my questionnaire will not pick up on, as is requesting on their family structure on that day.
Nevertheless, the main problem that I may come across is a low response rate. Students may take the questionnaire and forget about it, throw it away or write silly and made up answers. Students often sit together and they may discuss the questionnaire and not take it seriously or may feel embarrassed their family structure is not like everyone else’s. Moreover, this and also low response rate will then affect the validity of the results because it increases the chances of a self-selected sample. If only a small proportion of the sample group replies to the questionnaire, then I am unable to know if the number of replies is representative of the sample group.
Feminists object to questionnaire research because they believe that it is important to involve the subjects of research in the research method. Interactionists also believe that the researcher cannot gain genuine results unless the researcher gets close to those they are studying.