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Talcott Parsons’s concept of the nuclear family defines a
couple and their dependent children, regarded as a basic social unit. The
concept of the nuclear family is largely regarded as the product of
industrialism. This notion will be explored by sociologist Talcott parsons who
argues that it was the Nuclear Family that encouraged the development of the
industrial revolution.

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. 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. Talcott Parsons argued that the nuclear family
is an adaptable form aligns with economic, political and institutionalised
values that stress achievement rather than ascription. 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.

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Parsons argues ‘status is achieved rather than ascribed’ in
an industrial society. 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.

Parson’s argument that the Nuclear Family was an adaptable
force that encouraged the development of the industrial revolution is weakened
by Peter Laslett. Laslett identified that between the 16th and 19th
century, approximately 10% of households contained kin beyond the nuclear
family. 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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