While you may not be concerned about theological perspectives unless you are in college, it can still be helpful to understand the different views on marriage – even if you don’t subscribe to traditional ways of thinking.
If you take a sociology course, you will learn everything that you need to know about the functionalist perspective on marriage, but if you are just merely curious or overwhelmed by clinical terms, this article will explain theological perspectives in terms that everyone can understand.
Functionalists believe that marriage plays a vital role in building and establishing families.
Additionally, they believe that families are essential in stabilizing society, and that status roles are taken on within a marriage or family unit.
Basically, the functionalist perspective on marriage is that it’s important in establishing families and that families are essential within communities.
Sounds simple, huh?
Not so fast! Functionalists believe in traditional family roles that may not be realistic in modern-day society.
They also claim that married couples inadvertently perform four core functions that are important in stabilizing the family unit.
Renowned sociologist George Murdock, who subscribes to the functionalist perspective, did a study on a total of 250 communities and reached the conclusion that there are four main roles that are played out within a family unit – which includes the institution of marriage.
These four roles are sexual, reproductive, educational, and economic.
While Murdock claimed to fully acknowledge the existence of same-sex relationships and sex outside of marriage, he believed that marriage allows people sexual freedom within a legitimately recognized relationship.
And so, he insisted that marriage is essential in reproduction and creating a family unit that is necessary for stabilizing societies.
True, a girl can wait to get married and enjoy a string of casual relationships.
She can even raise a biological or adopted child on her own and be an awesome mom without a father in the picture. Many women do this.
But few would say that single motherhood is the ideal.
Instead, most women will continue to date well into their 30s and 40s hoping to find Mr. Right – until that biological clock starts ticking.
Does marriage play an essential role in reproduction?
Marriage does enable reproduction, but is it really essential, as functionalists claim?
Some married couples prefer not to have children, while some same-sex couples adopt or use surrogates.
Many young mothers have their kids out of wedlock and older women may decide to have a baby on their own and give up on looking for the perfect husband.
It’s definitely possible to procreate outside the confines of a marriage.
That’s not to say whether Murdock is right or wrong. It’s just giving you something to think about, but this is part of the functionalist perspective on marriage.
After the married couple produces children, they perform the new roles of educating their offspring and economically contributing to society.
Functionalists, such as Murdock, believe that education begins at home.
Parents teach their children manners like saying please and thank you and instill morals and values within them.
For instance, parents may take their children to church, teach them to respect their elders, enforce rules, and pass on a strong work ethic.
Parents educate their children on appropriate ways of thinking and behaving. They also model gender roles.
As far as economic contributions, functionalists believe that there are two primary roles that provide balance in the family unit: expressive and instrumental.
The expressive role of nurturing, caring for the children, cooking, and cleaning is traditionally fulfilled by the woman in the marriage so the man will be able to fulfill the instrumental role of working and providing for the family unit.
Any disruption of these roles could lead to an unbalanced family that needs to reassign economic roles to restore balance.
Yeah, the functionalist perspective sounds a little 1950s, but that’s what worked back in the dinosaur ages.
Functionalists believe that the traditional sex roles were effective in coordinating and stabilizing the family unit.
Critics of the functionalist perspective claim that it doesn’t account for the diversity of modern-day families that often need two incomes to pay the bills.
If you are an overworked career girl or were raised with traditional values, you may be okay with staying home and caring for children, but this isn’t always realistic in today’s world.
Also, many women today value their strength and independence and would feel dissatisfied subscribing to traditional gender roles.
Most modern marriages have moved past the functionalist perspective of traditional gender roles, but some religious families who are financially stable enough to live on one income may continue to abide by traditional marriage values and roles.
It’s probably not a surprise to learn that the functionalist perspective was actually developed in the 1950s and did portray an accurate description of marriages and families of that time period. But is it still valid today?
Maybe it does describe some families today – that stereotypical family that consists of a husband, wife, two kids, a dog, and a white picket fence.
Even some modern girls still dream of that picture-perfect life.
But the reality is that today’s marriages and families are too diverse to subscribe to the functionalist perspective.
While traditional families still exist, most families today are too diverse for the functionalist perspective to apply.
Many critics insist that the functionalist perspective is too limited and doesn’t include the variations of family dynamics that are common today.
Here are the characteristics of many modern families:
Today, a family may be a same-sex couple and their adopted child and, while the expressive and instrumental tasks may still be split between partners, they wouldn’t be limited to traditional gender roles.
Since divorce has become more common in America, there are many mixed families that consist of a parent, stepparent, stepsiblings, and half-siblings.
The children of divorced homes often spend a portion of their time with each parent’s new family.
Sure, this is a complicated family dynamic, but it’s common today and a far cry from the functionalist description of a nuclear family.
Of course, there are single-parent homes in which one parent is absent or even unknown.
In this family unit, the parent who is present in the home would need to take on both expressive and instrumental roles.
While there are single dads, most single-parent households are run by women.
Murdock claimed that disruption in traditional gender roles would cause the family to be unbalanced, but women have proved him wrong on that.
Single moms are usually experts at juggling it all and still managing to look pulled together!
In some cultures, it’s common for an aunt, uncle, or grandparent to live in the home.
These distant relatives were unaccounted for in the functionalist perspective, but they often assist with expressive and instrumental tasks in the home.
There are still a few cultures that allow polygamy – marriage to more than one spouse – which is very different from the traditional marriage described by functionalists.
Sometimes, parents are incapable of caring for their children, so they are placed in relative care.
Instead of being taught manners and values by their parents, a relative or foster parent is responsible for the educational role.
Fortunately, it’s doubtful that anyone would ever judge your marriage for not adhering to the traditional model of a nuclear family that’s outlined from the functionalist perspective.
While the concept of traditional marriage and families may sound nice, the reality is that families come in all shapes and sizes and aren’t necessarily reliant on the institution of marriage.
If your marriage doesn’t subscribe to traditional values, that’s fine. All you really need is love, but white picket fences are great, too!