Today, class is defined by the Standard Occupational Classification system (SOC), on a one – eight scale. Where you fit on the scale depends on your job and the skill required to do it. The SOC was updated in 2000 to reflect the changes in society which have been considerable. So how does what Social Class or socio-economic group you belong to have an impact on your life? Social classes are groups of people who share similar economic positions in terms of occupation, income and ownership of wealth. But in our class structure there is no clear distinction between the classes; society is open, allowing people to move up and down. This essay will look at the lifestyles of different socio-economic groups and the family, using mainly the functionalist perspective.
How do you define class? A survey was carried out to, ‘Identify the criteria you would use to assess a person’s class’ the results were:
Educational background 27%.
Wealth (material and property) 22%
How they speak 17%
What they wear15%
Use of leisure time 11%
Political party support 11%.
So what class you’re in has an impact on your life, how much you earn, your educational background, your children’s education, your disposable income, how you appear and speak and what you do in your spare time. Working class families have little disposable income, so have to be practical and shop at value stores, buy non authentic goods and try to budget. However the average household owes ï¿½6000 -ï¿½8000 due to credit card debt. This is because we live in a capitalist society; we worship money and designer labels.
So debt is a big problem, because of our want and desire for materialistic items. This is not such a problem in the middle class and certainly not in the ruling class, as often the male earns enough for the female to be a housewife and to live quite a comfortable life. Quite often housewives are given a budget by their husband to buy luxury necessities and household items. This is done to give them independence and a sense of belonging. Today, however, women are becoming more career minded. Mothers with children often participate in part-time employment and hire working class people to take care of the house and children but strictly speaking this only applies to the middle class.
Examples of different lifestyles are: a family of 9 living off state benefits has a food bill of ï¿½200 a week compared to a middle class family who have a food bill of ï¿½150 a week for 5. The items purchased by the two families are very different. The family of 9 have value/economy food, most of which is junk food, whereas the family of 5 have healthy and organic options where possible.
This type of society is seen as very unfair by Marxists. In the 19th century Karl Marx’s stated that for society to work it needs to be totally fair. For this to happen the Proletariats, those who work for those who own the means of production, must overthrow the Bourgeoisie, those who own the means of production and share the resources.
There is now much more much diversity in the family. 100 years ago the ‘normal’ family was seen as an extended family, which included the Grandparents, Parents and their children. Extended kin, however, is less important than it used to be and the extended family is less frequent now, whilst the nuclear family is seen as the norm. Functionalists see the nuclear family as the norm and all other families or relationships as second best.
They have a strict definition of a nuclear family; a family consisting of two heterosexual parents who are romantically in love, having two or three biologically related children. Functionalists see society as a social system made up of inter-related and interdependent institutions and that the family is the primary agent of socialisation. They disapprove of other types of families; the reconstituted family, the lone-parent family, cohabiting couples and homosexual relationships. In the last 50 years society’s definition of family has changed and the norm of the nuclear family is less popular, with only 39% of families being defined as nuclear. This has occurred because of easier divorce legislation.
Feminists criticise the functionalist picture of life and the family stating that it is over romanticised and outdated and with two in three marriages ending in divorce the reconstituted family is on the increase!
The working class used to be the biggest social group but with the new SOC system it is hard to define class groups. People are becoming highly skilled and class change is less rare. In the working class (classed as manual labourers) women tend to have their children earlier in their twenties, while middle class women have theirs in their late thirties or early forties. The nuclear family is more frequently middle class, while the working class tends to have more lone parent and reconstituted families. It is taken for granted that women want to have children as it is a biological need determined by the maternal instinct. The traditional role for the women in the family is nurturing/motherhood and looking after the home.
The male function is to provide for the family and to protect and take on the disciplinary role for the children but this is too generalised and tends to fit only the middle class. Working class mothers take the first six months or so off work and then have to return so she and her husband can raise and provide for their children. There is, however, no Free State child care as it is assumed that women are happy to take time off from work and nurture the child. I know this is expensive as my mother was a lone parent and a large percentage of her income was spent on childcare as she has no choice other than to return to work
. There is now an overlap of roles as men are taking more responsibility for childcare and housework than in the past. This is not traditional and functionalists believe that the women’s role is at home to ensure that family and domestic issues are taken care of without the0 involvement of the husband. As a result, employers regard women as less reliable than men because of family commitments. Feminists believe that a women’s role is not at home and have encouraged women to work in paid employment so they no longer have to play their traditional role. There are inequalities in our system, however, and statistically women only get paid 79% of a mans salary for doing the same job.
Marriage is less important now than it once was with many cohabiting couples being said to be, “Living in sin.” This is, however, a natural way of life in Britain for millions of people. Family and marriage is still very important to the ruling class elite as it ensures social closure. R.M and R Rapport 1982 are very critical of the functionalist view of the family.
In conclusion, I believe that Class has a huge impact on people’s life. It affects what we do, how we live, the education we receive and even our health. It is only when someone changes their class status that they realise the difference. I strongly agree with A.S Crowley 1992 that “the normative family is a statistical minority”. I think that the Functionalist theory on Family is unfair and disrespectful. I personally believe that a nuclear family is the ideal but only if it’s happy and people behave respectfully towards each other. Unfortunately in many cases this is not true and domestic and child abuse do occur. Life within the family is not always a pretty picture and sometimes the only sensible way out is divorce.
Being a lone parent is not easy and most parents would avoid it if they could. I think to have the narrow minded view that Functionalists have is not accurate. It makes no allowance for class, ethnicity or individual circumstances. Functionalists have traditionalist views, some of which are out of date and too middle class orientated. I do think that their ideas about education are relevant compared to the Marxist theory. I think the liberal feminist’s ideas about role allocation are good for our modern society with the woman in1 in 4 households being the highest earner. A mothers place is not just at home. I think that class has a huge impact on people’s lives but will play an increasing less important role in the future.