Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sex Roles in the 21st Century

Twenty-first century families do not have the rigid structure that Parsons describes. Parsons wrote from a 1940s, 1950s white male middle class perspective, and could not picture the perspective of other social classes. However, families today are socially and racially diverse, especially in the US, and even the white middle class family does not fit Parsons proscribed role definitions. In the 21st century, there is substantial role confusion in families. Gay and lesbian couples adopt children and raise them with same sex parents. More fathers stay at home to take care of their children while the mother is the primary breadwinner. Increased educational opportunities for women have produced a professional class of women who sometimes earn substantially more than their husbands. Families in the 21st century are also deciding to have fewer children, and are marrying at a later age (and sometimes not at all). In short, the 21st century has produced more: women in the workforce, single parent households, stay-at-home dads, same sex parents, and racially blended families.

Sex role changes in the 21st century are logical when one looks at the situation using Parson’s AGIL scheme. The 21st century has produced rapid changes, and as a result, family roles have had to change in order to adapt to the new environment. Social changes and changes in the job market have forced people to conform. Therefore, families have had to adapt to the new economic system (A), and therefore have new goals (G), which create changes in the social system with norms and interactions (I), and thus cultural systemic change occurs to adapt to the new order (L) (Appelrouth and Edles, 2008). Hence, the new social order is more functional for the 21st century. Therefore, it can be concluded that Parsons fixed and inflexible role structure is only one depiction of a functional family, as portrayed by 21st century families.

How do you think Parsons would view 21st century changes in sex roles as affecting the family?

Allan, K. (2007). The Social Lens: An Invitation to Social and Sociological Theory. California: Pine
Forge Press.

Appelrouth, S., and Edles, L. (2008). Classical and Contemporary Sociological Theory. California: Pine
Forge Press.

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