Sociology Essay Topics on Family

Instructor: Joanne Abramson

Joanne has taught middle school and high school science for more than ten years and has a master's degree in education.

This lesson provides a selection of essay topics that draw upon themes and concepts that are central to a unit on the sociology of the family. They are divided into two broad categories: historical views and the contemporary family.

Sociology of the Family

Since the discipline's founding, sociologists have been concerned with the meaning and forms of family. Family is a powerful social institution found across historical, geographical and cultural contexts. Going back to Marx's writing on the division of labor, sociologists have long seen the modern family as an important topic of study. It is also a source of immense debate.

From Talcott Parsons's functionalist lauding of the American nuclear family (1951), to Arlie Hochschild's examination of gendered work (1989), to Annette Lareau's analysis of the family as a site for reproducing inequality (2003), the family has figured prominently in both disciplinary and popular debate. While how to define 'the family' is a point of contention, there is a general acceptance among sociologists that studying family life is necessary for a complete understanding of the discipline. The following essay prompts will assist students in both analyzing and interpreting the major concepts of this topic.

Historical and Cultural Perspectives

  • Explain the classical mid-century view of the American 'nuclear family' articulated by Talcott Parsons and other structural functionalists. Why did they see this form of family as superior to previous forms, and how might contemporary sociologists criticize this framing?
  • Although less common in contemporary discourse, 20th-century sociologists often spoke of a 'traditional family life' consisting of life stages. What are the different stages in this model?
    • What typically happens in each life stage?
    • Do you feel this model translates well to our contemporary society? Why or why not?
  • Comparative historical sociologists have often charted the relationship between place and family.
    • Explain the differences between the socio-spatial patterns of patrilocality, matrilocality and neolocality.
    • Are these different forms associated with different time periods and cultures? If so, how?
  • Sociologists sometimes talk about how members of different social groups trace lineage. What are the three basic types of lineage identified by sociologists?
    • How do the three basic types of lineage vary?
    • Why is lineage an important concept for understanding the sociological role of the family?
  • Sociologists going back to Max Weber and Émile Durkheim have recognized that the family is not only an economic unit, but a site where children and youth are socialized to participate in the social world.
    • What do sociologists mean by socialization?
    • Why is the family as an institution so important in this process?
  • Sociologists often talk about courtship practices. What do they mean by this term?
    • How do courtship practices vary by culture?
    • What are some examples of contemporary courtship practices?

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