Talcott Parsons: Theories & Contributions to Sociology

Talcott Parsons: Theories & Contributions to Sociology
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  • 0:02 Talcott Parsons
  • 1:12 Sexual Division of Labor
  • 1:58 Role Theory & Medicine
  • 2:36 The Elderly
  • 3:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kimberly Moffitt

Kimberly has taught college Sociology and Criminal Justice classes and has a Master's Degree in Criminal Justice.

Talcott Parsons was a sociologist who aligned himself with the structural functional perspective. Learn about his contributions to the field, and test your knowledge with a quiz.

History & Background of Talcott Parsons

Talcott Parsons (1902-1979) was an American sociologist who served on the faculty of Harvard University from 1927 to 1973. Parsons was one of the most influential structural functionalists of the 1950s. As a functionalist, he was concerned with how elements of society were functional for a society. He was also concerned with social order, but argued that order and stability in a society are the result of the influence of certain values in society, rather than in structure such as the economic system.

For example, he believed that stable, supportive families are the key to successful socialization. Parsons also contributed to our understanding of medicine, arguing that medicine is our strategy to keep members of a society healthy, and illness is dysfunctional because it undermines people's ability to perform their roles in a society. Finally, he argued that U.S. society needs to find roles for the elderly.

Talcott Parsons

Sexual Division of Labor

Parsons saw the family as operating most efficiently with clear-cut sexual divisions of labor and in turn, creates a complementary set of roles that links men and women together. From this perspective, women should carry out expressive roles, providing care and security to children, while offering them emotional support. Men, on the other hand, would perform an instrumental role - more importantly, being the breadwinner for the family. In other words, women would take the role of managing the household and raising children, while men provide financial support by working outside the home. According to Parsons, this complementary division of labor would ensure stability of the family.


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