Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Dr. Victor W. Marshall
This study develops two novel concepts in the study of family life: the familial division of labour and family headship. Together, these concepts allow for a characterization of family life which is at the same time somewhat novel and supportive of or contributory to a broader understanding of many phenomena of family life which have been observed and reported. The study of the division of labour directs attention to aspects of family structure which have not been systematically investigated elsewhere and which I show to be socially real.
The data for this study were collected through interviews with a stratified random sample of 464 men and women aged 40 and over living in Hamilton and Stoney Creek, Ontario. All had lived in Canada for at least ten years. Interviews averaged one and one-half hours and were conducted in English.
The division of labour is investigated through task-specific positions which involve responsibilities and activities enacted on behalf of the extended family and which contribute to family solidarity and continuity. Specifically, the positions of kinkeeper, comforter, placement officer, financial advisor, and ambassador are shown to exist in a division of labour in contemporary families. While the division of labour is a widespread aspect of family structure, there is great variability among families as to its shape and extensiveness.
The concept of headship is developed through an exploration of a central leadership position, the head of the family. The term refers to the person who is understood by others to possess authority and exercise the most leadership in the family. Most families in the study had such a person.
The concept of familial succession brings together interests in structure and process, and the ways in which the meaning and experiences of family life change for individuals as they grow older. Succession refers to the passing of family responsibility and authority from one generation to the next, a process which is investigated through an examination of patterns of occupacy in headship and the familial division of labour, and the ways in which these change through time. The study argues that changes in the locus of responsibility in headship and the division of labour are tied to significant family life course events as well as to aging and mortality.
When the concepts of the familial division of labour and headship are used as a basis for analysing the family as a type of work organization, the organizational structure of families is shown to follow the same principles as any work organization. An ideal typology of families -- bureaucratic, democratic, autocratic and anarchic -- is developed, based on their organizational structure.
The study shows that the familial division of labour and headship are widespread phenomena which were meaningful to study participants. People were able to discuss aspects of the various positions in detail. These positions persist over time, and in many families they are passed on from one generation to the next in socially meaningful ways. Findings indicate that generational succession does occur, with each new generation coming to see itself as taking up family responsibility. However, elderly individuals, as their generational peers die, are less likely than younger family members to perceive the wider family as being an active, supportive group. This suggests a tempered view of the positive picture of intergenerational relationships conveyed by extant literature on families in later life.
Rosenthal, Carolyn J., "Generational Relations and Succession: A Sudy of Authority and Responsibility in Families" (1981). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 1620.