How the Functionalist Theory Views Families and Social Stratification?


Jane Flores

How the Functionalist Theory Views Families and Social Stratification

In sociology, the functionalist theory is a perspective that examines society by analyzing how different parts of it work together to maintain social order. This theory views society as a complex system with various interconnected components, much like the human body or a machine. One area that the functionalist theory explores is how families contribute to social stratification – the division of society into different levels based on factors such as wealth, power, and status.

Understanding the Functionalist Perspective

The functionalist perspective suggests that families serve several essential functions within society. These functions include reproduction, socialization, economic cooperation, and emotional support. According to this theory, families play a crucial role in maintaining social stability and ensuring that individuals are adequately prepared to fulfill their roles within society.

Social Stratification and Families

From the functionalist viewpoint, families contribute to social stratification in two main ways: through inheritance and socialization.


Families are responsible for passing down property, wealth, and social status from one generation to another. In societies where inheritance plays a significant role, individuals born into affluent families have greater access to resources such as education, healthcare, and opportunities for advancement. This perpetuates inequality between different social classes over time.

  • Example: In feudal societies of the past, landowning families passed down their properties to their offspring. As a result, those born into noble families enjoyed privileges unavailable to commoners.


Families also play a vital role in transmitting cultural values and norms from one generation to another. Through the process of socialization, parents educate their children about societal expectations, roles, and behaviors. This knowledge equips individuals with the necessary skills and attitudes to succeed in their future roles within society.

  • Example: In many cultures, parents teach their children the importance of hard work, education, and respect for authority. These values are often associated with upward social mobility and success in professional careers.

Critiques of the Functionalist Perspective

While the functionalist theory provides valuable insights into the relationship between families and social stratification, it has faced criticism from other sociological perspectives.

Conflict Theory:

The conflict theory argues that social inequality is not functional but rather a result of power struggles between different groups in society. According to this perspective, families perpetuate social stratification by passing down wealth and privileges to maintain the dominance of certain classes over others.

Social Interactionism:

Social interactionism focuses on how individuals create and interpret meaning through their interactions with others. This perspective suggests that families’ influence on social stratification is shaped by ongoing negotiations between individuals rather than predetermined functions or roles.


In summary, the functionalist theory views families as essential components of society that contribute to social stratification through inheritance and socialization. While this perspective provides valuable insights into how families uphold social order, it is essential to consider alternative viewpoints such as conflict theory and social interactionism for a more comprehensive understanding of this complex topic.