The fact that all societies have family as one of the primary institutions makes one consider what does family do for the society and its sustenance. The functionalists believe that had it not been for the essential functions that family performs, it would have ceased to exist for long now. In fact, some sociologists argue that family’s functions were decreasing and that is would cease to exist in the near future. Though some of the functions are also performed by other institutions at the same time some of the key functions of the family remain nevertheless intact.
The family is an important institution which rears the children and gives them the social experience of learning the ways of their respective culture. This process known as socialization happens throughout the lifetime of an individual. A child also learns what to do and what not to do not only from her / his immediate family but from school, when she or he starts going to school and also from the larger world. However, the family has been recognized as the primary agent of socialization.
It is primarily the family that takes care of the young in every society. It is only recently that the welfare state has stepped in to take care of children who are abandoned. This is happening largely in the industrialized societies. However, the nuclear family of mother and father share the primary responsibility of the young ( along with the extended family in some instances ).
Reproductive and Sexual Functions :
In almost all societies it is the family which is the legitimate institution; it allows the continuation of generations by recognizing, socially and legally, the offspring born to a married couple. Children born outside of marriage very often heaped with ridicule and displeasure making marriage and family the primary options for one who want to have children, Marriage and Family together also regulate sexual activity.
Economic Functions :
Families in the past were economically more independent than the families of today. Though, among hunting and gathering societies and among people who practice subsistence farming and in many traditional societies, family, especially extended family, functions like a corporation. In modern industrial societies other institutions perform the larger economic functions; however the family still operates as an economic unit, where husband and wife share their resources, own many things together and take up financial burdens together.
Identity and Social Status :
A person acquires a sense of identity ( be it ethnic, linguistic, religion and to some extent class ) directly from the family. A sense of identity is formed within the socializing agent of family. The ascribed status of an individual is transferred from the family to the individual.
Emotional Security :
One of the fundamental functions that a modern family performs lies in providing emotional security and support to its members. While some of the other functions – educational, economic, sexual and reproductive are increasingly going outside of the institutions of family, the emotional security is still largely taken up by the family especially in the present context of increasing nuclear families.