Sep 9, 2019
category: Education


The focus of this research exercise was finding out whether the current family structure in North America has achieved diversity, or it still meets the descriptions of a standard North American Family. By using popular media and the portrayal of North American families, the research exercise focused on what Dorothy Smith had described as a Standard North American Family (SNAF). According to Smith, the SNAF consists of a different-sex married couple, one or two kids, and labor that is divided along gender roles (Smith, 1999, p. 19). Scanzoni made the comment that the North American family has changed a lot but is still embodying the descriptions of a Standard North American Family as described by Smith. The research, therefore, aimed at validating or invalidating the argument put forth by Dorothy Smith and Scanzoni.


The method employed in gathering information on the traits of North American families entailed using TV commercials as the source of data. First of all, a large pool of TV commercials on the family was observed. They included products for daily use such as soap, toothpaste and home electronics such as television sets and fridges. The scope was then narrowed to include five commercials on home electronics including a television set, a fridge, a toaster, a water dispenser, and a microwave oven. The other five included one for a bathing soap, washing powder, breakfast cereal, cooking oil, and baking flour. These commercials had many elements of the family.

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Results and Analysis

In the research study, the predominant family structure included two parents (of the opposite gender) and one to three children. In most of the commercials, the family was closely-knit and often shared many of the items advertised. For instance, the advert on bathing soap presented soap that could be used by everyone in the family no matter their age. The family lived under one roof, and each one would use the same soap for bathing. In the ten commercials chosen, none of the families had a same-sex couple. In the commercials that did not include children, the couple was also of a different sex from each other.

The family structures that lacked included same-sex couples, same-sex couples with adopted children, single-parent families, and extended families. The bathing soap commercial entailed a typical father-mother-children family structure as were all the others. The only commercial with a slightly different family structure was the one on the microwave oven. In this advert, a busy man talks about how a new type of microwave oven had enabled him reduce the amount of time spent on preparation to leave for work. He says that, at first, when his wife became pregnant and could not make him breakfast daily due to a health complication, he was often late for work. However, upon buying the microwave oven, his wife could cook him breakfast at night, and he would wake up the following day, heat it in the microwave oven and he was gone to work in no time. In fact, he had been awarded for being the most punctual employee at his place of work.

While a majority of the commercials were focused exclusively on the Standard North American Family, the only one that drew a line between this type of family and one which did not embody its traits was the one in the microwave advert. When the husband (he with the pregnant wife) was warned for being late at work and threatened to be sacked, an ugly and gruff workmate (who made a move on every girl in the office) without success laughed at him. However, when the husband was promoted, he is seen holding his wife warmly while the gruff employee is seen in the background sulking as his position had been taken by the man with a pregnant wife.

There were no other inequalities shown in the commercials. For example, the family in the television set commercial was black while the one in the microwave oven was mixed with the husband being black while the wife was white. The bathing soap commercial featured a white family with a neighbor who wondered why the family next door spent so much time in the shower. Essentially, the family structure did matter more than the members of the family. Provided the family and the traits of the Standard North American Family as stated by Smith, the commercials were accepted widely.

The roles of the family members were the stereotypical ones in a Standard North American Family. For example, the role of the father is to provide for everyone in the family. In the commercial for a television set, for example, the father comes home in the evening carrying a bag of groceries for the wife to cook. Before he bought the smart television set, the whole family would come running towards him, save his wife, who would stand at the door as she happily watched the father wrestle with his three sons. Upon buying the television, no one came running towards him as they were too hypnotized by the television set to do so.

Another revelation from the study was that most American families did not involve the extended family in most of their undertakings (Milardo, 2010, p. 191). In the commercials, there were no uncles, aunts or grandparents. Essentially, the creators of the commercials are convinced that the basic and standard family is the most important family unit in North America. All the advertisements focused on two parents of opposite gender and their children. Another notable revelation from the study is that the commercials did not portray other family structures negatively. Besides making the lonely workmate in the microwave oven advert appear sullen and antisocial, all other types of family structures are not put into perspective, and no opinion is given on them.

Discussion and Conclusions

From the data collected and analyzed above, the type of ‘family diversity’ that Scanzoni stated has not yet been achieved. Even though the North American family has undergone a lot of changes, the fact that most gender roles are still retained points to little family diversity in the view of Scanzoni’s point. Family diversity would most likely involve a father who stays at home with the children while the wife works and such traits. While it is not a surprise to find such family setups, the commercials bring out the fact that such setups are still in their infancy and society does not fully accept them (Klaehn, 2009, p. 70).

Therefore, the research findings point to the retention of the Standard North American Family as stated by Smith. By all means, the family structure has remained consisting of a mother, father, and one or more children. Their roles are also defined along their gender as the man handles taking care of the family while the wife is a nurturer. The commercials also pointed out that, at places of work, the gender also determines people’s roles. In the advert for the microwave oven, for example, the females were presented as a secretary and majorly human resource personnel. The man advertising the oven was in the information technology department before being promoted to head it. However, there are many changes that have occurred to the American family including most families having parents who are both employed (Julier, 2009, p. 9).

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