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International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern WorldDictionary of American HistoryInternational Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences Further reading








The articles under this heading discuss the central aspects of the family as a universal institution in society. Closely related are the entries Kinship; Marriage. The reproduction function of the family is discussed in Fertility; Fertility Control; the socializing function of the family is reviewed in SOCIALIZATION as well as in Culture And Personality; Developmental Psychology; Infancy; Personality, article on Personality Development; Moral Development. Stages in family life are reviewed in Adolescence; Aging; Death; Life Cycle; as well as in Family, article on Disorganization And Dissolution. Specialized aspects of the family are reviewed in Adoption; Affection; Incest; Nuptiality; Paternalism; Sexual Behavior. Many anthropologists, psychologists, and sociologists have contributed to an understanding of the family; the following biographies are of particular relevance: Bachofen; Burgess; Engels; Frazer; Freud; Gesell; Hall; L,E Play; Mclennan; Maine; Malinowski; Morgan, Lewis Henry; Radcliffe-Brown; Tylor; Waller; Westermarck.


One of the few widely accepted generalizations of social science asserts that “the family” is an institution found in all human societies. There is controversy over just what constitutes the family and what its functions might be, but the generalization itself is widely accepted. In modern Euro-American societies it is accepted that the normal family is a coresidential group which consists of a married couple and their own children and which lives apart from other kin. This has become the reference type for comparative study, and it is argued that in modern, highly differentiated societies such as those of North America and Europe the family has become a highly specialized agency exhibiting the essential and irreducible characteristics which are significant for cross-cultural comparison (Parsons & Bales 1955, p. 10).

In all human societies provision must be made for biological and social reproduction if the society is to continue, and it is generally assumed that the family performs at least these functions. Mating is never simply random, and children require a long period of care by a limited number of individuals with whom they develop relations of intimacy if they are to grow up as normal human beings capable of playing adult roles. This conclusion is based partly upon experimental evidence (Bowlby 1951) and partly upon inference from the fact that in all known societies children are raised in small kinship-based groups and there are customary modes of regulation between children and their socially recognized parents and between the parents themselves. Looked at in this way there is a very close relationship between the family and the domestic group, and both constitute systems of relationship which vary over time. The form of these systems is tied to the physical processes of individual birth, maturation, and death, so that families, like individuals, pass through developmental stages (Fortes 1958). The processes of individual maturation and death are social as well as physical, since individuals are participants in social systems as well as in biological processes. Societies live longer than either individuals or families, but societies exist only through the patterned interaction of individuals who share common understandings. Mating and procreation provide for the continuity of the biological species, while socialization relates it to the equally important continuity of social structure and cultural pattern. It has been argued on both theoretical and empirical grounds that the primary function of the family is socialization, so that an intimate relation is established between biological and social processes, a relation which is reflected in the dependence of demographic trends upon social custom.

The generalizations set out above seem to hold true in a large number of different societies, but it is not certain to what extent the observations and descriptions used have been influenced by the definitions adopted by field investigators. Some writers have expressed doubt that the family is a universal human institution, but both the assertion and its refutation depend upon some agreed identification of what is being discussed.


Domestic groups . A domestic group may be defined as a group of people who habitually share a common dwelling and a common food supply. These minimal activities of domestic groups may be greatly extended, and domestic groups may vary in size and stability. The word “family” has its origin in a Latin word which could be roughly equated with “domestic group,” but for sociological purposes the two must be sharply distinguished. Domestic groups may be made up of individuals between whom no kinship ties exist, and, conversely, members of one family may be distributed over two or more domestic groups. The term “household” may be used interchangeably with “domestic group.”

Biological family . In Euro-American societies the basic model of kinship and family ties is that of biological relatedness and sexual intercourse, so that kin and familial relations are thought of in terms of physical descent or sexual relations. This is not so in all societies, even though it appears that family relations are almost invariably intimately associated with sexual regulation and reproduction. Social relations of family and kinship can develop independently of genetic links or sexual relations, so that adoption or other forms of fictive kinship are just as real as blood ties. Even where actual genetic links exist they do not constitute social relations; these must be learned and developed separately. Similarly, marriage is always more than sexual mating. Schneider (see Aspects of the Analysis … 1965) has expressed in a particularly pointed and convincing way the objections to confusing an analytical definition of kinship with definitions stressing biological relatedness.

The relation between mother and child appears to be in a rather special category, since the human infant is part of its mother’s physical being before birth and continues to be dependent upon her or a substitute for a considerable period afterward. The development of artificial feeding has modified this close dependence, but experience in rearing motherless infants has shown that adverse effects result from deprivation of close continuous contact with a mother figure in early infancy. The “mother figure” can be any suitable person, and experiments with monkeys have shown that, for them, even contraptions of wire and cloth can serve as “mothers” in some sense. This raises the question of just what we mean when we use words such as “mother” and should lead to a careful distinction between the activities involved in mothering on the one hand and the biological relationship of the mother to the child on the other. In the case of the father-child relationship, the more frequent disjunction between biological and social paternity has led to a distinction between pater and genitor. The former term is used to refer to a child’s legally recognized father and the latter to his supposed biological father. In some societies a child’s father (pater) may be a woman or a dead man. Among the Nuer of east Africa, the kin of a man killed in war before he had married would sometimes marry a woman to “his name.” After payment of the bride price the woman cohabited with a lover, but any children born to her were the legal offspring of the dead “husband,” inheriting from him and sacrificing to him as their ancestor. Cases such as this make clear the differences between biological and social links, and although the family is frequently, or even usually, coincident with a particular constellation of biological links, it cannot be defined in terms of them.

Nuclear family . The term “nuclear family” (or “elementary,” “simple,” or “basic”) is most frequently used to refer to a group consisting of a man, a woman, and their socially recognized children. This is a straightforward use of the term; it refers to concrete groups, and the qualification “nuclear” suggests that this is the unit out of which more extensive family groups are built or grow. The group need not be coresidential provided regular relationships are maintained among its members. It need not exist as a separate and isolated entity but may be contained within more extensive groups provided it is given some recognition. It has been suggested that the nuclear family is the universal form of family relations, always fulfilling “distinctive and vital functions–sexual, economic, reproductive, and educational . . .” (Murdock 1949, p. 3). “The nuclear family is a universal human social grouping. Either as the sole prevailing form of the family or as the basic unit from which more complex familial forms are compounded, it exists as a distinct and strongly functional group in every known society” (p. 2). The evidence for this statement is far from conclusive, and much of it that does seem to support the generalization may be biased simply because of the way in which the data have been collected and presented. Cases such as the Nayar and the Ashanti (see below) tend to disprove the assertion, and this has now been recognized by Murdock.

Parsons has argued that the nuclear family exhibits characteristics which seem to be necessary (on theoretical grounds) for the socialization of children and the stabilization of adult personalities (Parsons & Bales 1955). He has argued elsewhere that the incest taboo is also universal in human societies for similar reasons and that taboo results in the perpetual creation of new nuclear-family groups through marriage (Parsons 1954). Even if one accepts the ideas that sexual intercourse must be regulated and that children must be cared for and socialized within small groups with the characteristics exhibited by the nuclear family, this does not necessarily mean that the nuclear family, as defined by Murdock, is universal. Levy and Fallers (1959) have suggested that a distinction should be made between the nuclear family as a concrete group and the “nuclear-family relationship complex.” The latter would consist of the relationships of husband-wife, mother-son, mother-daughter, father-son, father-daughter, brother-sister, brother-brother, and sister-sister considered as a system of interaction between roles. By looking at the nuclear family as a system of roles rather than as a concrete grouping of individuals, it is possible to see that role behavior appropriate to this complex might be distributed among a number of individuals, groups, or agencies that do not themselves constitute a single group. Malinowski showed that certain aspects of what he considered to be the normal “father” role are played by the mother’s brother in some societies with matrilineal inheritance and descent. Similarly, in some societies the “mother” role is played in whole or in part by mother surrogates, such as mother’s sisters, mother’s mothers, paid nurses, or teachers. In order to make statements such as these it is necessary to assume that we know what the “real” or “normal” nuclear-family role complex is, and here it is evident that there is a tendency to take the Euro-American family pattern as the type case. Despite this drawback, the concentration of attention upon a role complex rather than concrete groups is a step toward freeing the concept of nuclear family from the rigidity imposed upon it by Murdock. If one asserts that the nuclear-family relationship complex is institutionalized in all human societies–instead of speaking of the universal occurrence of nuclear-family groups–then it is possible to account for the normal development of children brought up in groups that are not nuclear families in the restricted sense. Where one parent is missing or no siblings are present, children may still be affected by the institutionalized nuclear-family role complex, different elements of which are activated by other kinsmen, neighbors, teachers, or even more remote individuals. We may also relate the necessary biological and social functions to this role complex rather than to concrete nuclear families and leave it to empirical investigation to show just how the roles are embodied in a particular society. While this goes some way toward freeing investigation from the analytical restrictions imposed by the concept of the universality of the nuclear family, there are good grounds for going even further and asking just what is meant by the roles involved in the supposedly universal nuclear-family role complex.

Compound family . The term “compound family” is used to refer to a concrete group formed through the amalgamation of nuclear-family units or parts of them. A polygynous household consisting of one man, his three wives, and their respective children would constitute a compound family, as would a family group constituted by remarried widows or divorcees with children from a previous marriage. A compound family need not constitute a coresidential group.

Joint family . According to the handbook Notes and Queries on Anthropology (see British Association … 1874), a joint family exists when “two or more lineally related kinsfolk of the same sex, their spouses and offspring, occupy a single homestead and are jointly subject to the same authority or single head.” An example would be a group consisting of a man and his wife with their married sons and their wives and children. It would be wrong to think of such a group as being a mere mechanical aggregate of nuclear families. Joint families generally arise, exist, and persist because they carry out activities more extensive than would be possible for a nuclear-family group. Joint families grow as younger members bring in spouses rather than setting up independent households. As the younger married couples beget children, it may be possible to detect the existence of a number of nuclear-family cells within the structure of the joint family. The younger married couples will often have their own living quarters and may establish their own cooking facilities. If they have their own budgetary arrangements, then the joint family has really split–even if the young couples do not actually move out of the house. On the other hand, the joint family may be such a cohesive unit that it is difficult to see nuclear families within it as separate groups in any meaningful sense. The men may form one solidary group and the women another; the children may regard all the women of the house as their “mothers.” Eventually, as the original family grows too big, the joint family will either split or some persons will leave to form separate groups.

Extended family . An extended family is a dispersed version of the joint family. That is, the members of the constituent groups of an extended family do not all live together in one dwelling. They usually live close together and engage in common activities.

The concept of extended family really exhausts the usefulness of the word “family” for this kind of empirical classification, since an extended family is already a short lineage and can be discussed in terms of lineage theory, or it is a kindred and may be analyzed as such. Since birth is the criterion of membership in lineages and kindreds, they tend to develop considerable interest in the birth, training, and ultimate loyalties of their recruits, so that there is a close fit between these formations and the “families” which provide and train the recruits.

Comparative family studies

Because they are a part of all human experience and such a powerful agency in the formation of adult attitudes, familial relations have always been a subject of interest and discussion. Their changing and varied forms have been studied by such diverse and ancient disciplines as theology, classics, law, and philosophy. This interest quickened during the period known in Europe as the Enlightenment, but it was the late nineteenth-century interest in evolution that stimulated extensive comparative studies of family forms. Fantastic theories were proposed in an attempt to reconstruct the history of mankind and to account for the existence of seemingly pointless customs and strange kinship terminologies among non-European peoples. Bachofen’s postulated development of society from promiscuity through a great period of mother right and female dominance to father right and patriarchy was an attempt to account for the recognized importance of matrilineal descent systems and the universal importance of motherhood. Other writers of the period argued in much the same way, although disagreeing on developmental priorities. Such writers as Sir Henry Maine, Edward Tylor, J. F. McLennan, Lewis H. Morgan, Friedrich Engels, Sir James Frazer, E. Westermarck, and Robert Briffault carried forward the debate on origins, and, although their theories were highly speculative, they encompassed a wide range of cases and paid particular attention to historical sources. Despite the shortcomings of both theories and sources, these writers laid the foundations for modern studies by systematizing existing information on the family, and they are still worth reading for their insight into problems that have been neglected.

It is surprising that students of the family have not paid more attention to a series of basic sociological works which concern themselves with the classification of social relationships. Maine, Tonnies, and Durkheim, in particular, set up dichotomous categories which they believed to represent fundamentally different types of social relationship: relations of status as opposed to contract; relations of Gemeinschaft as opposed to Gesellschaft; mechanical versus organic solidarity. In all these systems one pole was most clearly represented by relations of a familial or kinship type. Since it was generally assumed that we know what familial relations are, this reference was intended to be illustrative, although Tönnies, in his Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, attempted to show how natural will develops within the complex of relations that go to make up the family. The crux of the matter is that what we term familial relations are relations exhibiting a particular kind of solidarity that involves persons in total and permanent social relations. This type of relationship is contrasted with the partial and specialized character of Gesellschaft or contractual relations. Just where the boundaries of familial relations are drawn varies from one society or subgroup to another and is, of course, affected by a large number of empirical factors.

Intensive field-work methods developed during the early twentieth century by Boas, Kroeber, Lowie, and others in the United States and by Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown in Britain produced a new body of detailed information on kinship, marriage, and the family. Malinowski’s work on the family in Australia and Melanesia was a study of primitive matriliny and was intended to show (in part at least) that the nuclear family emerges naturally even where there is ignorance of the male role in the physiological process of reproduction. The Trobriand Islanders studied by Malinowski asserted that children are conceived when a spirit enters the body of a woman and that sexual intercourse is simply a matter of mutual satisfaction to the persons involved. Malinowski was impressed by the fact that men developed important social relationships with their wives’ children even though they did not consider that there was any biological connection involved. Furthermore, men did not exercise the kind of authority over their children that is often associated with “paternity”; the mother’s brother was more important in that respect. He concluded from these observations that the nuclear family is a universal institution but does not always assume the emotional configuration suggested by Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex; it is rather a “functional formation dependent upon the structure and upon the culture of a society” (Malinowski [1927] 1953, pp. 142-143). The implication of this idea was that the nuclear-family complex could be activated by various persons and agencies–in the case of societies with matrilineal descent groups it may be that repressed hatred between uncle and nephew replaces that found between father and son in patriarchal societies.

Radcliffe-Brown’s brilliant and lucid treatment of the jural significance of kinship ties enabled him to look at the family in terms of the formal duties, rights, and obligations between the members and between them and external groups. Whereas Malinowski regarded wider kinship ties as “mere extensions” of the nuclear-family complex and the sentiments generated within it, Radcliffe-Brown spoke of the varying modes of incorporation, for jural purposes, of the unit of mother and children. He saw the relationship between a mother and her children as being somehow “basic” because of the close emotional and nurturant ties involved, while other kinship ties could be stressed or neglected to varying degrees depending upon the structure of the whole social and kinship system. In other words, Radcliffe-Brown’s concern was not with the family as a locus of emotional solidarity, or socialization functions, or sexual satisfactions; he was more concerned to explore the ways in which the empirical reference points of birth, sexual relations, and child rearing could be variously stressed for legal purposes. Apart from the apparent invariability of the mother-child relationship, he was prepared to accept the fact that all the other activities and functions could be distributed in widely varying ways.

In the generation since these pioneers of field investigation, detailed work has been carried out in many parts of the world, yielding new information and continuous refinement of theory. The development of the Yale cross-cultural survey is an attempt to organize material from a wide range of sources in order to make inductive generalizations about human societies or to test particular hypotheses. Other writers make similar generalizations based upon a more selective use of sources. In either case it is evident that the generalizations are no better than the observations on which they are based. This is well demonstrated by Murdock’s generalizations based on the cross-cultural survey files. Observations reported in monographic studies depend to a considerable extent upon the investigator’s preconceived ideas and categories or upon his interests. In the field of family studies all these may be severely limited.

Parallel to the development of a wide-ranging comparative study of kinship and family structure, there has been a continuing tradition of interest in the family life of Europe and America. In the nineteenth century, Le Play constructed a typology of European family structures ranging from the patriarchal systems of the semifeudal eastern European areas, which resulted in the development of extended families, through the famille-souche, or stem-family, of the semi-industrial areas to what he considered to be the unstable and disorganized systems of the urban industrial areas. Le Play’s typology, or something very like it, seems to have regained favor as a universal system of classification (see Levy in Aspects of the Analysis …1965). The stem-family type is of particular interest because it seems to combine an emphasis upon the ideal of family continuity with an actual situation where most of the domestic units are small and self-liquidating.

As a result of their work on the development of capitalism and its institutional structure, Marx and Engels became interested in the development of the family, an interest which was quickened by the publication of Lewis H. Morgan’s Ancient Society (1877). Marx read this work and made extensive notes on it, but it was Engels who published an extensive commentary on it after Marx’s death, under the title The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. In this work Marx’s general theories of social and economic history are combined with Morgan’s speculative history of kinship institutions. The most general conclusion of the book is that a stable monogamous family system, dominated by male authority and prescribed and supported by law, has really developed as a device for the perpetuation of the private ownership of property. This conclusion has been widely misinterpreted to mean that Engels was opposed to any sort of family relationships and that the family should be abolished in socialist societies. On the contrary, Engels went out of his way to point out that the emotional and sexual elements involved in family relations can only be paramount when considerations of property do not enter into the picture. Thus, he argued that the proletariat make and break marital unions only upon the basis of mutual attraction, whereas in bourgeois marriage the conjugal pair are indissolubly united even when they have no love for each other and perhaps engage in adultery with other available partners.

The influence of Freud’s work upon comparative family studies can only be mentioned in passing. It has produced some of the most penetrating hypotheses concerning the content of family relationships, particularly in European and American societies where psychoanalysis’ has been most widely practiced as a therapeutic technique. Studies of the relation between culture and personality focus upon the familial milieu as the context of personality development, and students of this field have produced some of the most detailed and intimate documentation of family life in non-Western cultures. It is also evident that Freud’s thought has influenced the formation of hypotheses about the nature and functions of family structure, at least since the work of Malinowski.

Theoretical and research problems

Despite the considerable time and effort devoted to family studies and despite the refinement of definitions and the improvement of concepts, our knowledge of the family remains rudimentary. We use the term “family” in the loosest possible way, perhaps because of the very nature of the data themselves. For comparative study it is necessary to exercise great care in the construction of theoretical models in order to avoid distortions in observation and description. The bulk of family theory is derived from the Euro-American cultural tradition and from the study of European and American societies. The development and extension of psychoanalysis has produced both a large collection of empirical data and a growing sophistication in its interpretation. But this has been accompanied by a tendency to attribute functional necessity to observed patterns, so that there is a danger of assuming that the functions performed by small family groups in Euro–American societies must be performed by similar groups, similarly defined and constituted, in all societies. Parsons (see Parsons & Bales 1955) has tried to show the systematic relation between nuclear-family structure on the one hand and socialization for participation in wider social systems on the other. This analysis is very convincing in its establishment of the general conditions which seem to be necessary for adequate human socialization, but those conditions can be expressed in very general terms and could be met by a wide variety of actual persons and groups. If the nuclear family is to be thought of as that group that carries out primary socialization, then it is necessary to investigate the empirical composition of such groups in a wide range of societies.

Should we continue to use the model of nuclear family or even of nuclear-family relationship complex as a measure for cross-cultural comparison?

Is this anything more than a device for making all observations fit our conception of what should exist? Or is it mainly a problem of language? Will more flexible terms that are not derived directly from a particular cultural tradition enable us to overcome these difficulties? Similar problems have arisen in debates over the question of whether all societies have “law” or “a political system.” In spite of some recent defense of the idea of the universality of the nuclear family from linguistic analysts (Lounsbury 1965), it would seem to be desirable to keep an open mind on the question.

Much of the work already done in the study of comparative family structure has been based upon the collection of information about norms, that is, the ideal modes of behavior in different societies; and, as we have suggested above, these have usually been translated into terms of the norms of Euro-American society. Many anthropologists have supplemented interview data and informant’s statements with case material, genealogical investigation, sample surveys, and statistical analyses. The aim has been either to try to determine what the system “really is” or to discover the manner in which norms work out in practice. Pioneering work in this regard was done by Audrey Richards, John Barnes, and Meyer Fortes. Fortes has always stressed the importance of regarding the family as a process in time and of looking at the cyclical development of family structure. As the individuals who compose family groups grow older and as new members are born and others die, the structure of the group changes as well as the relationships between the individuals concerned. New possibilities for this type of analysis are presented by the development of computers. With the aid of these machines it is possible to simulate the experience of a whole community of families over a long time period by constructing models of family structure or household composition and then applying to them such variable elements as birth and death rates, age at marriage, duration of unions, and fertility patterns. In this way it is possible to determine what varieties of family and household types would be produced under varying circumstances over varying time periods.

A major controversy that has developed within anthropology has considerable bearing on the whole subject of comparative family studies. This controversy starts with Levi-Strauss’ idea that the building block of kinship systems is not the biological or nuclear family but a constellation of roles which includes the siblings of a marrying couple as well as their children. In disagreeing with Radcliffe-Brown’s contention that it is the relations between members of the “elementary family” that constitute the unit of structure from which all kinship systems are built, he says:

Of course, the biological family is ubiquitous in human society. But what confers upon kinship its socio-cul-tural character is not what it retains from nature, but, rather, the essential way in which it diverges from nature. A kinship system does not consist in the objective ties of descent or consanguinity between individuals. … The essence of human kinship is to require the establishment of relations among what Radcliffe Brown calls “elementary families.” Thus, it is not the families (isolated terms) which are truly “elementary,” but, rather, the relations between those terms. (Lèvi-Strauss [1958] 1963, pp. 50-51)

From this starting point Lèvi-Strauss proceeds to a complex analysis of preferential and prescriptive marriage systems, but the perspective which he introduced leads to a new assessment of intrafa-milial relations.

Briefly, the question is whether the relations of nuclear family and of filiation always constitute a basic “natural” system which tends to counterbalance particular kinship ties stressed for jural purposes, or whether we should regard nuclear-family relations as being nothing more than a fortuitous complex of highly variable relations some of which may be dispensed with altogether. For example, if filiation is always bilateral (because every child must have a “father” and a “mother”), then where patrilineal descent is stressed for jural purposes the strong jural tie between father and child will be balanced by the tie between mother and child and, by extension, between the child and its mother’s kin–a tie of complementary filiation. Conversely, it could be argued that where matri-lineal descent is stressed, a compensating bond will exist between father and children and between the child and the father’s kin. The point to be noted in this argument is that the ties between parents and children may be accorded great legal significance or may be simply affective, but they derive ultimately from the bonds of filiation and descent which arise within the nuclear-family relationship complex. These relations are socially rather than biologically defined, but they focus upon activities which are familial.

The contrary view is that relationships between a child and its parents may derive from the fact that the parents are married to each other rather than from any bond of filiation. Thus, the Trobri-and Islanders assert that there is no genetic link between fathers and their children. A man is a “father” because he is the husband of the child’s mother. Of course this ideological view of the matter seems to be related to the political and legal sphere rather than to the field of domestic relations, where fatherhood may be rooted in a set of activities rather than a set of abstract principles.

It is not necessary to document the details of this controversy here; adequate references will be found in Leach (1961) and Schneider (see Association of Social Anthropologists … 1966). The point of interest here is Leach’s contention that relations between children and parents may be as variable as any other social relations and that we should be prepared to find societies in which even the mother-child relationship is conceived of as one wholly derivative from the fact of the mother’s marriage to the father, who is thought of as the person with whom the child has a real consanguineal relationship. In such a situation the mother is an affine; she is not “mother” necessarily at all, but “father’s wife.”

The controversy outlined here does not focus upon the internal relations or the structure of the family as such; it is concerned with an understanding of the structure of total social systems. But it does bring into quite sharp focus the need to abandon a dogmatic view of the universality of nuclear-family relations and the need to differentiate clearly between the activities involved in domestic relations, the facts of biological interconnectedness, and the interlocking of familial and wider kinship relations. It seems likely that future research will operate with a bigger collection of more differentiated concepts derived from a splitting up of such notions as descent, filiation, sibling bonds, alliance, and, of course, the general notion of nuclear family.

Throughout the discussion so far it has been assumed that comparative family studies refer to comparisons between different societies and that “structure” means societal norms. Some of the most interesting modern research is concerned with the study of differences in family structure within societies; studies which throw light upon the nature of society itself. It has long been recognized that the structure of family relations appears to vary with class, ethnic group, and other factors. This raises the question of whether the variation lies at the level of culture (that is, in the norms themselves) or whether the actual distribution of empirically ordered “types” of family is the result of constraints operating to prevent the full realization of cultural ideals. For example, it is generally accepted that Hindus value a joint family system in which marriages are contracted at an early age and are indissoluble and in which brides are brought to live in their husband’s father’s house, where they come under the authority of the senior woman and the men form a corporate group. In fact, it would seem that such ideal patterns are met only by the wealthier families, where a common interest in property serves as a binding factor, while the poorer families tend to be small and to consist of only a couple with their own minor children. It has also been suggested that the size of households would be limited under preindustrial conditions everywhere by the early death of parents and high infant mortality rates. Such arguments ignore the fact that purely demographic constraints can be circumvented, since family and kinship relations are not biological relations and since adoption or other forms of culturally defined kinship ties can be used as the basis of household formation.

Important though adoption and the collapsing of relationships may be as a means of keeping functioning groups intact, it must be realized that the exigencies of birth-and-death rates and other demographic variables do have an effect upon household composition, just as the biological processes of maturation have an effect. Sociologically, a more important consideration is the extent to which norms vary from group to group and result in the precipitation of different configurations of family organization. In the United States there has been discussion of “the culture of poverty” in relation to the incidence of fatherless families among lower-status and lower-income groups. In such cases it is difficult to determine whether the pattern of family living among these lower-income groups is determined by a simple inability to command the means of achieving valued patterns of behavior or whether different values are operative. In such cases the study of family life becomes a very sensitive index to the whole mode of integration of the over-all social system. This question is discussed further below.

Although knowledge of the genesis of emotional disturbance and social deviance is much more extensive than it was 25 years ago, it is still inadequate. The complexity of the relationship system of family groups is understood in only the most general terms despite the considerable body of detailed information pertaining to Euro-American families. The profound hatreds and bitter rivalries which are the counterpart of the relations of familial solidarity are well known to anthropologists, both as the source of conflicts with political and economic significance and as the basis of witchcraft beliefs and magical and religious practices. These conflicts are the product of the interaction systems themselves within small “multibonded” groups and may have considerable significance for wider system organization. It has often been remarked that the family is the unit within which primary socialization takes place and within which the growing child is taught the ultimate value orientations of the whole society. This is not necessarily done formally, but the values may be implicit in the general structure of the familial relationship system itself. If this is so, then it is important to know how these relationships are structured in different societies and just how the values are internalized by the growing child.

The range of variability

In the large Ashanti villages of central Ghana one can often see children carrying pots of food from their mother’s house to the house of their father. The children may eat with their father and then go home to sleep at the house where their mother lives, while the mother may visit the father for the night. This pattern of divided residence and visiting back and forth seems to exist because the Ashanti traditional social system stresses matrilin-eal descent for important social purposes, such as inheritance of land, succession to office, and political status. Women often value the tie to their brother as highly as, or higher than, the relationship to their husband, since it is from the brother that their children will inherit. Because the child’s place in society is mainly determined through its relationship to its mother and her matrilineal kin, the breaking of a marital tie is of little legal consequence either for the spouses or for the children. It is true that fathers have always had responsibility for the upbringing of their own children, including the provision of food and the teaching of crafts and skills, but these duties could be carried out even when the child did not reside with the father and even after the parents had broken their conjugal tie. According to Fortes (1949) another factor inducing women to remain in their own homes even after marriage is the very close relationship between mother and children, and particularly between mothers and daughters. This case demonstrates the way in which interests and relationships can cut right across the solidarity of the nuclear family, and it would be very difficult to demonstrate that the nuclear family is either a normal or a necessary coresidential unit among the Ashanti. The Ashanti concept of family is quite different from the European concept; Fortes mentions that persons who speak English often say, “Your mother is your family, your father is not.”

The most extreme and best known example of the effect of matrilineal descent upon familial relationships was to be found among the Nayar caste of southern India in the period before the full effects of British rule were felt. Among the Nayar, it appears that the marital relationship was reduced to a merely symbolic level, being contracted at around the time that the girl reached puberty and shortly thereafter being ritually broken. Afterward, the women were allowed to have informal love affairs with men who visited them at night. The households consisted of a group of brothers and their sisters and the sisters’ children, and any children born to the woman of the household became members of the matrilineal joint family. The children were discouraged from developing any strong attachments to either their pater or genitor, and while it would be impossible to argue that the role of father was completely absent from this social system, it was obviously diminished in favor of the solidarity of the property-owning matrilineal group. It seems likely that many of the functions that are normally fulfilled by fathers in relation to socialization and personality development were carried out by male members of the matrilineage (Gough 1952).

Cases such as these have led some writers, including Radcliffe-Brown, to suggest that the basic structural unit of kinship systems is the unit of mother and children, in other words, to separate the nuclear family into a number of paired relationships, or dyads, and to see how, in differing societies, they fit in relation to each other and to other groups. This is certainly a step in the right direction toward loosening the categories involved in the nuclear-family complex and exploring more fully their independent connections. Even in societies with pronounced patriarchal authority we find that the mother-children unit often forms an important subgroup, given special recognition and marked by close emotional ties among its members.

Among the Swazi as described by Hilda Kuper (see Radcliffe-Brown & Forde 1950), descent, inheritance of economically valuable possessions, and succession to office is patrilineal, but women are given a position of great prominence in the organization of domestic life. Homesteads are built in the form of a semicircular group of huts surrounding a cattle pen, each hut being occupied by a mother and her children. In the center of the arc is the “great hut” occupied by the mother of the male head of the compound (or one of his senior wives if his mother is dead). When a young man or a group of full brothers sets up a new homestead, their mother is installed in the place of honor, for it was she who reared them, watched over their rights, guarded their inheritance, fed and nurtured them. The father is respected as the head of the group, revered, and eventually worshiped as an ancestor, but the mother is loved and cherished. This pattern is common in patriarchal societies where the father is an authoritarian figure and the holder of property that the heir requires in order to attain full maturity–thus introducing an underlying tension into the formally respectful relationship. Parsons has suggested that the father role is always an “instrumental” one as opposed to the more emotional or “expressive” quality of the mother role (Parsons & Bales 1955, pp. 157-158). In a penetrating study comparing two adjacent groups in west Africa which share a basically similar culture, Goody has shown that in one of them the matrilin-eal inheritance of certain types of property alters the interpersonal relationships between close kin and even alters the mode of ancestor worship (1962). Since intrafamilial relationship patterns seem to be so responsive to the effect of outside influences, it is premature to assert too many conclusions about the structure of the nuclear family as such. The specialization of males and females in instrumental and expressive roles may be an aspect of sex-role differentiation in this case rather than of role specialization within a small group structure. Certainly women take on instrumental roles in the absence of men, but they retain the predominantly expressive quality appropriate to females.

In tribal societies where kinship is the basis of recruitment to all or most important social roles, the family must articulate directly with descent groups and becomes a mechanism for the continuous generation of new kinship ties. As Fortes says, “the workshop, so to speak, of social reproduction, is the domestic group” (Goody 1958, p. 2). In more differentiated social systems with an increased division of labor, a literary tradition, and a well-developed class or caste system, it is still true that families may be large, multifunctional units. In China and India, for example, the whole weight of tradition, values, and religious sentiment favored the growth of large patrilineal joint families and patriarchal authority. The uneven distribution of wealth and status seems to affect the realization of these ideals, so that the majority of households are small and contain only parents and children. This is not simply a matter of demographic determinism; the absence of a sufficient property base leads to the early secession of mature sons, who try to make out for themselves. Large joint families are found mainly among landowning and merchant groups, where sons have a continuing material interest in the patrimony to reinforce and sustain filial piety. Such large “families” are really lineages or descent groups which constitute perpetual corporations managing a common enterprise.

Le Play thought of the famille-souche, or stem-family, as preserving familial continuity while adapting to the demands of industrialism. While many of the younger members of the family migrated or went off to work in industrial centers, the main family, or stem, continued and was usually located on its own land or in its own house. A regular mode of inheritance designed to prevent fragmentation was imposed to ensure both the continuity and the integrity of the familial estate. The existence of such a system in twentieth-century rural Ireland has been described by Arensberg and Kimball (1940), and its presence in parts of the United States has been depicted (Zimmerman & Frampton 1935). On the small farms of rural Ireland it is customary for one son to inherit the family farm, while the other children marry out or migrate to the towns. The heir usually postpones his marriage until his father is nearly ready to hand over control, thus ensuring that the farm will not have to support more persons than it can carry and ensuring the continuity of one male line on an undivided farm. The stem-family is not a product of industrial society. Recent work by Laslett indicates that the preindustrial family system in England did not encourage the growth of large extended families occupying single dwellings; on the contrary, the nuclear-family household seems to have been the normal type of dwelling group, and when large household groups are found, they appear to have been made up by servants or craft laborers rather than by kin. There was also a continuous process of downward mobility in which the children of wealthy or high-status families were sloughed off into lower positions, while the main heir took over an intact patrimony (Laslett 1965).

The urban family system of modern Europe and America developed out of the system found in agrarian society (or “the world we have lost,” as Laslett terms it). It has been a constant preoccupation of writers on the modern family to think of it as being somehow stripped of functions and reduced to a pale shadow of its former ample self. The ideal is that of a nuclear-family group living in its own house independently of other kin and subsisting upon the wages or salary of the husband-father. Falling birth rates, an increase in the incidence of divorce, a decline in home food processing, clothes making, and so on–all these have been held to signify a decline in family living and a shift toward increasing individualism and material values. Parsons and others have argued that the family system of the urban United States is not a denuded form of a more “normal” or “natural” family system but is itself a highly specialized form that articulates most satisfactorily with a highly differentiated economic and political system and with institutionalized values that stress achievement rather than inheritance. It is argued that the smallness and relative isolation of the family from other kinship ties is an adaptation that makes possible the spatial and status mobility of its members. The unit of mother and children remains the basic affective group within which there is close emotional identification, and the husband-father is closely integrated with it both emotionally and in terms of his status-conferring and economic-support functions. It is upon his position in the occupational system that the status and the style of life of the whole family group depends. This functional interpretation of the importance of the nuclear family in industrial society may be considerably weakened by the work of Laslett, referred to above. If the nuclear family has been the major form of European family structure for many centuries, predating the industrial revolution, and if this family form was the product of social values rather than of demographic or other constraints, then the modern family forms may be simply the continuation of a culturally preferred form.

Studies of the structure of kinship and family relations in modern industrial societies are rare in spite of the considerable literature on special problems of family living. Recent work in Britain has shown that lower-class families often live in close proximity to near kin and maintain intimate contact with them despite the “isolation” of the nuclear family (Young & Willmott 1957). The cooperation between mother and married daughters is particularly noticeable, and most writers have remarked upon the great importance of women in their role as mothers of grown-up children. Fathers are important, of course, as wage earners and supporters of their families, but in the lower class the status of the family tends to be fixed less by the occupation of the husband-father than by birth into a particular neighborhood and class. The network of relations between female kin is reinforced by daily contact, mutual help, and support in times of economic hardship, and is balanced by a tendency for men to spend their leisure time together rather than with the members of their own nuclear family.

A more extreme form of matrifocal family structure occurs in low-status ethnic groups where there appears to be some correlation with insecurity in male employment. In the plantation areas of the southern United States, the West Indies, and Latin America and in the urban areas of developing societies in Africa and Asia, one often finds high illegitimacy rates and unstable mating patterns. An array of types of domestic group is produced, the most distinctive being those in which a mother is surrounded by adult children and some of her daughter’s children. Money income flows into such a household from a variety of sources, such as children’s earnings, payment to daughters for the support of illegitimate children, the older woman’s own labor, and perhaps government relief funds. This income is reallocated around the essential tasks of child rearing and nurturance, and it appears that a household group of this kind is a useful adaptation to conditions of economic insecurity. This form of domestic group appears to be always regarded as a deviant form, partly because of the instability of male roles in relation to it. Unlike the matrilineal situation, men do not have important legal ties to their sisters; it is the mother who is the focus of the familial solidarity, and her position derives from affective rather than jural relations. It would be wrong to suggest that this is the typical household or familial form in the societies in which it occurs. Even at the class levels where it is most frequently found it constitutes only a small proportion of actual household groups, but its significance is as an expression of the strength of mother-child relations and the relative weakness of maritalties.

This brief sketch has outlined only some of the major features of family structure. Variations within single societies have hardly been touched upon, and nothing has been said about pathological forms. Nor has attention been directed toward the attempts which have been made from time to time to do away with family solidarity in favor of allegiance to other groups, although such attempts provide valuable experimental data. The Israeli cooperative communities are probably the best recent examples of this, although no definite conclusions about the necessity or otherwise of nuclear-family relationships can be drawn (Spiro 1958). What these cases do perhaps indicate, along with some of the matrilineal and matrifocal cases, is that marriage is not the only means of securing social “legitimacy” for children. Spiro shows that children brought up in central nurseries and schools are in a sense children of the whole community, in spite of the specific relationships they may develop with their “own” parents. This is possible because of the relatively small size of the communities.

However the family may be defined or structured, it always constitutes an area of diffuse and permanent solidarity between a limited number of individuals, and this is probably its most important distinguishing characteristic. This is a view at least suggested by W. H. Rivers in his Social Organization when he deliberately identifies the family of parents and children as the basic unit in European society but points out that in other societies the family may be much bigger, that biological connection is no guide to kinship, and that genealogies express kinship ties but may be fabricated to fit social reality. Rivers is very wary about drawing any precise line between family relationships and other kinship ties. Such lines can be drawn in particular cases but are very difficult to define a priori.

Raymond T. Smith

[Directly related are the entriesKinshipandMarriage; see alsoConflict, article onanthropological aspects.]


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Aside from some slight semantic disagreements, most social scientists agree that some form of a familial group is universal among human beings. Likewise in every society some of the familial groups are imperfect in their functioning and deserving of the label “disorganized.” Generally there is some relationship between disorganization and a more climactic, terminal situation called “dissolution.” Family groups are eventually dissolved by death or some form of separation, insofar as these groups are organized around the matings of men and women. Of course, a family process, in the sense of overlapping and interacting generations, is immortal, providing there is reproductive replacement before the familial group of a particular generation disintegrates (Kirkpatrick [1955] 1963, pp. 192-195).

Nature and significance

The significance of familial disorganization and dissolution depends upon the institutional arrangements for family life in a particular culture. If stress is laid on the nuclear family, then kinfolk are less available to aid members of the smaller familial group. Some families are vulnerable in the sense that their members expect permanence, have made deep emotional commitments, and do not readily redirect affection and loyalty. On the other hand, people may be less hurt by familial instability in cultures where instability is an established norm and where kinfolk are helpful and meaningful.

In most cultures, the familial group helps prepare children both for membership in a society and for effective functioning as parents. Disorganization and dissolution are significant in that they tend to interfere with this socialization process. Furthermore, disorganization and dissolution are often cumulative and recurrent in the family process. There is a convergence of evidence in the United States that people with happy marriages tend to come from happy homes. Divorce also runs in families; divorced persons are divorce-prone, and children suffering from bereavement or parental divorce may be involved with delinquency, illegitimacy, and unwise marriage. The consequences of disorganization and dissolution experienced by the parents are commonly visited upon the offspring, perhaps for several generations. Some children, however, are warned by the fate of their parents and in marriage make an effort to reverse a trend toward disorganization.

Terminology . It is impossible to make a useful analysis of the nature and significance of family disorganization and dissolution without precise terminology. In current usage “disorganization” seems to imply maladjustment, malfunctioning, psychological decay, and the existence of family problems. Goode defines family disorganization as “the breakup of a family unit, the dissolution or fracture of a structure of social roles when one or more members fail to perform adequately their role obligation.” He lists five types of family disorganization, namely, illegitimacy, dissolution, whether as a result of divorce, annulment, separation, or desertion; “empty shell family”; unwilled absence of one spouse; and “unwilled” major role failures (Goode 1964, pp. 91-92).

Clearly, such taxonomy makes no distinction between disorganization and dissolution. It seems from the inclusion of illegitimacy that a family can be “disorganized” by role failure even before it is organized. Caplow defines an organization as “a social system that has an unequivocal collective identity, an exact roster of members, a program of activity, and procedures for replacing members” (1964, p. 1). Following this line of thought, it would seem more proper to regard the “illegitimate family” as unorganized rather than as a type of family disorganization.

Distinction between disorganization and dissolution. In the present discussion a distinction will be made between family disorganization and family dissolution, and marital disorganization will be regarded as a special case of family disorganization. Family dissolution means disintegration, disruption, or chronic instability; it is characterized by “dependence, agency intrusion, member extraction, premature atypical departure and family violence” (Kirkpatrick [1955] 1963, p. 565).

Marital dissolution, as a special form of family dissolution, may take the form of suicide, murder of spouse, annulment, separation (ranging from psychological withdrawal to legal separation), and, finally, divorce. The withdrawal from spouse may be accompanied by substitution for wife of a co-wife, concubine, mistress, or prostitute. Sometimes dissolution is by stages, for example, in a sequence of avoidance, suit for separate maintenance, legal separation, an interlocutory divorce decree, and finally an absolute divorce with the right of remarriage.

Family dissolution is an imperfect index of family disorganization. Divorce is an imperfect index of marital disorganization because there may be disorganization without divorce. For example, divorce was very difficult to obtain in England prior to liberalization of the laws in 1857 and again in 1937. When the divorce door is closed, marital disorganization may be inconspicuously endured. On the other hand, a couple with high expectations of marital bliss but relatively little marital disorganization may seek divorce as an exit from marriage. That marital disorganization is often not extreme is shown by the frequency of reconciliation, dropping of divorce suits, and remarriage to the former spouse. Thus, Harvey J. Locke (1951, pp. 54-55) found that about a fourth of the divorced couples he studied were in the same marital adjustment category as the less happy fourth of the married couples.

Religious and moralistic viewpoints . Family disorganization and dissolution are viewed by many people in moralistic and religious terms. The family at one time performed functions so important that disharmony and disruption were viewed with alarm. One assumption of the patriarchal system in western European culture was that paternal authority could insure efficiency and stability in family life. It is probably still the assumption of middle-class people in the United States that “nice” people get on together and as spouses stay together.

The Roman Catholic viewpoint concerning family disorganization and dissolution has remained rather clear and constant since the Council of Trent, 1545-1563. The ideal is patriarchal harmony established by a marriage sacrament directed toward the goals of parenthood and marital love. The Catholic doctrine assumes various impediments, such as disparity of religion, lack of consent, or intention to seek a divorce. Given the impediment of disparity of religion, the marriage of a Catholic to a non-Catholic, especially one un-baptized, can be nullified, thus permitting the Catholic party to obtain a civil divorce and marry a Catholic partner “in favor of the Faith.” Even a marriage between Catholics may be dissolved by papal dispensation if the marriage is unconsum-mated and grounds exist for the marital disruption. In addition to nullification and dissolution by dispensation, the church grants separation from bed and board, which does not include the right of remarriage. The consummated and valid marriage between two Catholics is indissoluble and permits no remarriage unless terminated by death. Certain Protestant denominations hold equally religious and moralistic views (Kirkpatrick [1955] 1963, pp. 573-575).

The legalistic viewpoint . The legalistic view, which is prevalent in the United States, had its origins in canon law and was influenced by the common law of England. It is complicated by the lack of uniformity among the various statutes and decisions of the 50 states; the practice of seeking divorce in states other than the state of residence has brought controversial cases to the U.S. Supreme Court (Harper & Skolnick [1952] 1962, pp. 451-458).

Basic to the legalistic doctrine of divorce in the United States is adversary procedure. It is assumed that a relatively innocent party may be granted a divorce because of the relative guilt of the other party with reference to “grounds” specified in the statutes of the various states. There are four legal doctrines associated with the basic adversary procedure. If spouses cooperate in providing evidence calculated to obtain a divorce on certain grounds, that is collusion, and the divorce should be denied. If one party forgives an offense such as adultery and continues to live with the spouse, condonation is assumed, and the derivative inference is made that the damage to the innocent party was not great enough to justify a divorce. If one party shows that the other party is equally guilty, successful recrimination is established and the divorce is not to be granted. If one party plots the guilty behavior of the other party, that is connivance, and the divorce would be denied to the allegedly innocent party. Thus the legal operation of divorce is withheld from marriages so sick as to menace the well-being of both adults and children in the familial group (Kirkpatrick [1955] 1963, p. 595).

Social pathology . Disorganization and dissolution are subject to a third viewpoint, that of social pathology. This viewpoint assumes that well-functioning, organized families are “normal”; maladjustment and disruptions are regarded as deviant behavior. The families with problems should be brought back into line by monetary aid, psychological manipulation, and a therapy designed to help people achieve conformity to the social norms. With little reflection upon alternative frames of reference, there is concern for the cure of pathological situations.

Sociological viewpoint . A fourth viewpoint is that of scientific sociology. In the choice of this label there is no intended implication that sociology is a distinct, mature, and sophisticated science. Perhaps at the present time it is merely an attempt at clear, honest, abstract thinking about social phenomena, increasingly aided by systematic observation and analysis. From such an intellectual orientation, which is relatively free from concealed value assumptions and distorting preconceptions, family dissolution is sometimes seen as a relief of family disorganization. For certain infections, amputation is the choice of a lesser evil as compared with further spread of infection. So it may be with divorce.

The sociological viewpoint is generally deterministic and assumes that social changes make inevitable certain reactions in terms of disorganization and reorganization. According to this view, familial institutions, groups, and relationships are part of a larger social structure in which every aspect of the total configuration is related to every other aspect. Family disorganization may be one facet of a larger social disorganization.

Methods and trends in research

Family crisis . Research concerning crises of the family has been extensive. The great depression in the United States brought forth books on unemployment as a crisis for the family, and World War II brought an interest in bereavement and other trials visited upon the family by wartime conditions. More recently scholars have speculated as to the devastating influence that an atomic war would have on the family.

The confusion of terminology in regard to disorganization and dissolution is compounded by the concept of family crisis. Death, like divorce, can cause the dissolution of family units, and often bereavement is placed in the category of family crisis. Hill writes of the event (A) which interacts with the ability of the family to meet a crisis (B); both (A) and (B) interact with the definition which the family makes of the event (C), and thus the situation is an (X)–the crisis for a particular family. One family may take in its stride an impact which would crush another family that is lacking in resources and prone to regard a trifle as a crisis (Waller [1938] 1951, p. 460).

Endogenous and exogenous disorganization. Kirkpatrick drew a distinction between endogenous and exogenous disorganization, the former having an internal origin and the latter a relatively external origin. Distinctions were also made between the normal and atypical, the timely and the premature, and the objectively severe as compared with the objectively trivial. It was suggested that the term “crisis” be restricted to exogenous disorganization due to an objectively severe atypical or premature event (Kirkpatrick 1955, p. 503). Insofar as family dissolution results from exogenous disorganization, as defined above, it would seem proper to speak of exogenous family dissolution; an example would be the wiping out of a family by flood or fire.

Bereavement. The assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 was a conspicuous atypical, extreme experience which brought premature bereavement. The disorganization in the Kennedy family, in the sense of shock and sorrow, was exogenous disorganization; and the dissolution, in the sense of the loss of the head of the family, could be regarded as exogenous dissolution. Perhaps all bereavement, save that due to violence within the family group, could be regarded as exogenous, and if premature or atypical, it would be a family crisis. An expected death from natural causes of old age would be less clearly a crisis by the criteria which have been set forth, although some degree of disorganization and dissolution might result. There is no claim of exclusive categories in the suggested terminology, and the distinctions are relative.

It is important to make a distinction between father-deceased bereavement and mother-deceased bereavement in view of their differential implications for the family in terms of economic consequences and implications for the offspring in terms of sex typing, identification, and preparatory af-fectional relationships with parents of the opposite sex. Many aspects of bereavement experience have been probed by Howard Becker, Willard Waller, Thomas D. Eliot, David M. Fulcomer, and others. Perhaps more attention should be paid to the loss of common memories. If a beloved person is no longer available to confirm a happening, there may be doubt about the reality of prior experience and uncertainty about personal identity. If the identity of A is essentially the identity of A in relation to B, the loss of B drastically alters the subjective identity of A. Improved knowledge of familial disorganization and dissolution calls not only for greater precision of terminology but also for further exploration of bereavement as a family crisis that may lead to subtle forms of exogenous disorganization.

Demographic investigation . Investigators have explored the distribution of familial disorganization and dissolution over space, by social categories, and in time. For example, relief cases of a certain type may be more prevalent in certain urban areas and within social categories such as “nonwhites.” Furthermore, there may be fluctuations in the case load of social welfare agencies by time periods. Unemployment associated with the business cycle has generally meant an increase in the number of families dependent upon external financial assistance.

The most extensive investigation has been that of divorce regarded as a measure of familial dissolution and, more specifically, of marital dissolution. Numerous studies have noted variations in divorce rates by geographical region, sometimes considered in combination with various social categories. Paul Click has studied “marriage instability” as measured by separation ratios, divorce ratios, and proportion of children not living with both parents. His hypothesis that marital disruption in the United States tends to be more closely related to urbanization than to regions of residence was only partially supported (1963, pp. 47-54).

Various writers such as William J. Goode, Robert Winch, and Christine H. Hillman have stressed the higher divorce ratios among persons of lower socioeconomic status (Goode 1964, pp. 88-90; Winch [1952] 1963, pp. 706-708). However, this evidence contains some inconsistencies when men and women are considered separately. One finds a rather high incidence of divorce among college women as compared both with less educated women and with men at the same college level (Kirkpatrick [1955] 1963, p. 589). It should be stressed that the proportion divorced in a particular group or category of people is affected by remarriage and the rapidity of remarriage. If every person receiving a divorce decree remarried on the same day, there would be no residue of unmarried “divorced persons” in the population.

Desertion, another mode of marital dissolution, may not be accurately reflected in the census categories “separated,” “spouse absent,” and “divorced,” because of remarriage. During 1955 a Philadelphia court recorded 4,224 desertions handled, in contrast to only 2,812 divorces (Kephart 1961, p. 548). Desertion may be a substitute for divorce or preliminary to the legal action of divorce.

The demographic approach stresses the changing prevalence of divorce in various countries. The trend of the divorce rate after World War II was upward in many European countries, such as France, England, and Sweden, as well as in the United States and Canada (Jacobson 1959, table 42, p. 90; table 47, p. 98; Kirkpatrick [1955] 1963, p. 586). For the United States, rates are available from 1920 through 1960, expressed as divorces per year per one thousand married females 15 years of age and over. A curve based on such rates shows a drop during the depression in the 1930s, a huge peak in 1946 following the war, a decline to a plateau, and a figure of 9.2 on that plateau in 1960 as compared with 8.0 in 1920 (Carter & Plateris 1963). From a sociological point of view, this increase is far from spectacular.

The clinical approach . For many decades investigators have utilized methods less objective but perhaps more penetrating than those of the demographers. The various theories of Freud concerning emotion-laden interaction in the family group were integrated by J. C. Flïïgel. Waller, in his brilliant pioneer study of divorced couples (1930), drew upon psychoanalytic concepts in his analysis of alienation and postdivorce adjustment. He expressed original intuitions concerning motivation, as, for example, the suspicion that some ex-wives seek alimony not out of greed but because of jealous disinclination to see an ex-husband financially capable of marrying another woman. Some psychiatrists probably go to an extreme in regarding the seeking of divorce as an expression of neu-roticism.

Historical and comparative studies . The older and well-known accounts of the family, such as those by Edward Westermarck, George Elliott Howard, and Arthur W. Calhoun, contain much historical and comparative information concerning disorganization and dissolution. A book by Lichten-berger, published in 1931, gives a thoughtful and comprehensive analysis of divorce.

More recently, Murdock (1950) made a systematic survey of divorce practices in 40 nonin-dustrial societies. In many of these societies he found divorce to be more frequent than in the United States, but he also found more preventives and functional adaptations. From this anthropological perspective, the American family does not seem to be in a state of hopeless decay. Following Murdock’s lead, various anthropologists have investigated determinants of divorce rates in various cultures. Ackerman (1963), from a study of 62 societies, found certain forms of homogamy to be associated with low divorce rates. Christensen (1963) has given an elegant demonstration of the fact that the association between premarital pregnancy and divorce varies with a culture’s sexual permissiveness.

Measurement and prediction . Beginning in the 1930s, researchers attempted to measure and predict marital disorganization. The investigators often collected information concerning background factors at the same time that information was requested concerning marital adjustment. Some of the correlations between the so-called prediction scales (based upon various items, for the most part premarital) and the adjustment scales probably involved a “halo effect” (see Kirkpatrick [1955] 1963, chapters 15, 18, and appendix). Well-adjusted respondents tended to report favorably on both their marriages and their childhood backgrounds. The reverse was probably true for maladjusted couples.

In the longitudinal or forecasting studies of such authors as Ernest W. Burgess and Paul Wallin, Truman L. Kelley and Louis M. Terman, information was first obtained on a sample of individuals, and then after a period of years further information was gathered concerning their marital adjustment. [See the biography of BURGESS.] In general, correlations between scores on a prediction instrument and some categories of outcome tended to be lower when the halo effect was controlled by the passage of time.

In connection with this body of research, a great deal of information was collected concerning factors associated with “marital adjustment” or other criteria of success. The findings of many of these studies were brought together, with the revelation that there was rather a striking lack of convergence in evidence (Kirkpatrick 1947). Cautious verbal generalizations about the convergence of findings concerning factors related to marital adjustment and a guide to the sources from which these findings were derived are available (see Kirkpatrick [1955] 1963, chapter 15 and appendix A).

Improvement of scientific knowledge

More precise terminology, pertinent distinctions, and rigorous theory would all be helpful in furthering scientific knowledge in the area under discussion. Since disorganization and dissolution are aspects of family behavior, any advance in knowledge of family systems in general would indirectly contribute to knowledge in this specific area.

Theories of mating . Winch has systematically carried over his functional theory of the family to the area of family disorganization and dissolution. If he is correct in his theory of complementary mating, a foundation would be laid for generalizations concerning the kind of matings which would avoid family disorganization and dissolution ([1952] 1963, pp. 567-655).

Kirkpatrick derived a theory of mating from a basic postulate concerning the influence of prior satisfactions and dissatisfactions in the course of family experience; this theory was called a theory of “selective needs” based on prior satisfactions and dissatisfactions. In some respects it is different from the Winch theory, and in other respects it is convergent and supplementary (Kirkpatrick [1955] 1963, pp. 300-307). According to the Kirkpatrick theory, an extreme of marital disorganization and perhaps consequent familial disorganization would exist when the spouse violates “minus-plus needs” by providing more of the particular kind of dissatisfaction which was distressing during a prior phase of family experience. For example, the wife who fails to compensate for the dissatisfactions experienced by her husband with his mother and aggravates these same dissatisfactions by behavior similar to that of the mother, risks marital disorganization and possibly divorce.

Criteria of scientific worth . Improvement of scientific knowledge in this as in other areas depends upon meeting five different criteria of scientific worth (Kirkpatrick 1939; 1959). One criterion is that of verifiability. In one sense verifiability implies repeatability of procedure, as in the case of experiments in the natural science field. There is some assurance that research is verifiable by others when it is presented as already verified by the investigators in the sense of proper sampling, validity and reliability of instruments, and correctness of logical inference. It is striking that so many findings concerning factors favorable to success in marriage have been nonverifiable or unverified.

A second criterion is transmissibility. A marriage counselor may achieve striking success and yet be unable to transmit his art or technique to a pupil. Often a description of divorce rates in a certain country cannot be transmitted to another scholar because symbols lack identical meanings for each person.

A third criterion of scientific worth is consistency. The contribution having this quality is logically sound, and the terms are carefully defined and consistently used with reference to their assigned meanings. Theory, hypotheses, research design, findings, and conclusion are interrelated. Any convergence or discrepancy in evidence is systematically presented.

The fourth criterion is scope. Family disorganization and disruption may be analyzed in a single brief case study, or a massive three-volume work may describe this aspect of family systems with global coverage. For example, Goode made an admirable study of divorce as affecting a sample of women in Detroit (1956) and in another book analyzed the family patterns as affected by industrialism in varied countries of the world (1963).

A fifth and somewhat multiple criterion is that of implication. Research having the quality of implication has one or more of four characteristics–namely, prediction, practical application, methodological innovation, and creative integration. It would be useful to construct a questionnaire that would predict divorce with 100 per cent accuracy. A study would have implications when, if applied to family counseling, it prevented 90 per cent of the needless divorces. It would be a methodological contribution to integrate the various measures of marital dissolution into an improved index of marital disorganization. Finally, the subcriterion of creative integration would be illustrated by a new integration of existing theories concerning family disorganization into a generalized theory that generated hypotheses subject to definitive verification by empirical research.

Statistics and indices . The improvement of scientific knowledge concerning disorganization and dissolution depends upon improved statistics. In recent years some improvements have been made in marriage and divorce statistics in the United States, which are often inferior to those of less wealthy countries. In 1958 a reporting system known as the “divorce registration area” was established. For inclusion in the divorce registration area a state must have central files of divorce records; include on its record forms certain standard items; receive regularly reports from local areas such as counties; and cooperate with the National Vital Statistics Division in regard to testing data for completeness and accuracy (Carter 1960). Further support to the movement for improved statistics was given by a committee on marriage and divorce statistics of the American Sociological Association, which published a report in June 1958. As part of an action program initiated by the federal agencies concerned with marriage and divorce statistics, a national sample of marriage and divorce transcripts was collected for the year 1960, and the official improved statistics for 1960 are based on this new source, which extends coverage beyond the 18 states in the divorce registration area.

There are various ways in which scientific knowledge would be advanced by improvement of marriage and divorce statistics. Certain needs and research possibilities will be mentioned.

The duration of marriage prior to divorce is a very important item of information. While it is claimed that the duration of marriage to the time of the decree is known for 96.2 per cent of all divorces granted in the United States during 1960, this information has not been fully used to compute the probability of divorce for couples marrying at a particular time. Such true probabilities for earlier years have been computed by Monahan (1959) and Jacobson (1959), but there is a tendency to regard mistakenly the ratio of divorces to marriages of the same year as expressing the risk of divorce.

Improved divorce statistics would reveal on a national basis the details of prior experience with marriage and divorce prior to a particular divorce that is being recorded and tabulated.

It would also be helpful to have national statistics on the total number of persons of various types who have been affected by divorce. People pass out of categories which imply a record of divorce, but they may carry the subjective experience of divorce with them into a remarriage or a relationship with a stepparent.

Statistics concerning divorce should be more closely related to improved statistics concerning separation and desertion. It may be that concern about the divorce of a particular date is inappropriate in view of the fact that the granting of a decree is merely a legal event far removed in time from significant experiences of the individual concerned (Monahan 1962).

It is highly important to have national statistics which are cross tabulated, showing the characteristics of one divorced spouse as matched with those of the other spouse. For research purposes it would be useful to have such cross tabulations by previous marital experience, religion, age at divorce, education, occupation and social status, and children resulting from prior marriages of the divorced spouses.

An interrelation of divorce, marriage, and birth statistics on a national basis would be helpful. Christensen (1963) has already demonstrated that such comparisons are useful in showing the association of premarital pregnancy with divorce. It may be that computer storage and retrieval of data will make the method of “record linkage” increasingly applicable.

Statistics concerning family dissolution which permit valid international comparisons would be desirable. Obviously, a country which regards divorce as a private family matter and lacks a governmental agency concerned with divorce may seem to have a low divorce rate because of underreporting. A logical extension of trends in the United States would be an international divorce registration area, having as members countries with acceptable statistics. Other countries might seek then to improve their indices of family dissolution.

Given the process of changing marital status, which is conspicuous in the United States and in other industrialized countries, there is need for statistics that contribute to an index of what might be called the velocity of family dissolution. The speed of separation, divorce, remarriage and redi-vorce, could be known only with the aid of information concerning prior family experience, which would be reported at each transition. It is known from unusually good statistics in Iowa for 1953 that the duration of marriage prior to a divorce ranges from an average of 6.3 years for primary marriages, to 3.2 when both parties have been married before, to 1.8 for couples breaking up their third marriage (Monahan 1959). Kirkpatrick attempted a crude measure of velocity of family dissolution by dividing the number of divorces per year by the number of persons who in the year following were in the status of divorced (1955, p. 534). A good index of velocity of family dissolution would require improved statistics and would take into account the speed with which children lose natural parents to acquire a stepparent and perhaps a series of such stepparents.

Knowledge of causes and consequences . The distinction between disorganization and dissolution must again be stressed. As compared with couples equally disorganized but undivorced (either contemporary or living in a previous century), certain modern couples seek divorce for special reasons. Often the woman is able to get a job and hence can insist on a high standard of marital happiness. Thus, dissolution may be a preventive of disorganization. Some people are less tied to marriage than others; family functions, religious taboos, or life-long commitment to parental roles may simply have less meaning for them (Landis 1963). The door of divorce is more open to certain couples than to others because of lenient laws in their locality, relative freedom to migrate elsewhere for an easy divorce, encouragement of relatives, opportunities for remarriage, and in general, the prospect of freedom without the economic, religious, and psychological penalties which have threatened other couples in various times and places. It can even be argued that divorce itself is a cause of divorce, in that frequent divorce weakens the norm of marital stability. Divorce frees bad matrimonial risks for remarriage and subsequent divorce; offspring imitate divorced parents; and the divorce of numerous friends makes the choice of divorce more normal and respectable (Kirkpatrick [1955] 1963, pp. 577-582).

Persons facing divorce during the latter half of the twentieth century in the United States have varied problems. Variations in the divorce laws of the 50 states contribute to the possibility of legal tangles. The divorce procedure is neither consistently routinized nor consistently established as an individualized therapeutic procedure; certainly, as compared with the bereaved person, the divorced person lacks a clearly defined role to play. The more meaningful any marriage is, the more painful will be its dissolution. But the confusion involved in divorce as compared with bereavement is often almost as disturbing as the previous frustration and deprivation. Seriously maladjusted couples are confused and torn between the choices of continued sickness in their marriage and the amputation brought about by the choice of divorce. The grim challenge is to find the choice which brings the lesser evil.

Effect on children. It can be argued that research concerning the effect of disorganization and disintegration on children is important, even if it is imperfect by the criteria previously mentioned. Children are the helpless victims of the mistakes of their elders; they have little control over their destinies and usually cannot select the stepparent who comes to them in the course of the divorce–remarriage process.

Much of the research has failed to compare the children of disorganized but undissolved homes with those from disorganized and broken homes of specific types. Landis and Nye found that children from broken homes fared as well or better, according to certain criteria, than children from intact but unhappy homes (Nye 1957). Burchinal (1964) considered homes reintegrated by remarriage, as well as broken and unbroken homes, and found no differential effect on adolescents.

In regard to the convergence of valid findings, much depends on the methods used, the type of effect on children, and the age of offspring at which possible effects are investigated. Landis (1963) found rather impressive evidence that happy parental marriages were favorably related to the dating experience of offspring. Robert R. Bell and James DeBurger, both using the sibling-cooperator method (Kirkpatrick & Cotton 1951, p. 82), found that parental divorce showed greater influence than bereavement on the marital adjustment of grown offspring (see Kirkpatrick [1955] 1963, pp. 665-674).

Applications of knowledge

Effective application of improved knowledge of family disorganization and dissolution depends on the emerging pattern of interprofessional cooperation. Lawyers, doctors, psychologists, social workers, educators, home economists, clergymen, and demographers, as well as social scientists, draw upon the growing body of knowledge in this area. That thriving interdisciplinary organization in the United States–the National Council on Family Relations–draws members from all of the above-mentioned professions. Furthermore, the emerging international organizations concerned with the family tend to be interprofessional in character.

Legal changes . Legal changes, both actual and proposed, tend to reflect a sharper international perspective. Varied explanations of the divorce trends in England include the influence of changes in the divorce laws. However, Max Rheinstein (1960) found little influence of legal changes on divorce rates in Germany. In the United States, a tabulation of the divorce laws in the various states as of 1952 was cross tabulated by the crude divorce rates of 1950 and the percentages of respondents in the various states answering “No” to a question on a poll of 1936 which read, “Should divorces be easier to obtain in your state?” There was a striking lack of correspondence between severity of the laws, behavior as to obtaining divorces, and public opinion concerning legal restrictions (Kirkpatrick 1955, p. 538). Of course, extreme differences in divorce law among various countries or extreme changes within an area, for instance, in South Carolina, do correspond in some degree with divorce rates.

David and Vera Mace note a more “folksy” and less legalistic type of divorce procedure in Russia than in the United States (Mace & Mace 1963, pp. 203-226). Olson (1961) makes similar observations with regard to Japan. In view of the long and, thus far, futile campaign in the United States to achieve either a uniform divorce law in the various states or federal control by a change in the constitution, it is interesting to observe that Australia established such a uniform federal law in 1959. This may well have some effect on the pattern of Australian divorce rates.

Family counseling . Counseling and therapy offer one means of applying improved knowledge concerning family disorganization and dissolution. At times, legal reforms converge with provisions for family counseling. In Australia the Matrimonial Causes Act (mentioned above) restricts dissolution before three years of marriage and provides for marriage counseling and conciliation; it authorizes federal payment for such services to approved marriage guidance organizations (Harvey 1964). The provision for counseling in connection with the divorce procedure in Australia and Japan may give encouragement to persons in the United States who, like Judge Paul W. Alexander, plead for a therapeutic approach, abolition of adversary procedure, and family courts that provide for counseling prior to the granting of a divorce (Kirkpatrick [1955] 1963, pp. 631-632).

There is some agreement, furthered by experience with counseling and therapy, that prevention of family trouble should be sought by a focus on education and counseling at an early period in the life span. Since family dissolution results in no small measure from the coming together of the wrong combinations of people, there is an argument for premarital counseling and guidance in the process of selecting mates. Many issues, however, remain controversial. For example, the small number of trained counselors in relation to potential demand provides an incentive to sacrifice quality to quantity by approving the activity of many relatively untrained persons as counselors.

Perhaps the dilemma of quality versus quantity may be solved to some extent by group counseling and therapy instead of individual treatment. The mutual support found in such groups is impressive. Certain instruments constructed for measuring attitudinal agreement, marital adjustment, and empathy in dyadic relationships might be adapted for self-analysis on the part of individuals and couples with minimal outside aid from experts (Kirkpatrick & Hobart 1954, pp. 10-19).

International trends . The international outlook with regard to family disorganization and dissolution offers an intellectual challenge that goes beyond the parochial applications of existing knowledge. However, some promising beginnings have been made; Goode, for instance, has noted the influence of industrialization upon differential family instability among the different social classes of various countries. These classes may vary, of course, as to degree of urbanization, type of kinship system, and feministic orientation (de Vis-scher 1956). The most valid generalization seems to be that with the spread of Western technology there tends to be increasing similarity in the family systems of the world, including their provision for marital dissolution. The diffusion of feminism may temporarily increase family dissolution, as women demand equality in the privilege of divorce and become economically independent of both husbands and kinfolk (Sysiharju 1960).

Family systems tend to have a certain resiliency under the impact of drastic social change. The free divorce of the 1920s in communist Russia has been replaced by a conservative and restrictive procedure. Hitler attempted reactionary change of the German family (Kirkpatrick 1938), but after the political and military crisis had passed, the general feministic and egalitarian trends characteristic of Western civilization reappeared (Schelsky 1953). As the dominance of the independent nuclear family is proclaimed, evidence appears of the survival of functional kinship systems. Carle C. Zimmerman, who expressed concern about the return of the unstable “atomistic family,” found substantial evidence that “friend-families” tend to be supportive and homogeneous in regard to low incidence of divorce (Zimmerman & Cervantes 1956, pp. 91–117; see also Shanas & Streib 1965).

Improved facilities for communication are characteristic of the modern world, on the international, the national, and the familial level. Cultural interaction may increase both the similarity of familial institutions and agreement concerning human goals such as peace, freedom, and happiness–ends to which social institutions are means. If improved communication reduces repression, hollow ritual, and pretense at every level, the pursuit of happiness and freedom may lead to an increase in divorce rates or other indices of familial dissolution in conservative areas of society. Nevertheless, if dissolution be distinguished from disorganization, certain increases in dissolution may mean merely a spread of higher aspirations and a reluctance to endure familial disorganization with its associated misery.

Clifford Kirkpatrick

[See also Marriage, article onfamily formation; and the biographies of Waller; Westermarck.]


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FAMILY. There is no natural form of family, just as there has never been historical agreement about the meaning of the word itself. Throughout most of the early modern period "family" usually referred to all the members of one's household, including nonrelatives, such as servants and lodgers. At the same time some authors of the time clearly conceived of "family" in the sense of an extended kinship network. By the beginning of the nineteenth century both of these meanings had been largely supplanted by the modern sense of a cohabiting nuclear group of parents and children, although neither of the older meanings died out completely. Just as importantly there was no common family and household living arrangement during the early modern era and accordingly no clear transition from "traditional" to "modern" families but rather a plurality of household forms that continued to occur well into the nineteenth century.


The early modern household represented the basic unit of residence, production, and reproduction in the city and country alike. Its common interchangeability with "family" throughout the period had deep and ancient roots. Almost all modern European languages trace their words for "family" back to the Latin famulus, 'slave', thus signifying the dependence of relatives and servants on the paterfamilias or head of the household. Government officials from antiquity through the early modern period shared this patriarchal view of all authority and accordingly considered the hearth, or household, the key unit in census and tax calculations. Thus for practical as well as ideological reasons, the premodern household was the family.

This residential sense of family, however, coexisted with a broader definition as an extended group of kin or all of the people related by blood. Ancient Greeks and Romans tended to stress the unilineal agnatic kinship group (Latin gens, plural gentes ), tracing blood relations only through the father's ancestry, but still recognized the importance of relations through the mother's side (known as cognates). Latin, for instance, had one word for a paternal uncle (patruus) and another for a maternal uncle (avunculus). During the early and High Middle Ages the Germanic understanding of kinship as bilateral, involving blood relations from both parents' families, dominated. The marriage of two individuals from different clans (German Sippe; French race; Spanish raza; Italian razione ) thus had repercussions far beyond the couple itself. Now each had new parents, siblings, and cousins who were to be treated as blood relations, even after the death of one of the spouses, at least according to canon or church law. Until at least the twelfth century this type of broadly defined family by extended kinship constituted the strongest social, economic, and political bond throughout Europe.

About this time many aristocrats, knights, and wealthy merchants returned to the ancient practice of a patrilineal definition of kinship, inventing permanent family surnames and coats of arms that were passed down from fathers to sons. By the end of the Middle Ages the patrilineal movement had spread throughout Europe. Admittedly some members of the lower orders did not adopt the practice of a first and a last name until governments compelled them to do so at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but these were rare exceptions to the rule. In most cases the family surname was inherited from the father though some islands of bilateral lineage survived, such as Castile, where men often took their aristocratic wives' surnames. Sometimes, as in parts of France, a surname went with an estate and thus could potentially come from a nonrelative.

The success of the patrilineal form of genealogy, however, did not eliminate the importance of all maternal as well as paternal relatives in matters of inheritance, guardianship, and of course affection. Canon law also made no distinctions between the two branches of family in its restriction of marriage to those individuals outside the fourth degree of kinship. Thus family in both its broadest definition of kinship and the narrower sense of household survived into the early modern era.


The great diversity of marriage and inheritance practices in early modern Europe make generalizations about the formation and composition of the household extremely difficult if not impossible. There are, however, some notable characteristics, a few of them quite distinctive in history. In 1965 the historical demographer John Hajnal famously identified what he called "the European marriage pattern" of the early modern era. This apparently unique phenomenon, which he later revised to "the northwestern European pattern," originally described marriage practices in all the lands west of an imaginary line drawn between Saint Petersburg and Trieste. The two most striking aspects of this model were relatively late marriage (late twenties for men, early to midtwenties for women) and a high percentage (10 to 25 percent) of never married or widowed individuals. Hajnal theorized that various economic factorssuch as extended journeyman status in a craft and a population surplus of marriageable girls and womenas well as religious factors (notably the Catholic celibate ideal) contributed to this pattern, which showed no signs of change before the nineteenth century.

The implications for household formation were significant. First, there was the size of the household itself. Late marriage tended to reduce the number of pregnancies and live births, the latter to about five to seven per woman by the age of forty. Given the high infant and child mortality rates, this meant a nuclear family under five per household most of the timeconsiderably smaller than was commonly assumed. At the same time the common practice of sending boys and girls by age twelve to apprentice-ships or domestic service meant that many youths would be considered part of a household other than their parents' for at least five and as much as fifteen years, depending on their securing permanent employment, property, or in the case of young women, a suitable dowry. Finally, the large number of single young people and widowed old people resulted in an unusually high proportion (by premodern standards) of lodgers or single households, especially in cities.

During the last forty years of the twentieth century, Hajnal's thesis underwent testing and considerable refinement. Reconstituting families by examining marriage contracts, wills, baptismal registers, tax records, and other legal documents, many historians have confirmed the frequency of late marriage and single households during the era, but they have also made clear that there was no one marriage pattern or household type among the diverse peoples of early modern Europe, east or west. Rather, certain ideal models tend to appear more in certain places and times, but even so there is a risk of distorting the variability of these household forms and their larger social implications in practice.

It is widely accepted that the most common type of household was the nuclear family, with evidence pointing well back to the Middle Ages, at least in England. Composed only of a married couple with or without children and possibly a servant, the nuclear family appears everywhere and at all times during the early modern era. If a son remained at home with his parents into adulthood and postponed setting up his own household, the nuclear unit became what is known as a stem family, also an apparently frequent model throughout Europe. When three generations of a family lived together or when any relatives other than the nuclear unit cohabited, the household became an extended family. This type of household, typically including one elderly grandparent, was most common in southern France and parts of German-speaking Europe, especially in the countryside. Households without a conjugal unit at the center, known as nonfamily households, were more common in cities. Households composed of several conjugal unitsknown to demographers as joint, multiple, or complex households and to early modern contemporaries as fraternas (Italian) or frérèches (French)were most common in southern and eastern Europe. Again though, these geographical generalizations are merely crude approximations that are particularly difficult to support in the so-called transition zones of Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, western Poland, and Estonia.

The erroneous presumption that most early modern families were large appears to have originated in the nineteenth century primarily as a reaction against the perceived dangers to the family (by then meaning the nuclear family) from industrialization and other modern developments. Numerous subsequent studies have instead confirmed Hajnal's conjecture that large or multiple households predominated only in eastern Europe, while small households remained the norm in the west. In Russia, for instance, three-quarters of all serf households through the eighteenth century were multiple, while in Scandinavia, England, and northern Germany the majority of households were nuclear, with only 2 percent of English households containing more than twelve people. In fact except for serfs or sharecroppers, whose landlords structurally encouraged large households, the poorer the family, the smaller the household.

The painstaking work of David Herlihy and Christine Klapisch-Zuber on a fifteenth-century Florentine tax census found that only one out of ten households had more than ten people and that most averaged four to five persons. Significantly those few large households in Florence, England, and elsewhere tended to be proportionate to personal wealth. Royal courts, for example, could encompass hundreds of retainers, and even the household of a seventeenth-century English lord might contain forty or more people (and many aristocrats maintained more than one residence). An ordinary English gentleman, by comparison, might have eight people in his "family," while the average household in the kingdom contained four to five individuals. Even among those households with more than three children, the relatively long span between births in many families combined with the early age of leaving for work often meant than no more than three children might be resident at a given time.

In addition to the various types of blood relatives included in different household models, three types of nonkin might also be in residence and therefore considered members of the family. The most common were domestic servants. In cities these tended to be girls from the country, sometimes relatives but usually strangers contracted for three or more years. The objective for the girls, typically starting work at age twelve or thirteen, was to earn enough money for a decent dowry with which they hoped to secure a good marriage. Salaries were one-half to one-third of what the maids could make in the fields, so there was great mobility during harvest time despite the obligations of their contracts and laws threatening punishment. The one exception to the preference for female domestics was the wealthy household, where many male retainers reflected on the social status and virility of the paterfamilias. Domestic servitude as a life phase was extremely common in early modern Europe, so at least one-third of households at any given time included servants. This also held for apprentices, under contract for up to seven years in the hope of learning a craft. In practice apprentices, who were usually teenage boys, ended up doing many odd jobs and other work not related to a craft and were in that sense on the same level as servants.

The third type of nonrelative who might be considered part of the household was lodgers. These individuals tended to be single young men, often journeymen, who stayed for as little as a few weeks or as long as several years. Unable to set up their own households yet, they were forced to rent and often travel, staying mostly in cities and providing a welcome source of income for many families. Often they worked on the family farm or in some kind of cottage industry.


Another modern myth about the premodern family has its origins in the work of the sociologist Philippe Ariès more than forty years ago. Though later scholars have somewhat caricaturized his argument, their criticism has nonetheless thoroughly demolished Ariès's most controversial assertion regarding the family, namely that the sentimental affections seen as normal between parents and their children were alien to Europeans before the eighteenth century. During the 1970s some historians, such as Lawrence Stone and Jean-Louis Flandrin, attempted to modify the thesis with their own theories of an early modern transition, but by the late 1980s the scholarly consensus had clearly swung in favor of greater continuity on the question of familial and parental love and affection. Obviously such matters are highly subjective and thus impervious to quantification. The sources available for an overwhelmingly illiterate society are extremely limited as well. Still one need go no further than the sensationalist press's accounts of infanticide and parricide or the plays of Shakespeare, Molière, or Richard Sheridan to grasp the extreme sensitivity of early modern Europeans to the unnatural treatment of blood relations, particularly acts of betrayal and murder among parents, children, siblings, and other close relatives. There was clearly something special about the relationship between parents and children that went beyond mutual duties and obligations, something that occasionally led to great extremes of passions and above all something that deeply affected one's own sense of identity.

This does not mean that early modern families were immune to material interests or the tensions that property often caused. The common source of such conflicts was of course the question of inheritance, and here early modern Europe possessed as bewildering a set of local variations as can be imagined. Some historians have attempted to tie type of inheritance practice to household type, yet while there is some rough correlation between impartibility and multiple households or between partibility and nuclear households, there are far too many regional exceptions to support any such generalization. Broadly speaking the two most basic distinctions were those between partible and impartible inheritance. In partible inheritance the patrimony, or total estate, was evenly divided among children, usually the sons. Occasionally daughters would inherit (especially if there were no sons), but their property would be administered by their husbands or male relatives. Though intended to minimize conflicts among siblings over inheritance, partibility often had the opposite effect, since the heirs had to inventory anything they received at any time. Dividing up the patrimony every generation could also lead to impoverishment, hence a gradual move toward impartibility developed by the beginning of the early modern era.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries partibility began to be replaced in some parts of central and southern Europe by impartibility, which had already established a foothold in much of southern France and Spain. In most versions of impartibility, one heir (usually the oldest son, a practice known as primogeniture) inherited the entire patrimony, thus acting as a steward to the family property and preserving its integrity. The new practice was especially popular among royal dynasties, large landowners, and other wealthy families. In most places noninheriting brothers and sisters were to receive a "portion," that is, a cash settlement, and in many cases went on to work for the older brother. Among nobles on the Continent, the designated heir was often expected to provide an annual stipend for each of his brothers and a dowry to each of his unmarried sisters. English aristocrats, by contrast, were rarely required to make any such concession and only did so voluntarily.

Despite such counterbalances, many early modern people, especially among the Protestant clergy, considered impartibility inherently unfair and even unchristian. Moreover the multitude of diverse customs throughout Europe could make the rights and prerogatives bestowed upon the head of the household appear quite arbitrary. Within the kingdom of France, for instance, a father in Provence had absolute power over the choice of his heir, an exclusionary tactic that led to the designation of the fortunate beneficiary as l'enfant, 'child' (implying that his excluded siblings were not even children in a real sense). Meanwhile a father in Brittany had no power whatsoever to discriminate among his children. Occasionally a father might attempt to circumvent the local legal tradition and put an entailment in his will (known as a substitution in France; mayorazgo in Spain; majorat in Denmark; fideicommissum in Italy, Germany, Sweden, and Poland; and strict settlement in Britain) that prohibited sale, gift, or division of the land for several generations, but this was not always possible.

The question of inheritance could play a key role in relations within the family, including degrees of affection. Even small amounts of property could trigger bitter rivalries among designated heirs and their brothers and sisters, particularly in the case of children from two different marriages, where each individual or group of siblings attempted to exclude the other from inheritance. Many fathers clearly agonized over their attempts to preserve the patrimony and also provide for all of their children. The results could vary considerably. Impartibility tended to encourage emigration, early marriage, and nuclear households among noninheriting children, especially as travel to the New World became cheaper and more frequent, but many also remained near home. It also usually resulted in an extended family household for the adult heir and parent(s), though this too could vary, depending on the nature of the inheritance, local custom, and preferences of the father. Partibility carried its own set of conflicts and survived in many areas (for example, much of central and western Germany) well into the nineteenth century.

The head of the household's control over the family's patrimony obviously gave him a great deal of authority over his children's lives, particularly over the choice of spouses and the timing of marriages. As a rule the more property involved, the greater the involvement of fathers or male guardians in such matters, although forced marriages remained unusual and in most places illegal. Instead, fathers and children often sought a convergence of economic interests and personal attraction, apparently succeeding a good deal of the time. The prerogatives of inheritance also usually ensured that fathers or mothers would be provided for in old age, either in an extended household or with guaranteed income after passing the family property on. Heads of poor households, on the other hand, especially landless laborers, exercised no such economic authority over their grown children and thus enjoyed much less financial security in old age. Well into the twentieth century small households of single or married people over sixty were the poorest anywhere in Europe or North America, surpassed in that distinction possibly only by female-headed households with children.

The nonrelatives of an early modern household usually had no stake in inheritance strategies but played essential roles in family dynamics nevertheless. Writers of the era were fond of portraying servants and apprentices as scheming enemies of the master and the mistress of the house: lying, stealing, lecherous, and above all lazy. Indeed by the eighteenth century words such as "varlet" and "knave" had taken on almost exclusively derogatory meanings in the English language. Legal and other records convey a more nuanced and complicated tangle of relationships between servants and the relatives of the house. Some servants were treated like surrogate children, while others were clearly neglected or abused, receiving worse or less food, mean accommodations, and no affection. Even that common source of illegitimate babies, the illicit affair between the paterfamilias and a young maid, defies easy generalization. Every case had its own mixture of coercion (even rape) and willingness, of naïveté and cynical manipulation, of secrecy and flagrancy. The authority of the paterfamilias over servants and apprentices moreover was never absolute, though it did generally enjoy the legal benefit of the doubt. Religious authorities held the paterfamilias responsible for the spiritual instruction of the entire household, and immoral acts by children and servants alike reflected directly on his reputation. Protestant consistories and other church bodies frequently censored a father or widow for "bad housekeeping," though secular authorities rarely followed up with any punishments of their own.


Before the wide-scale industrialization of the nineteenth century, the household was the key unit of production in European economies. Urban workshops and rural farms alike relied on the labor of household members, including parents, children, servants, apprentices, and sometimes wage-earning lodgers. The degree to which this "whole house" (das ganze Haus) economic model successfully functioned remains a matter of some dispute among family historians. The key for the early modern paterfamilias lay in meeting his family's immediate and future needs while minimizing the number of mouths he had to feed. In this respect rural households west of the Hajnal line showed much greater flexibility, largely because of the high availability of servants and lodgers to balance the size of the household with the size of the holding. The size of eastern European households, usually complex in structure, was less flexible and therefore fixed the amount of labor available, regardless of the size of the property to be worked. Over all, many factorstype and quantity of product, local agrarian system, interregional and international markets, kin and other social networks, property laws, demographics, and so forthhelped determine which labor strategy a head of household adopted.

The division of labor in the early modern household had not always been gender and age specific. During the Middle Ages wives apparently often shared in their husbands' craftwork, even into widowhood. By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, though, this type of labor was increasingly restricted for women, who nevertheless often continued to bring in income through sewing or spinning work (which came to be defined as part of "housekeeping" and thus not really "work"). The division of labor along gender lines was long familiar in rural settings, where men were assigned to tasks requiring greater physical strength, such as plowing and planting, while women (and children) worked on food preparation, cleaning and mending of clothing, housecleaning, water carrying, and so forth. During harvest all members of the household played various parts in getting crops from field to market.

Two major economic events during the early modern era had especially significant consequences for the household economy. The first was the rise of wage labor following the late fifteenth century. At the very time when new impartible inheritance laws were sweeping across Europe, an increasing number of wage-earning jobs in the West provided noninheriting children with an alternative basis for setting up their own households. This loss of labor forced some farmers to hire their own help, further increasing the number of wage earners in the economy and nonrelatives in the household.

The second development began in the midseventeenth century and likewise fed the growth of a wage economy in many parts of western Europe. Proto-industrialization, particularly in the textile industry, had the greatest impact on small landholders, whose members (women, children, and sometimes men) increasingly turned to some phase of cloth production for their households' incomes. Unlike the traditional guild system, in which all phases of production were under the direct supervision of a master in the craft, the "putting-out system" (German Verlagssystem ) assigned an intermediate task to an outsider, who was paid at an agreed-upon piece rate. The growth of these so-called cottage industries was gradual and came as a consequence of changes in agrarian markets as well as higher demands and therefore increased production. Before the mechanization and factories of the industrial revolution, for instance, it took four to ten spinners to produce the amount of yarn woven by a single weaver in one day. Like large landowners who had increasingly enclosed and converted their farmland to sheep-grazing fields, these cottagers found income from the cloth industry both more profitable and more reliable than farming.

The immediate impact of increased wage labor and proto-industrialization on household forms was not always clear-cut. Clearly wage labor tended to encourage earlier marriage and more nuclear households. No longer forced to wait for inheritance, noninheriting children had little reason to remain part of an extended or complex household rather than start their own. Yet many such individuals, for reasons of security or family solidarity, did stay on well into adulthood despite the conditions. Similarly proto-industrialization sometimes encouraged more nuclear households and other times had the opposite effect. The formation of new households depended on many factors, including the skills required for production (an important limitation in such industries as arms manufacture in Belgium), the initial outlay of capital required for equipment (for example, expensive looms), and the size of the household.


Since antiquity family and household have served as powerful metaphors as well as social realities. Aristotle considered the household (Greek oikos ) the chief building block of society as well as the model for a successful state. "It was out of the association formed by men with . . . women and slaves," he wrote in his Politics, "that the household was formed. . . . The next step is the village. . . . The final association, formed of several villages, is the city or state." Aristotle considered both the household and the state "naturally" hierarchical and patriarchal, with the head of the household and head of state each possessing certain duties as well as prerogatives. Their paternal authority demanded filial obedience but also obliged household heads to display loving concern. Later the Roman paterfamilias and emperor enjoyed expanded rights, often to a shockingly autocratic degree by modern standards. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries European writers revived the classical tradition of the household as metaphor for the state, arguing for a strengthening of the patriarchal leader of each. In Germany a number of popular Protestant pamphlets, the so-called Hausvaterliteratur, lamented that the authority of the head of household, or Hausvater, was under assault from an unholy alliance of shrewish wives, wild children, papist agitators, and a variety of devils bent on destruction of the family. A father should be as a king in his own household, they argued, providing biblical, classical, and anecdotal evidence in support. Publications elsewhere in Europe similarly invoked the sovereignty of the paterfamilias, whom Thomas Hobbes (15881679) likened to the head of a small monarchy.

The other side of the patriarchal metaphor consisted of a paternalization of political authority. This imagery too was ancient and continued to inspire many medieval paeans to fatherly kings, such as Saint Louis (Louis IX; ruled 12261270) of France. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, though, proponents of a stronger "absolutist" monarchy, such as Jean Bodin (15301596), applied paternal claims of sovereignty to argue for greater political authority for their kings. Only a father's strong hand, Bodin maintained in his Six Books of a Commonwealth (1576), could prevent the anarchy that had overtaken France during its religious wars.

The comparison of a kingdom to a household probably reached its zenith with the writings of the Englishman Robert Filmer (c. 15881653). Beginning in the 1630s Filmer published several tracts that made an argument similar to Bodin's but with even more extensive use of patriarchal imagery. Unlike the proposed absolute monarch of Thomas Hobbes, Filmer's rulerlike a true fatherruled more by moral suasion and education than by force. His ultimate authority, however, was beyond dispute, dating back to Adam and later the dispersion of Babel: "The Nations were distinct Families, which had Fathers for Rulers over them; . . . God was careful to preserve the Fatherly Authority, by distributing the Diversity of Languages, according to the Diversity of Families." After the English Civil War and Commonwealth, Filmer's writings received new attention, culminating in the printing of his previously unpublished masterwork, Patriarcha (The natural power of kings) in 1680. By then patriarchal political imagery and language were so pervasive that even John Locke (16321704), who dismissed Filmer's absolutist arguments as "glib nonsense," was forced to acknowledge the paternal nature of government.

The patriarchal revival also had its religious dimension. Both kings and fathers, as Filmer noted, received their authority directly from God, most explicitly in the fourth commandment to love and obey one's parents. This "divine right" to rule became closely identified with the absolutist monarchies of England's Charles I (ruled 16251649) and France's Louis XIV (ruled 16431715), but the sentiment, if not the political implications, was widespread in early modern Europe. At the same time both fathers and political authorities had clearcut responsibilities for the religious welfare of their respective "families." Martin Luther (14831546) even referred to both figures as bishops expected to lead by example and discipline every member of their respective realms. This highly idealized patriarchal hierarchy was best expressed by German authors, who wrote of a Hausvater (head of household) subject to a Landesvater (prince or "father of his country"), with both overseen by the Gottesvater (God the father) himself.

Throughout the early modern period many religious sects and political groups also employed the language and imagery of family. All of the Reformation's leaders spoke to their congregations as "families," and some groups, notably the Anabaptists and their successors, called each other "brother" and "sister." Later movements, such as the Society of Friends (that is, Quakers) and Moravian Brethren, similarly turned to the language of family for coherence and identity. Finally, secular political groups from the Masons to the Jacobins of the French Revolution openly proclaimed brotherhood (French fraternité ) as one of their foundational tenets.


Just as no single "traditional" family model ever existed, no single modern family model succeeded it. Nuclear households admittedly became more common during the nineteenth century, but complex and alternate household forms continued to thrive in some places, particularly southern and eastern Europe. "Modernization," in the guise of either industrialization or increased individualism, also did not spell the end of the importance of kinship; some historians argue that family relations became even more important as a result of such larger social transformations. On the other hand, the household itself did experience some significant changes. Most notably, historians detect a discernible increase after the sixteenth century in the desire for privacy, resulting in somewhat larger and more compartmentalized residences among the middle and upper classes. The idea of "home" itself took on a form of separation from society, a haven in a tumultuous world. By the eighteenth century a new "cult of domesticity" was growing, and by the following century it spread to lower-middle-class and working-class cultures. Like the patriarchal model that preceded it, the new idealization of the household often remained a common point of reference rather than a social reality. Still it corresponded nicely with the continuing rise of nuclear households, a convergence one might call the congealment of the modern family if not its birth.

See also Authority, Concept of ; Childhood and Childrearing ; Divine Right Kingship ; Divorce ; Gender ; Inheritance and Wills ; Marriage ; Proto-Industry ; Women .


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Joel F. Harrington

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FAMILY. Myths, misconceptions, and misleading generalizations distort Americans' understanding of the history of the family. Many Americans mistakenly believe that earlier families were more stable and more uniform than modern ones and that divorce, domestic violence, and single parenthood are modern developments. In fact, American family life always has been diverse and vulnerable to disruption. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the United States had the highest divorce rate in the Western world; one child in ten lived in a single-parent home; and approximately 100,000 children lived in orphanages, in many cases because their mothers and fathers could not support them.

Among the most potent myths is the notion that the traditional family in American history consisted of a breadwinner husband and a fulltime mother. In fact, it was not until the 1920s that a majority of American families consisted of a breadwinner husband, a homemaker wife, and two or more children attending school.

Despite the romanticized images of family life of the past, family well-being has experienced several advances. These include the decline in the frequency with which families are broken by a member's premature death and the fact that smaller families allow parents to devote more attention and resources to each child. A lack of historical perspective nevertheless has interfered with the acceptance of families that diverge from the dominant norms.

Families in Colonial America

Since the early eighteenth century, families have undergone far-reaching changes in their roles and functions, sizes and compositions, and emotional and power dynamics. Whereas twentieth-century families primarily functioned to raise children and to provide emotional support for their members, colonial families were first and foremost productive units. Colonial families performed a wide range of functions that schools, hospitals, insurance companies, and factories subsequently assumed. Colonial families educated children in basic literacy and the rudiments of religion, transmitted occupational skills, and cared for the elderly and the infirm.

The composition of colonial families was elastic and porous, reflecting both a high mortality rate and households' expanding or contracting labor needs. Even in the most healthful regions, during the seventeenth century three children in ten died before reaching adulthood, and most children had lost at least one parent by the time they married. Consequently, a majority of colonial Americans spent some time in a stepfamily. Most children left their parental homes before puberty to work as servants or as apprentices in other households.

Colonial society attached little value to domestic privacy. Community authorities and neighbors supervised and intervened in family life. In New England selectmen oversaw ten or twelve families, removed children from "unfit" parents, and ensured that fathers exercised proper family government.

In theory, the seventeenth-century family was a hierarchical unit, in which the father held patriarchal authority. He alone sat in an armchair, his symbolic throne, while other household members sat on benches or stools. He taught children to write, led household prayers, and carried on correspondence with other family members. Domestic conduct manuals were addressed to him, not to his wife. Legally he was the primary parent. He received custody of children after divorce or separation, and in colonial New England he was authorized to correct and punish insubordinate wives, disruptive children, and unruly servants. He also was responsible for placing his children in a calling and for consenting to his children's marriages. His control over inheritance kept grown sons dependent upon him for years, while they waited for the landed property needed to establish an independent household.

In practice, gender boundaries were not as rigid as this patriarchal ideology suggests. Colonial women shouldered many duties later monopolized by men. The colonial goodwife engaged in trade and home manufacturing, supervised planting, and sometimes administered estates. Women's productive responsibilities limited the amount of time they devoted to child care, and many child-rearing tasks were delegated to servants or older daughters. Ironically, the decline of patriarchal ideology accompanied the emergence of a much more rigid gender division of labor within the home.

Themes and Variations

Profound differences existed among the family patterns in New England, the middle colonies, and the Chesapeake and southernmost colonies. In New England the patriarchal conception of family life began to break down as early as the 1670s. In the Chesapeake area and the Carolinas a more stable patriarchal structure of relationships did not emerge until the mid-eighteenth century.

Demography partly explains these regional differences. After an initial period of high mortality, life expectancy in New England rose to levels comparable to those of the twentieth century. A healthful environment contributed to a high birthrate (more than half of New England children had nine or more siblings) and the first society in history in which grandparents were common. In the Chesapeake region, in contrast, a high death rate and an unbalanced sex ratio made it impossible to establish the kind of stable, patriarchal families found in New England. In seventeenth-century Virginia, half of all marriages were broken within eight years, and most families consisted of an assortment of stepparents, stepchildren, wards, half brothers, and half sisters. Not until the late eighteenth century could a father expect to pass property directly to his sons.

Religious differences also contributed to divergent family patterns. Not nearly as anxious about infant depravity as Puritan families, Quaker families in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey placed a greater stress on maternal nurture than did their Puritan counterparts. Quakers also emphasized early autonomy for children. They provided daughters with an early dowry and sons with sufficient land to establish a basis for early independence.

The Emergence of the "Republican" Family

During the eighteenth century, New England fathers exerted less influence than previously over their children's choices of occupations or marriage partners and over their sexual behavior. By mid-century, sons were moving further away from the parental home, fewer daughters were marrying in birth order, and rates of illegitimacy and pregnancy prior to marriage were rising markedly.

One force for change was ideological. The eighteenth century saw repeated attacks upon patriarchal authority by such popular writers as Samuel Richardson, Oliver Goldsmith, and Henry Fielding, who rejected the idea that a father should dictate a child's career or choice of a marriage partner. Popular literature also asserted that love and affection were superior to physical force in rearing children and that women were more effective than men in inducing children's obedience. Economic shifts further eroded paternal authority. Rapid population growth, which divided inherited family land into plots too small to be farmed viably, weakened paternal control over inheritance. New opportunities for nonagricultural work allowed many children to marry earlier than in the past.

By the early nineteenth century a new kind of urban middle-class family emerged as the workplace moved some distance from the household and as unmarried women working in factories assumed many of the productive tasks of married women. A new pattern of marriage based primarily on companionship and affection arose, as did a new division of domestic roles, which assigned the wife to care full time for her children and to maintain her home. At the same time a new conception of childhood emerged that viewed children as special creatures who needed attention, love, and time to mature. Spouses began to display affection more openly, and parents began to keep their children home longer than in the past. By the mid-nineteenth century a new emphasis on family privacy expelled apprentices from the middle-class home, increased the separation of servants from the family, and spawned family vacations and family-oriented celebrations, such as birthday parties and decorating the Christmas tree.

The new urban middle-class family was based on the strict segregation of sexual spheres, intense mother-child bonds, and the idea that children needed to be protected from the corruptions of the outside world. Even at its inception, however, this new family form was beset by latent tensions. Although a father might think of himself as breadwinner and household head and might consider his wife and children his dependents, in fact his connection to his family was becoming essentially economic. He might serve as disciplinarian of last resort, but his wife was now the primary parent. The courts recognized this fact by developing the "tender years" doctrine that young children should stay with their mothers following a divorce or separation.

Another source of tension in the middle-class family involved the expectation that women should sacrifice their individuality for their husband and children's sakes. During their youth, women received an unprecedented degree of freedom. Increasing numbers attended school and worked, at least temporarily, outside a family unit. After marriage they were to subordinate their needs to those of other family members. This abrupt transition led many women to experience a "marriage trauma" as they decided whether or not to marry. Women's subordinate status was partially cloaked by an ideology of separate spheres, which stressed that women were purer than men and were supreme in matters of the home and religion, but the contradiction with the ideal of equality remained.

Meanwhile, children remained home far longer than in the past, often into their late teens and their twenties. The emerging ideal was a protected childhood, in which children were shielded from knowledge of death, sex, and violence. While in theory families were training children for independence, in reality children received fewer opportunities than in the past to demonstrate their growing maturity. The result was that the transition from childhood and youth to adulthood became increasingly disjunctive and conflict riven.

These contradictions contributed to three striking developments: a sharp fall in the birthrate, a marked rise in the divorce rate, and a heightened cultural awareness of domestic violence. Nineteenth-century women rapidly reduced the birthrate. Instead of giving birth to seven to ten children, middle-class mothers by the century's end gave birth on average to only three. The decline in the birthrate did not depend on new technologies; rather, it involved the concerted use of such older methods as withdrawal and periodic abstinence, supplemented by abortions induced chemically or by trauma to the uterus. No longer were women regarded simply as childbearing chattel or were children regarded as economic assets. The new view was that children required greater parental investments in the form of education and maternal attention.

During the nineteenth century the divorce rate steadily rose, as judicial divorce replaced legislative divorce and many states allowed judges to grant divorce on any grounds they deemed fit. According to a new cultural ideal, marriage rested on mutual affection, and divorce was a safety valve for loveless and abusive marriages. In 1867 the country had 10,000 divorces, and the rate doubled between 1870 and 1900. From 3.1 divorces for every 100 marriages in 1870, the figure climbed to 7.9 in 1900.

The sensitivity toward wife beating and child abuse also grew during the nineteenth century. This sensitivity partly reflected new notions about women's purity and childhood innocence, and it also may have reflected an actual increase in assaults committed against blood relatives. Families became less subject to communal over-sight; traditional assumptions about patriarchal authority were challenged; and an increasingly mobile, market oriented society generated new kinds of stresses. All of these factors turned some families into arenas of tension, conflict, and violence.

Slave Families

No other group faced graver threats to family life than enslaved African Americans. Debt, an owner's death, or the prospects of profit could break up slave families. Between 1790 and 1860 a million slaves were transported from the Upper South to the Lower South, and another 2 million slaves were sold within states. About a third of slave marriages were broken by sale, and half of all slave children were sold away from their parents. Even in the absence of sale, spouses often resided on separate plantations or on separate units of a single plantation. On larger plantations, one husband in three had a different owner than his wife; on smaller plantations and farms the figure was two in three.

Despite the refusal of southern law to legally sanction slave marriages, most slaves married and lived with the same spouse until their deaths. Ties to the immediate family stretched outward to an involved network of extended kin. Whenever children were sold to neighboring plantations, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins took on the functions of parents. When blood relatives were not present, "fictive" kin cared for and protected children. God parenting, ritual co parenting, and informal adoption of orphans were common on slave plantations. To sustain a sense of family identity over time, slaves named children after grandparents and other kin. Slaves also passed down family names, usually the name of an ancestor's owner rather than the current owner's name.

Working-Class and Immigrant Families

While urban middle-class families emphasized a sole male breadwinner, a rigid division of gender roles, and a protected childhood, working-class and immigrant families, who made up a majority of urban families, stressed a cooperative family economy. All family members were expected to contribute to the family's well-being. Many wives performed work, such as taking in laundry or boarders, inside the home. Children were expected to defer marriage, remain at home, and contribute to the family's income.

Two distinctive types of immigrants arrived in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: migrant workers, many of whom left wives and children in their home countries and who planned to return home; and immigrants who arrived in family units, often members of ethnic and religious minorities who were persecuted in their homelands. In each case, immigrants often moved for family reasons—to earn enough money to marry, acquire a home, purchase a farm, or find their family a new home offering freedom from persecution. Kinship also played an important role in helping immigrants adapt to a new environment. Much of the movement of peoples involved a process called "chain migration," in which clusters of individuals from a common kin group or place of origin moved to a common destination. The earlier migrants provided later migrants with aid and information.

It was not until the 1920s that the cooperative family economy gave way to the family wage economy, in which a male breadwinner was expected to support his family on his wages alone. The establishment of seniority systems and compulsory school attendance laws and increased real wages as a result of World War I made this possible. The New Deal further solidified the male breadwinner family by prohibiting child labor, expanding workmen's compensation, and targeting jobs programs at male workers.

Early-Twentieth-Century Families

During the late nineteenth century a moral panic gripped the country over domestic violence, divorce, infant mortality, and declining middle-class birthrates. Eleven states made desertion and nonsupport of families a felony, and three states instituted the whipping post to punish wife beaters with floggings. To combat the decline in middle-class birthrates, the 1873 Comstock Act restricted the interstate distribution of birth control information and contraceptive devices, while new state laws criminalized abortion. In a failed attempt to reduce the divorce rate, many states restricted the grounds for divorce and extended waiting periods before a divorce.

Mounting public anxiety led to increased government involvement in the family and the emergence of specialists offering expert advice about child rearing, pediatrics, and social policy. To combat exploitation and to improve the well-being of children, reformers pressed for compulsory school attendance laws, child labor restrictions, playgrounds, pure milk laws, and "widows" pensions to permit poor children to remain with their mothers. They also made concerted efforts to eliminate male-only forms of recreation, campaigns that achieved some success when red-light districts were outlawed during the 1910s and saloons became illegal following ratification of the Prohibition Amendment in 1918.

During the 1920s, in an effort to strengthen family ties, marriage counselors promoted a new ideal, the companionate family, which held that husbands and wives were to be "friends and lovers" and that parents and children should be "pals." This new ideal stressed the couple relationship and family togetherness as the primary sources of emotional satisfaction and personal happiness. Unlike the nineteenth-century family, which took in boarders, lodgers, or aging and unmarried relatives, the companionate family was envisioned as a more isolated unit.

During the Great Depression, unemployment, lower wages, and the demands of needy relatives tore at the fabric of family life. Many Americans shared living quarters with relatives, delayed marriage, and postponed having children. The divorce rate fell since fewer people could afford one, but desertions soared. By 1940, 1.5 million married couples were living apart. Many families coped by returning to a cooperative family economy. Many children took part-time jobs, and many wives supplemented the family income by taking in sewing or laundry, setting up parlor groceries, or housing lodgers.

World War II also subjected families to severe strain. During the war, families faced a severe shortage of housing, schools, and child-care facilities and prolonged separation from loved ones. Five million "war widows" ran their homes and cared for children alone, while millions of older, married women went to work in war industries. Wartime stresses contributed to an upsurge in the divorce rate. Tens of thousands of young people became latchkey children, and rates of juvenile delinquency, unwed pregnancy, and truancy all rose.

The postwar era witnessed a sharp reaction to the depression and wartime stress. The average age of marriage for women dropped to twenty, divorce rates stabilized, and the birthrate doubled. Circumstances unlikely to be duplicated, including rapidly rising real incomes; the GI Bill, which allowed many young men to purchase single-family track homes in newly built suburbs; and relatively modest expectations for personal fulfillment bred by the Great Depression contributed to the emphasis on family togetherness.

For many Americans the 1950s family represented a cultural ideal. Yet it is important to recognize that the images of family life that appeared on 1950s television were misleading. Only 60 percent of children born during that decade spent their childhoods in a male-breadwinner, female-homemaker household. The most rapid increase in unwed pregnancies took place between 1940 and 1958, not in the libertine 1960s.

The postwar family contained the seeds of its own transformation. Youthful marriages, especially by women who cut short their educations, contributed to a surge in divorces during the 1960s. The compression of childbearing into the first years of marriage meant that many wives were free of the most intense child-rearing responsibilities by their early or middle thirties. Combined with the rising costs of maintaining a middle-class standard of living, this freedom encouraged many married women to enter the workplace. As early as 1960, one-third of married middle-class women worked part or full time. Mean-while, the expansion of schooling combined with growing affluence contributed to the emergence of a youth culture separate and apart from the family.

Late-Twentieth-Century Families

In 1960, 70 percent of American households consisted of a go-to-work dad, a stay-at-home mom, and two or more kids. By the end of the twentieth century less than 10 percent of American households fit that profile. Dual-earner families, in which both husband and wife worked; single-parent families, usually headed by a mother; reconstituted families formed after divorce; and empty nests after children left home became more common. Between 1960 and 1980 the birthrate fell by half; the divorce rate and the proportion of working mothers doubled, as did the number of single-parent homes; and the number of couples cohabitating outside of wedlock quadrupled.

By the end of the century two-thirds of all married women with children worked outside the home, compared to just 16 percent in 1950. Half of all marriages ended in divorce, twice the rate in 1966 and three times the rate in 1950, while three children in ten were born out of wedlock. Over a quarter of all children lived with only one parent, and fewer than half lived with both their biological mothers and fathers.

This "domestic revolution" produced alarm, anxiety, and apprehension. It inspired family values crusaders to condemn careerist mothers, absent fathers, single parents, and unwed parents as the root cause of such social ills as persistent poverty, drug abuse, academic failure, and juvenile crime. Many social conservatives called for enactment of "covenant" marriage laws making it more difficult to obtain divorces.

Historical perspective shows that many fears about the family's future were exaggerated. Despite upheavals in living arrangements, 90 percent of Americans married and had children, and most Americans who divorced eventually married again. In many respects family life became stronger than it was in the past. Fathers became more actively involved in child rearing than ever before; infant and child death rates fell by three-fourths in the last half of the century; and children were more likely to have living grandparents.

Nevertheless, at the beginning of the twenty-first century the family confronted unique stresses. As the proportion of single-parent and dual-earner families increased, working parents found it increasingly difficult to balance the demands of work and family. Because of increasing life spans, many parents cared for their own aging parents as well as for their children. In an attempt to deal with this "crisis of care giving," the U.S. Congress adopted the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, entitling eligible employees to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a twelve-month period for specified family and medical reasons. Despite widespread rhetoric about promoting family values, the welfare and immigration reforms of 1996 weakened social supports for families.


Coontz, Stephanie. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. New York: Basic Books, 1992.

———. The Way We Really Are: Coming to Terms with America's Changing Families. New York: Basic Books, 1997.

Coontz, Stephanie, Maya Parson, and Gabrielle Raley, eds. American Families: A Multicultural Reader. New York: Rout-ledge, 1998.

Degler, Carl N. At Odds: Women and the Family in America from the Revolution to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Demos, John. A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.

———. Past, Present, and Personal: The Family and the Life Course in American History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Gordon, Linda. Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence. New York: Penguin, 1989.

Greven, Philip J., Jr. Four Generations: Population, Land, and Family in Colonial Andover, Massachusetts. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1970.

Grossberg, Michael. Governing the Hearth: Law and the Family in Nineteenth-Century America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.

Hareven, Tamara K. Family Time and Industrial Time: The Relationship Between the Family and Work in a New England Industrial Community. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Hawes, Joseph M., and Elizabeth I. Nybakken, eds. American Families: A Research Guide and Historical Handbook. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991.

Mintz, Steven, and Susan Kellogg. Domestic Revolutions: A Social History of American Family Life. New York: Free Press, 1988.

Ryan, Mary P. Cradle of the Middle Class: The Family in Oneida County, New York, 1790–1865. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Schwartz, Marie Jenkins. Born in Bondage: Growing Up Enslaved in the Antebellum South. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Stevenson, Brenda E. Life in Black and White: Family and Community in the Slave South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.


See alsoAdolescence ; Child Care ; Childbirth and Reproduction ; Childhood ; Demography and Demographic Trends ; Divorce and Marital Separation ; Kinship ; Sexuality ; Work ; andvol. 9:War and the Family .

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It is said that families have always existed and that people have always formed families. However, conceptions of family can vary considerably. Until the 1970s, it was believed that the extended family had been a social institution since medieval times throughout the Western world. This family form consists of a married couple and the parents of one of them plus the couples children. However, Peter Laslett (19152001) and his Cambridge colleagues showed that although the extended family existed, it was not a social institution. This belief in the long history of the extended family can be understood to be a myth if one considers the high mortality rate during previous centuries, when many mothers and fathers died before their children became adults.

The term nuclear family refers to a family formed by a socially accepted marriage between a man and a woman who live together with their minor children. The anthropologist George Peter Murdock (18971985) coined the term in his book Social Structure (1949). Murdock assumed that almost all cultures have had this nucleus as their basic and preferred family form. Some cultures build upon the nuclear family, while others combine nuclear families. One type of nuclear family is an extended family that consists of at least three generations under the same roof. Another type of combined nuclear family is the polygamous family that, when polyandrous, consists of one woman married (socially) to at least two men. Polygyny is one man married (socially) to at least two women. Another variation would be group marriages consisting of at least two women married to at least two men, but this phenomenon has never been found anywhere as a social institution. Group marriages have certainly existed but only for short periods of a decade or so, and they have never been a societys preferred living arrangement.

The issue of what can be considered a social marriage is complicated and unclear. As long as marriages have been known to exist in one form or another, they have mainly been the base upon which new generations grow up. Historically marriage seems also to have been the preferred arrangement for living together. A prerequisite for marriage has been that the couple should be able to afford a home, which means somewhere to live with a bed, a table, and necessary utensils. Situations in which couples have cohabited without marrying have also been common. In some cultures this arrangement, when lasting, is called common-law marriage; after some years, the two come to be counted as married (see Trost 1980).

The term family formation is still sometimes used as a synonym for marriage. The background is that over the centuries marriage has been linked to four normatively connected elements: holding a marriage ceremony, moving in together, having sex together, and bearing a child within about a year.


The term family is often presented in definite form, the family, a phrasing that indicates that there is only one kind of family. In Western culture at least, this might mean the nuclear family. However, this concept carries a kind of ideological code, which implies that the nuclear family is supposed to be the best and that the concept is reproduced over generations (see Smith 1993). The term family can also be connected to the entire range of relatives, especially close relatives.

Family can be considered from various levels. On a societal level, the law might define what a family is; this often means at least one parent and at least one minor child, where the parent is supposed to take care of the child. Another example is family responsibility, where an adult child is supposed to take care of elderly parents. Other persons can also be includedas in, for example, the Sami culture (previously known as Lapps) in Scandinavia, where many, but not all, relatives are counted as family members.

Another level on which family can be considered has to do with companies and other organizations. Some companies differentiate between who can be counted as family, depending upon the situation. For example, an employee may be granted an entire day of leave to attend a funeral for a close family member or relative, while the funeral of a more distant relative will not warrant any time off. Some organizations are considered family friendly, which may mean that they offer various benefits or discounts to families. Family in such cases usually includes only the nuclear family or a simple variation of it.

If ordinary people are asked to name the members of their family, they will give a variety of answers, even when the person asked believes that the meaning of the term family is culturally determined. The number of family members can vary from none up to several hundred. Included as family members can be spouses, children, parents, uncles and aunts, grandparents, cousins, and so forth but also lovers, friends, and pets. Family members counted in this way can also include deceased persons. This way of looking at the meaning of family is dependent upon who is asked as well as the situation. For example, someone included in one persons family might not include that person as a member of his or her own family. There are no clear and objective boundaries of what constitutes family when it comes to the individuals definition of her or his family and who its members are.

If people are asked whom they consider to be included in possible constellations of families, they give a variety of answers. Some believe that a one-parent household is not a family, whereas others think it is a family. Some think that the parents have to be married, while others think that cohabiting couples can also be families. Some believe that same-gender couples cannot be counted as a family, while others have a different opinion. This variety of answers means that some individuals and some cultures are very inclusive when it comes to what to include as a family and some are very exclusive.

Sometimes the unit for the concept of family is limited to the household. That use occurs primarily in censuses and other demographic studies, but it also occurs among lay people. However, many households include members that no one else in the household would classify as members of their family. At the same time, there are many persons who fall outside the family when using household as equivalent to family. This was and still is the case in some parts of the world where households include servants and other employed persons (see Levin and Trost 1992).


There are a number of issues related to the term family and the concept of family. As mentioned above, marriage can be one of them. Poverty can cause couples to not marry, since societally it is costly to marry. In peoples minds, one should have a home when marrying; informal norms in many cultures say that without a roof, a bed, and some kitchen utensils, one cannot marry. Social surroundings are also important, since people often normatively expect a marriage ceremony to be combined with a party for relatives and also for friends and neighbors. Therefore nonmarital cohabitation based on poverty has been common in many parts of the world and remains common in some (Rodman 1966).

A new type of nonmarital cohabitation has developed as a social institution in most of the Western world. With the liberalization that came after World War II (19391945), the normative structure of family formation was reduced. Now nonmarital cohabitation has made marriage less common, to the point of disappearing in some countries. This movement has made nonmarital cohabitation a social institution in many cultures; it is a kind of cohabitation that is not at all connected to poverty. In many countries, particularly the Scandinavian countries, all or almost all couples live together in a non-marital cohabitation relationship for years before marrying. The trend toward more nonmarital cohabitation has decreased the number of marriages, and both brides and grooms are on average much older now than in the past.

Another change in the way couples live together is referred to as living apart together (LAT). Such relationships consist of a married or nonmarried couple, with or without children, who each have a home and who visit each other, perceive themselves to be an intimate couple, and are so perceived by those in their social surroundings. These relationships have always existed in the Western world among, for example, writers and other artists. The difference between these earlier relationships and those of the early twenty-first century lies in part in the number and in part by the fact that LAT relationships constitute a new social institution. For example, in Sweden about 5 percent of the adult population lives in an LAT relationship (Trost and Levin 2000).

Such relationships could not have developed as a social institution had not nonmarital cohabitation become a social institution with the dissolution of the normative structure of the four elements of traditional social structure listed above. Had not the normative connection disappeared between the acts of marrying, moving in together, having sexual intercourse together, and the expectation of a child within about a year, LAT relationships would not have been possible. The social institution of nonmarital cohabitation is thus a prerequisite for the existence of LAT relationships.

Another issue connected to family is changes in divorce laws and divorce practice. Divorce has for many centuries been a social institution permitted in many cultures but prohibited in others. In the Western world, where the changes have been obvious, claims for more liberal divorce laws came at the end of the nineteenth century as a result of rapidly decreasing mortality rates. With such decreases, the idea of lifelong marriages slowly became obsolete, and divorce laws changed slowly in a more liberal direction. (The number of remarriages in many countries is now the same as in the middle of the nineteenth century. Previously the high mortality rate widowed many married women and men; many of these widows and widowers remarried, while now most remarriages occur after one or both partners has divorced.)

During the nineteenth century the total fertility rate (TFR) was at a global level of above five (children per woman during her fertile lifespan). Partly as a result of improvements of contraceptive techniques and methods (better condoms and diaphragms, preventive pills, intrauterine devices) and propaganda, the TFR has decreased all over the world and even reached the low level of less than 1.5 (average number of children per woman) in many Western countries. These changes have caused few women to have more children than they want, but some will not have as many as they want. In the mid-twentieth century the average age of both parents at the birth of their children was much lower than now, which is one reason for the lower birthrates.


From a functionalist perspective, family has been seen as fulfilling a set of functions for the individual as well as for society. These functions, which have more and more come to be of historical interest, include the following.

The reproductive function means that women customarily give birth to children within a family union, and this makes society able to last in the long run. The early twenty-first century fertility rates in many less-developed countries will cause the population to increase, while in many developed countries the opposite will happen.

The socialization function refers to the upbringing of children into adulthood, a process that transfers habits and norms from one generation to another. Historically most socialization occurred within the family, but in the early twenty-first century much socialization is generated via school systems, mass media, and other sources.

The protective function gives the members of families protection against bad weather, keeps children in a safe environment, and leads family members to take care of the elderly and the sick. In most parts of the world this function has partly been taken over by society via social security and other social programs.

The sexual function means that sexual intercourse would occur within the marital union as part of family. In many parts of the world premarital and extramarital sex is taken care of through the use of prostitutes. Elsewhere the prohibition on premarital sex is no longer an issue with the liberalization of sex norms.

The religious function has to do with the exercise of religious activities, which are supposed to occur mainly within a family unit. In many parts of the world secularization has made this function less important.

The leisure time function is supposed to support family members during times when no work is needed. This function has in many parts of the world been subsumed by organizations outside the family.

Finally, the emotional or primary group function ideally takes care of the family members emotional needs. The term primary group was coined by the American sociologist Charles Horton Cooley (18641929) in 1909. The idea is that in small groups, of which family is one, the members can feel safe and secure not only physically but also emotionally. Reality, however, can be the opposite, with physical as well as emotional abuse and cruelty sometimes occurring in primary groups. Furthermore family as a primary group depends highly upon the definition one has of family. As mentioned above, membership in a family can vary greatly when considered from an individual perspective. In any case, many studies show that when a disaster strikes, the most important aid givers are family members and other relatives, who tend to be more helpful toward one another than any organization can be. This occurs in part because organizational helpers can seldom give the same emotional support that close relatives can.

For society to work, social order is needed; otherwise chaos will occur, and society will fall apart. When these family functions are in accordance with social norms and when family members, however defined, follow the informal norms, social order will remain relatively stable, assuming no opposing changes occur.

SEE ALSO Childlessness; Children; Cohabitation; Divorce and Separation; Family, Extended; Family, Nuclear; Family Functioning; Family Structure; Family Values; Fatherhood; Marriage; Motherhood; Parent–Child Relationships


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Laslett, Peter, ed. 1972. Household and Family in Past Time. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Levin, Irene, and Jan Trost. 1992. Understanding the Concept of Family. Family Relations 41: 348351.

Murdock, George Peter. 1949. Social Structure. New York: Free Press.

Rodman, Hyman. 1966. Illegitimacy in the Caribbean Social Structure: A Reconsideration. American Sociological Review 31: 673683.

Smith, Dorothy. 1993. The Standard North American Family: SNAF as an Ideological Code. Journal of Family Issues 14: 5067.

Trost, Jan. 1980. Unmarried Cohabitation. Västerås, Sweden: International Library.

Trost, Jan, and Irene Levin. 2000. Särbo, ett parTvå Hushåll. Lund, Sweden: Studentlitteratur.

Jan Trost

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A family is a group of two people or more related by marriage, blood relation, or adoption and who live together. The immediate family traditionally consists of parents and their offspring.


No other factor influences children as deeply as their families. As a social unit with genetic, emotional, and legal dimensions, the family can foster the child's growth, development, health, and well-being. The family can provide the child with affection, a sense of belonging, and validation. Every area of a child's life is affected by the family.

Family functions

The family has basic functions. In order for the family to meet a child's psychological needs, its members must be nurturing, convey mutual respect, provide for intimacy, and engage in bonding and attachment. The family also socializes the child, guiding the child to be members of the society beyond the family. The family conveys religious and cultural beliefs and traditions to the next generation. The family is the child's source of economic resources, which meet the child's various physical needs for food, shelter, and clothing. Then, too, the family sees to it that the child receives health and dental care.


Family structure is dynamic. In 1970, traditional nuclear families made up 40 percent of all households, but only 26 percent of all households in 1991. In addition, roles have changed within the nuclear family. The role of provider, once assigned mainly to the father, gradually came in the early 2000s to be shared by both parents, and as of 2004 many fathers are more active in parenting their children than their fathers were in parenting them.

Toward the end of the twentieth century, increasing numbers of families did not fit the nuclear profile. Some families have only one parent; others are combinations based on second marriages; still others are comprised of unmarried couples living with or without children.

The number of single-parent families increased from 12.9 percent of all families in 1970 to 29 percent in 1991 and 28 percent (20 million) in 1997. The increases are mostly the result of the increase in the divorce rate and the increase in births to single mothers. Many women are single parents and heads of households, and many of these live in poverty.

Common problems

Poverty is the single most powerful risk for families and children and affects families in many ways. Poverty exerts its greatest impact during children's preschool years, the age group in which children are most likely to live in poverty. Poor families are less likely or able to provide educational and cultural experiences for their children.

Parents' economic status (education, occupation, and income) controls the parent's ability provide adequate housing, a safe environment, and responsible child care while the parents work. Availability of and quality of social support influence family life and well-being as individuals cope with raising children in poverty.

Unemployment by either or both parents causes financial hardships and social and emotional strain, which can disrupt family life. The quality of the parent's work and the satisfaction the parent gets from it affects the parents and, in turn, their effectiveness in parenting.

Child abuse and neglect is a destructive force in families and results in children's anxiety , depression, lowered self-esteem , and a decline in school performance. Similarly, children who witness domestic violence suffer some of these same consequences.

Parental concerns

Parents are troubled by children who are out of control and have problem behaviors such as running away , truancy , school failings or suspensions, and delinquency. Youths who are habitually truant may need school counseling. Truancy specialists provide topic-focused workshops and referrals to family counseling; court intervention is sometimes necessary.

The frequency of divorce and remarriage produces stepfamilies with their own difficulties and challenges. The new stepfamily members may have no shared family history or common lifestyle, and members may have different beliefs. In addition, children may feel torn between the custodial parent, with whom they live, and the noncustodial parent, with whom they visit.


Coping In psychology, a term that refers to a person's patterns of response to stress.

Culture The system of communal beliefs, values behaviors, customs, and materials that members of a society use to understand their world and each other, and which are passed down among suceeding generation.

Custodial parent A parent who has legal custody of their child or children.

Extended family Traditionally defined as the biological relatives of a nuclear family (the parents, sisters, and brothers of both members of a married couple); sometimes used to refer to the people living in the household as partners and parents with children.

Noncustodial parent The parent who does not have legal custody of the child and does not live in the same home with the child. The noncustodial parent has financial responsibility for the child and visitation rights.

Stress A physical and psychological response that results from being exposed to a demand or pressure.

Economic stress affects the whole family. When financial problems occur, the family may be forced to move for employment. Families have lifestyle commitments and ties to their community. When these ties break-up, children, especially adolescents, are likely to experience a loss of hope. Parental career disappointments can cause anxiety and self-doubt in children. Family economic stress may cause parental substance abuse, which can lead to school distraction and declining academic performance in young people.

Finally, children may feel isolated from parents and friends. The most stressful time for a family can be the period preceding a possible foreclosure or business failure. Parents may make desperate attempts to save their source of income. They may also be trying to keep their loss hidden from the rest of the community. Such behaviors can isolate children from parents who are too busy to notice and from neighbors who are not even aware of their trouble.

The long-term effects of continued family stress can cause physical and psychological problems for children. If problems occur often and if several problems appear at the same time, serious attention should be given the child.

When to call the doctor

Parents should call their pediatrician if the child shows unhealthy physical or emotional symptoms that may be in response to family problems or transitions. Physical problems may include weight gain or weight loss, or unexplained stomachaches or headaches. Emotional problems may cause a decline in academic performance, breaking curfews, or getting into trouble in school or with the law.



Bernstein, Bob. Families of Value: Intimate Profiles of Pioneering Lesbian and Gay Parents. New York: Avalon Publishing Group, 2005.

Cunningham-Burley, Sarah, et al. Families, Relationships, and Boundaries. Livingston, NJ: Policy Press, 2005.

Evans, Tony. Divorce and Remarriage. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2003.

Everett, Craig A. The Consequences of Divorce: Economic and Custodial Impact on Children and Adults. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press, 2003.

Forbes, L. S. A Natural History of Families. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

Hansen, Karen V. Not-so-Nuclear Families: Class, Gender, and Networks of Care. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005.

Jeynes, William. Divorce, Family Structure, and the Academic Success of Children. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press, 2002.

McKenry, Patrick C., et al. Families and Change: Coping with Stressful Events and Transitions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2005.


American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 3615 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Washington, DC 200163007. Web site: <>.

Aliene S. Linwood, RN, DPA, FACHE

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Although much has been written about the declining importance of the family as a social institution in American society, family relationships continue to be of critical importance in the lives of older people. In fact, research on life course and the family repeatedly finds that people highly value family relationships throughout all of life, and that family ties significantly affect quality of life. Because family roles are such an important aspect of aging, separate entries in this encyclopedia focus on husband-wife, sibling, parent-child, and grandparent-grandchild relationships in later life. Rather than repeating information in these entries, this discussion focuses on how demographic and social changes are affecting family relationships in old age.

Demographic changes affecting family structure

Longevity increased dramatically in the United States over the twentieth century. The average years lived by a person increased from forty-seven in 1900 to seventy-seven in 2000, and the proportion of persons surviving from birth to old age (sixty-five) increased from 39 percent to 86 percent during the twentieth century. This remarkable change in mortality conditions changed the potential for older people to be involved in family relationships, as the following examples illustrate. (1) A growing number of persons have grandparents living when they reach adulthood. The likelihood of a thirty year old having a living grandparent increased from about 20 percent in 1900 to 75 percent in 2000. Thus the potential for being part of a four-generation family has greatly increased over time. (2) More people now have a parent living through their middle years of life. In 1900 only about 8 percent of sixty year olds had a parent still alive, compared to 44 percent of sixty year olds in 2000. This change has greatly increased the probability that parents and children will have a relationship that extends for sixty or more years. It also has increased the likelihood that a woman approaching old age will be called upon to care for a very old parent. (3) The potential for a husband and wife to cosurvive in a first marriage for more than sixty years has increased significantly. However, because of increasing divorce the actual proportion of older people living with their first spouse for this long has not changed much. (4) The odds of older people having a sibling still alive have increased sharply over time. The cosurvival of siblings may be significant because sibling relationships are frequently valued highly by people in their later years of life.

Declining fertility in the United States over the twentieth century also has affected family relationships involving older people. Women who completed their childbearing around 1900 had an average of about five children each, compared to an average of about two for women completing childbearing around 2000. The trend in childbearing was not smooth over the century, however, because of the baby boom from the mid-1940s through the early 1960s. In the mid 1950s women were averaging about 3.5 children each. Because of fluctuating fertility, the proportion of people in later life who have several surviving children varies over time. As baby boomers (who had low fertility and high rates of childlessness) replace the parents of the baby boom as the older population after 2010, the proportion of older people with no or only one child will increase rapidly. This is potentially significant because children have been an important source of social support and caregiving for older people. Declining fertility also means that those who survive to old age now tend to have fewer children and grandchildren than old people in the past. It has been noted that under high mortality conditions grandparents tend to be in short supply, while under low fertility conditions grandchildren are in short supply.

Social changes affecting family relationships

In addition to demographic change, several social changes over the twentieth century have altered family relations involving older people. First, alternative family forms (blended families, single parent families, cohabiting relationships, gay and lesbian unions) have become more common and more accepted. It is not clear how this diversity of "family" forms will affect the lives of older people in the twenty-first century. On the one hand, the plurality of forms may create a broader range of available kinship ties. On the other hand, these alternative kin relationships may not be as strong as the enduring parent-child relationships that have been the primary source of long-term caregiving for disabled older people. The negative effect of divorce on the strength of intergenerational relationships tends to be more significant for males than females.

Second, gender roles have changed as women have surpassed men in educational attainment and have greatly increased their level of participation in the paid labor force. For older people, this means that middle-aged daughters are more likely to be in the labor force and, consequently, less available to provide care for them than in the past (and, as noted above, in the future old people will have fewer adult children). Changing gender roles are also likely to alter marital relationships in later life, as women become less dependent on husbands to manage the family economy and expect more egalitarian and companionate relationships.

Third, the transformation of the American economy has produced a tremendous change in the standard of living over the twentieth century. Increasing affluence has been accompanied by a decline in intergenerational coresidence for older people. In 1900 most older widows resided with an adult child; now most older widows live alone and very few live with a child. The increasing independence in living arrangements does not, however, mean that parent-child relationships have become weak. Almost all older people report having a close relationship with their children, but prefer "intimacy at a distance" to sharing a home. In general, the spread of social security, private pensions, and lifetime savings means that fewer old people are dependent on children for economic support than in the past, so intergenerational relationships are increasingly based on social and emotional bonds.

The future

It is clear that family relationships have been important for older people in the past and continue to be important in the present. As the baby boom ages, the proportion of older people living in marriages will decline and the proportion who are childless will increase. Thus one might anticipate that family relationships would play a smaller role in the lives of older people in the future. Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that the family will lose its place as the most important source of social and emotional support for people as they age through later life.

Peter Uhlenberg

See also Grandparenthood; Intergenerational Exchanges; Kin; Marital Relationships; Parent-Child Relationship; Sibling Relationships.


Cherlin, A., and Furstenberg, F., Jr. The New American Grandparent. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Eggebeen, D. P., and Hogan, D. J. "Giving Between Generations in American Families." Human Nature 1 (1991): 211232.

Hagestad, G. "Demographic Change and the Life Course: Some Emerging Trends in the Family Realm." Family Relations 37 (1988): 405410.

Pillemer, K., and Suitor, J. J. "Baby Boom Families: Relations with Aging Parents." Generations 22 (1998): 6569.

Riley, M. W., and Riley, J. W., JR. "Generational Relations: A Future Perspective." In Aging and Generational Relations Over the Life Course. Edited by Tamara K. Hareven. New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1996. Pages 526533.

Rossi, A., and Rossi, P. Of Human Bonding: Parent-Child Relations Across the Life Course. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1990.

Uhlenberg, P. "Mortality Decline in the Twentieth Century and Supply of Kin Over the Life Course." The Gerontologist 36 (1996): 681685.

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Two or more people related to each other by genetics, adoption, marriage, or in some interpretations, by mutual agreement.

Family is broadly defined as any two people who are related to each other through a genetic connection, adoption , marriage, or by mutual agreement. Family members share emotional and economic bonds. The term nuclear family is used to refer to family members who live together and share emotional, economic, and social responsibilities. The nuclear family is often comprised of a married couple who are parents to their biological or adopted children; all members live together in one household. This type of nuclear family is increasingly referred to by social scientists as an intact family, signifying that the family had not been through a divorce , separation, or death of a member.

In addition to the nuclear family, other complex and diverse combinations of individuals lead to what social

scientists call blended or nontraditional families. When a family has experienced divorce or death leaving one parent to be primarily responsible for raising the children, they become a single-parent family. (The terms broken family and broken home are no longer widely used because of their negative connotations.)

Following the end of one marriage, one or both of the ex-spouses may enter a new marriage. Through this process of remarriage, stepfamilies are formed. The second spouse becomes a stepparent to the children from the first marriage. In the family formed by the second marriage, the children from each spouse's first marriage become step-siblings. Children born or adopted by the couple of the second marriage are half-siblings to the children from the first marriage, since they share one parent in common.

In some cases, a stepparent will legally adopt his or her spouse's children from a previous marriage. The biological father or mother must either be absent with no legal claim to custody, or must grant permission for the stepparent to adopt.

In situations where a single parent lives with someone outside of marriage, that person may be referred to as a co-parent. Co-parent is also the name given to the partner in a homosexual relationship who shares the household and parenting responsibilities with a child's legal adoptive or biological parent.

The home which was owned by the family prior to a divorce or separation is referred to as the family home in many state laws. In court settlements of divorce and child custody issues, the sale of the family home may be prohibited as long as the minor children are still living there with the custodial parent. The sale of the home may be permitted (or required to pay the noncustodial parent his or her share of its value) if the custodial parent moves or remarries, or when the children leave home to establish their own residences.

The term extended family traditionally meant the biological relatives of a nuclear family; i.e., the parents, sisters, and brothers of both members of a married couple. It was sometimes used to refer to the people living in the household beyond the parents and children. As family relationships and configurations have become more complex due to divorce and remarriage, extended family has come to refer to all the biological, adoptive, step-, and half-relatives.


In June 1997, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the number of single fathers with children under 18 grew from 400,000 in 1970 to 1.7 million in 1995. That same year, government data shows that 2.5 million children lived with just their fathers48% of whom were divorced, 28% were never married, 18% were married but not living with their wives, and 5% were widowed.

For children living with their father only:

  • Median family income was $23, 155 (1994).
  • Percent that were classified as poor: 26%.
  • Six out of ten lived with at least one sibling.
  • Percent of fathers with high school diplomas: 76%.
  • Percent of fathers with a bachelor's degree or more: 12%.
  • Percent with a father who was working: 79%.
  • Five out of 10 lived in rental housing.

For children living with both parents:

  • Median family income was $46, 195 (1994).
  • Percent that were classified as poor: 11%.
  • More than eight out of ten lived with at least one sibling.
  • Percent with at least one parent with a high school diploma: 86%.
  • Percent with at least one parent with a bachelor's degree or more: 29%.
  • Percent with at least one parent working: 85%.
  • Less than 3 out of 10 lived in rental housing.

Government agencies and other statistics-gathering organizations use the term head of household to refer to the person who contributes more than half of the necessary support of the family members (other than the spouse); in common usage, the head of household is the person who provides primary financial support for the family.

Further Reading

Bernardes, Jon. Family Studies: An Introduction. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Elkind, David. Ties That Stress: The New Family Imbalance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.

Eshleman, J. Ross. The Family: An Introduction. 7th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1994.

Kephart, William M. and Davor Jedlicka. The Family, Society, and the Individual. 7th ed. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.

Ohio Cooperative Extension Service. Changing Families, Challenges and Opportunities. Columbus, OH: Ohio Cooperative Extension Service: The Ohio State University, 1988. (Four sound cassettes, covering the subjects of latchkey families, single-parent families, strengthening step-families, and two-income families.)

Strong, Bryan and Christine DeVault. The Marriage and Family Experience. 4th ed. St. Paul: West Publishing Co., 1989.

White, James M. Dynamics of Family Development: A Theoretical Perspective. New York: Guilford Press, 1991.

Further Information

Family Service Association of America (FSA), formerly the Family Welfare Association of America). 11600 West Lake Park Drive, Milwaukee, WI 53244, (414) 3591040,(800) 2213726.

Step Family Foundation (SFF). 333 West End Avenue, New York, NY 10023, (212) 8773244 (Disseminates information on step families, provides counseling and training service, and publishes informational materials.)

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Family is usually defined as a group of persons related by marriage or blood ties, or even by adoptionand also by the family bond.

Psychoanalysis contains an implicit concept of family. It emphasizes the functions of each family member and the prescriptions and prohibitions governing the relationships between them, which influence conflicts, fantasies, and the psychic agencies. The family is a unit that consists of something more than a series of individuals; it is a group to which they belong and that provides support with its rules, which are as obscure and powerful as those of the unconscious and that thus ensure the family's coherence and cohesion. The family has many purposes: providing for its members' material and psychic needs and conceiving and developing the child until his accession as a subject. Each parent transmits a legacy that the child will have to negotiate in connection with its wishes. The family also has a function in terms of play, creating the space and time for leisure and reverie.

Before Freud, doctors took little interest in the family. The patient was studied in the present, without reference to childhood history, to the context in which he had developed, or to his father or mother, except to identify any hereditary predispositions that would reinforce the prevailing hypothesis concerning degeneration in mental patients. Freud raised the family to a preeminent position. However, after he quickly abandoned the seduction theory, the family headed by a seducer changed its status from a real entity to a theoretical fantasy. Freud still addressed the family as a real entity in the form of the primal horde (1912-1913a), with the authoritarian father put to death by his sons who were excluded from sharing the women. Freud subsequently returned to this hypothesis as to the origin of culture. For example, his group psychology (1921c) helped to explain family psychology. It may even be that he envisaged the functioning of the group and the crowd as an archaic family dominated by a leader (father) at whom his subjects direct their (ego) ideal cathexes. This model bears a curious resemblance to the family of ancient Rome, in which the father was the uncontested leader around whom the life of the household revolved. There are some revealing exceptions to this lack of interest in the real family, for instance, the account that the child's father gives to Freud in the analysis of "Little Hans" (1909b). It was not unusual at the time for a single analyst to treat different members of the same family.

As the real family receded from the picture, the representations of the parents gained ground, particularly through the increased interest in object relations. The shifting importance of the family relates to developments in the theory of trauma. However, the real problem is discovering not whether the original theory of trauma was definitively abandoned by Freud but whether it was given anything other than a factual status. It would then not simply be the presence of the object or the primary maternal care that contributed to introjections but the parent's subjectivity, desires, fantasies, and affectsin other words, the force of his unconscious desire, which orients the child's ideals by proposing an ideal that reinforces his self-esteem when he experiences it as an important part of himself and which awakens the life of the drives by seducing him.

The analytic theory of the family is based on this model. It addresses the way in which the reciprocal cathexes between its members are managed and mobilized. Donald Winnicott explained this unconscious functioning as a productive network of interrelated fantasies giving rise to a generative illusion on the part of the mother and her child, whose attuned psyches are connected by primary narcissistic identifications. This generates the concept of the bond: An object relationship would be inconceivable without its counterpart, in other words, without the cathexis that the external object creates of the former and applies to him (Eiguer, 1987).

Furthermore, the concept of the bond is complicated by the dual nature of filiation. The family romance (Freud, 1909c [1908]) is a fantasy in which the child gives himself another origin by imagining himself to be adopted or illegitimate. While assuaging his oedipal anxieties, he seeks, by inventing better or prestigious parents for himself, to preserve the previous idealization of his own parents. However, in giving himself other parents (or one other) than his own, he acknowledges an essential dimension of filiation: The parental roles are not equivalent to the procreative functionsthey can even be independent of these. In matrilineal cultures in particular, the father's role of strict educator reverts to an uncle who is related to the mother. Although Freud's discovery relates to a set of fantasies, this nevertheless accords with the idea of an underlying imago-based structure. The transgenerational figure of the ancestor ultimately evokes this spiritual fatherhood in the other of the father, the fourth family member.

Alberto Eiguer

See also: Collective psychology; Intergenerational; Law of the Father; Psychoanalytic family therapy; Secret; Sociology and psychoanalysis, sociopsychoanalysis.


Eiguer, Alberto. (1987). La Parenté fantasmatique. Paris: Dunod.

Freud, Sigmund. (1909b). Analysis of a phobia in a five-year-old boy. SE, 10: 1-149.

. (1909c [1908]) Family romances. SE, 9: 235-241.

. (1912-1913a). Totem and taboo. SE, 13: 1-161.

. (1921c). Group psychology and the analysis of the ego. SE, 18: 65-143.

Laforgue, René. (1936). La névrose familiale (IXe Conférence des psychanalystes de langue française). Revue française c de psychanalyse, 9 (4), 327-359.

Winnicott, Donald W. (1965). The maturational processes and the facilitating environment. London: Hogarth and the Institute of Psychoanalysis.

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family (in sociology)

family, a basic unit of social structure, the exact definition of which can vary greatly from time to time and from culture to culture. How a society defines family as a primary group, and the functions it asks families to perform, are by no means constant. There has been much recent discussion of the nuclear family, which consists only of parents and children, but the nuclear family is by no means universal. In the United States, the percentage of households consisting of a nuclear family declined from 45% in 1960 to 23.5% in 2000. In preindustrial societies, the ties of kinship bind the individual both to the family of orientation, into which one is born, and to the family of procreation, which one founds at marriage and which often includes one's spouse's relatives. The nuclear family also may be extended through the acquisition of more than one spouse (polygamy and polygyny), or through the common residence of two or more married couples and their children or of several generations connected in the male or female line. This is called the extended family; it is widespread in many parts of the world, by no means exclusively in pastoral and agricultural economies. The primary functions of the family are reproductive, economic, social, and educational; it is through kin—itself variously defined—that the child first absorbs the culture of his group.

Evolution of the Western Family

The patriarchal family, which prevailed among the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans, is often associated with polygamy (see marriage). In Rome, the paterfamilias was the only person recognized as an independent individual under the law. He possessed all religious rights as priest of the family ancestor cult, all economic rights as sole owner of the family property, and power of life and death over the members of the family. At his death, his name, property, and authority descended to his male heirs. The Roman system was transferred in many of its details into both the canon and secular law of Western Europe.

In the 19th cent., when the Western nations began to grant women equal rights with men with respect to the ownership of property (see husband and wife), the control of children (see parent and child), divorce, and the like, basic changes took place in the structure of the family, and the rights and protections associated with it. The state has also intervened to modify the authority of parents over their children. At the same time, education has shifted increasingly from the household to the school. The effect has been to loosen traditional family ties. In Western Europe, where legislation provides equal financial benefits and legal standing to all children, families have increasingly come to consist of one or two unwed parents and children, especially in Scandinavia and other parts of N Europe. The trend toward unwed parents has also occurred in the United States, where about 40% of children in the early 21st cent. were born to unwed mothers.

Another factor affecting the modern Euro-American family was the Industrial Revolution, which removed from the home to the factory many economic tasks, such as baking, spinning, and weaving. Economic and social conditions have discouraged the presence of the husband and father in the home; in industrial communities the wife and mother also is often employed outside the home, leaving the children to be cared for by others. Sociologists and psychologists find in these changed relations of the members of the family to each other and of the family to the community at large the source of many problems such as divorce, mental illness, and juvenile delinquency.


See W. J. Goode, The Family (1964); R. H. Klemer, Marriage and Family Relationships (1970); P. Laslett, Household and Family in Past Time (1972); T. Hareven, Transitions: The Family and the Life Course in Historical Perspective (1978); J. Elshtain, The Family in Political Thought (1982).

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fam·i·ly / ˈfam(ə)lē/ • n. (pl. -lies) 1. [treated as sing. or pl.] a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household. ∎  a group of people related to one another by blood or marriage: friends and family can provide support. ∎  the children of a person or couple: she has the sole responsibility for a large family. ∎  a group of people united by an activity or affiliation. ∎  Biol. a principal taxonomic category that ranks above genus and below order, usually ending in -idae (in zoology) or -aceae (in botany). ∎  a group of objects united by a significant shared characteristic. 2. all the descendants of a common ancestor. ∎  a race or group of peoples from a common stock. ∎  all the languages ultimately derived from a particular early language, regarded as a group: the Austronesian language family. • adj. designed to be suitable for children as well as adults: a family newspaper. PHRASES: in the family way inf. pregnant.

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"family." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. 2009. 1 Jun. 2016 <>.

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family family bible a bible designed to be used at family prayers, typically one with space on its flyleaves for recording important family events.
the family that prays together, stays together motto devised by Al Scalpone, a professional commercial-writer, and used as the slogan of the Roman Catholic Family Rosary Crusade by Father Patrick Peyton. The Crusade began in the US in 1942, and the slogan was apparently first broadcast on 6 March 1947, during the radio programme Family Theater of the Air. The Crusade began in Britain in 1952, and the expression has since developed many, often humorous, variant forms.
selling off the family silver parting with a valuable resource for immediate advantage. The reference is to a speech by former British Conservative Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, to the Tory Reform Group in 1985 on privatization (the selling off of nationalized industries to private companies was likened to the sale of family assets by impoverished landowners, ‘First of all the Georgian silver goes…’)

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ELIZABETH KNOWLES. "family." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 2006. 1 Jun. 2016 <>.

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1. (in taxonomy) A category used in the classification of organisms that consists of one or several similar or closely related genera. Similar families are grouped into an order. Family names end in -aceae or -ae in botany (e.g. Cactaceae) and -idae in zoology (e.g. Equidae). The names are usually derived from a type genus (Cactus and Equus in the examples above) that is characteristic of the whole family (see type specimen). In botany, families are sometimes called natural orders.

2. (in molecular biology) A group of proteins with shared similarities in their amino-acid sequence, and often similarities in function, due to evolutionary divergence from a putative common ancestral protein. For example, the various types and subtypes of adrenoceptors can be considered as a protein family. See also gene family.

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"family." A Dictionary of Biology. 2004. 1 Jun. 2016 <>.

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Family is the taxonomic rank between order and genus. A number of related genera make up one family. A number of related families are then grouped into an order, a higher rank that therefore represents a larger group of plants. A family may include only one genus and one species or hundreds of genera and several thousand species. A large family may be further organized using the rank of subfamily, with related genera grouped into sub-families, then subfamilies into families.

In the past, families and subfamilies were just groups of genera that shared some similar features, especially of the flower and fruit. Such groupings often omitted closely related plants that looked different. Beginning in the late twentieth century, botanists have come to think that families should be natural groups. A natural group, which includes all the descendants of some common ancestor, is based on evolutionary relationships, not just similar appearance.

Names of families can be recognized by the ending "-aceae." Each family has a type genus, a representative genus that defines that family, and the family's name is formed by adding -aceae to the name of that genus. For example, Primulus (primrose) is the type genus of the family Primulaceae, or primrose family.

see also Plant Systematics; Taxonomy.

Wendy L. Applequist


Heywood, V. H., ed. Flowering Plants of the World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Zomlefer, W. B. Guide to Flowering Plant Families. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

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family XV. — L. familia household, f. famulus servant; see -Y3.
So familiar XIV. Early forms familier, famuler are — (O)F. familier, †famulier, but forms in -iar(e) are also early and reflect the orig. L. familiāris. familiarize XVII. — F. familiarity XIII. — (O)F. — L.

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T. F. HOAD. "family." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. 1996. 1 Jun. 2016 <>.

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an assembly of objects with some common feature; a body of servants in a house; the members of a family. See also clan, set.

Examples: family of curves, 1741; of gladiators; of languages, 1875; of legends; of myths; of servants, 1722; of thieves, 1749; of yews, 1731.

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"Family." Dictionary of Collective Nouns and Group Terms. 1985. 1 Jun. 2016 <>.

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This entry includes two subentries:

Modernist Anthropological Theory
Family in Anthropology since 1980

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family (in taxonomy)

family, in taxonomy: see classification.

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Family: see CHILDREN OF GOD.

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JOHN BOWKER. "Family." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. 1997. 1 Jun. 2016 <>.

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AILSA ALLABY and MICHAEL ALLABY. "family." A Dictionary of Earth Sciences. 1999. 1 Jun. 2016 <>.

AILSA ALLABY and MICHAEL ALLABY. "family." A Dictionary of Earth Sciences. 1999. (June 1, 2016).

AILSA ALLABY and MICHAEL ALLABY. "family." A Dictionary of Earth Sciences. 1999. Retrieved June 01, 2016 from


familyBillie, billy, Chile, chilli (US chili), chilly, Dili, dilly, filly, frilly, ghillie, gillie, Gilly, hilly, Lillee, lily, Lyly, papillae, Philly, Piccadilly, piccalilli, silly, skilly, stilly, Tilly, willy, willy-nilly •Ridley, tiddly •Brindley, spindly •sniffly •giggly, niggly •jingly, shingly, Zwingli •prickly, sickly •crinkly, tinkly, twinkly, wrinkly •dimly •Finlay, inly, McKinlay •musicianly •kingly, tingly •Shipley • pimply •bristly, gristly •princely • fitly •drizzly, grisly, grizzly, Sisley •Kingsley • Cybele • hillbilly • jubilee •rockabilly • bodily •bibliophily, cartophily, toxophily •Galilee • family • stepfamily •subfamily •Emily, Semele •facsimile, simile •homily • contumely •cicely, Sicily •icily • volatile • Maithili • weevily

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"family." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. 2007. 1 Jun. 2016 <>.

"family." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. 2007. (June 1, 2016).

"family." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. 2007. Retrieved June 01, 2016 from

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