Families are vitally important for patterning interpersonal behavior, roles, privileges, and obligations within society. These guidelines define how family relations are organized—how mates are selected; who marries whom; who lives together; who is the head of the family; which relatives are most important; and how children are to be reared and by whom. Throughout history, in most of the world, the extended family has been the most common household arrangement. Extended family refers to blood or kin connections that link successive generations through paternal or maternal lines of descent.
Definitions of the extended family incorporate other kin beyond the domestic group who do not belong to the nuclear family. When, for example, a married couple lives with the husband’s parents, or a grandparent shares a household, the family changes from a nuclear to an extended one. In his 1995 article “Patterns of Kinship and Residence,” Max E. Stanton offers clarity in defining an extended family as “an ongoing body with a geographical base and it transcends the lifetime of its members. The composition of the extended family with its nuclear families and independent single adults changes constantly, but the extended family itself continues with new leaders and new members as individuals depart or as the generations pass away” (p. 100).
An extended family can include a wide array of relationships. There can be genealogical connections between affinal relations (e.g., in-laws, adoptive or foster families, aunts/uncles), consanguineous relations (e.g., cousins, half-siblings), “fictive kin” (those perceived as extended family members, though they are not related by blood or law, e.g., godparents, best friends), or sundry other relations (e.g., stepparents or stepsiblings in blended/reconstituted families). To be succinct, Bernard Farber (2000) and Maria Schmeeckle and Susan Sprecher (2004) support a definition of extended family as a vertical extension of a core nuclear family to include a third (e.g., grandparents) or even fourth generation.
An extended family is composed of one or more of four variants. First, the compound family is formed through the combination of nuclear families or parts of them, such as a polygynous household consisting of one man, his three wives, and their respective children. A second variant is a joint family and includes the parental couple, all unmarried children, and married sons with their wives and children in the same household. The head of household, in which authority is vested, is usually the eldest male. Third, a stem family exists when unmarried children and one married sibling, along with spouse and children, reside in the parental household (i.e., stem family) to ensure the continuity, while the other siblings establish their own households upon marriage. Typically, the eldest son is responsible for caring for his parents until they die, at which time he inherits the estate. This inheritance rule is called primogeniture; whereas inheritance by the youngest son is referred to as ultimogeniture. Finally, the modified extended family is one in which children marry out or migrate from the parental household upon marriage, but engage in common activities with parents and other kin on a regular basis.
Colleen Leahy Johnson (1998), Riley and Riley (1993), and Judith Stacey (1990) observe that extended family occurs in various, voluntary, and malleable contexts, making membership changeable and somewhat ambiguous. It is composed of three interlocking nuclear families: family of origin, family of procreation, and family of affinal relations (e.g., in-laws). The family of origin (or family of orientation) is the group into which a person is born. Most early childhood experiences and learning occur here. By contrast, the family of procreation is a group created when adults adhere to a socially recognized bond, such as marriage, and raise children. The affinal family derives from social connections acquired through family of procreation. Most people retain stable, though changing, status in one or more extended families throughout their lives.
SEE ALSO Family; Family, Nuclear; Family Structure; Kinship; Marriage
Farber, Bernard. 2000. Kinship Systems and Family Types. In Encyclopedia of Sociology, 2nd ed., Vol. 3, ed. Edgar F. Borgatta, 1501–1519. New York: Macmillan Reference USA.
Johnson, Colleen Leahy. 1988. Ex familia: Grandparents, Parents, and Children Adjust to Divorce. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Riley, M., and J. Riley. 1993. Connections: Kin and Cohort. In The Changing Contract across Generations, ed. V. Bengtson and W. Achenbaum, 169–189. New York: Aldine DeGruyter.
Schmeeckle, Maria, and Susan Sprecher. 2004. Extended Family and Social Networks. In Handbook of Family Communication, ed. Anita L. Vangelisti, 349–375. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Stacey, Judith. 1990. Brave New Families: Stories of Domestic Upheaval in Late Twentieth Century America. New York: Basic Books.
Stanton, Max E. 1995. Patterns of Kinship and Residence. In Families in Multicultural Perspective, ed. Bron B. Ingoldsby and Suzanna Smith, 97–116. New York: Guilford.
James J. Ponzetti Jr.
ex·tend·ed fam·i·ly • n. a family that extends beyond the nuclear family, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives, who all live nearby or in one household.