Definition of Family
Types of Family
- blended family
- conjugal family
- divorced family
- family of orientation
- family of procreation
- extended family
- nuclear family
- single-parent family
- skipped generation family
- symmetrical family
- IPA Pronunciation
- American English
- British English
- American English
- Syllabification: (fam·i·ly)
- Plural: families
- Due to the continuum of family variations across societies and cultures, no single definition can encapsulate such a dynamic term, but the underlying theme is sharing resources and responsibilities among the members such as living together, pooling economic resources, and caring for the young. Additionally, the term domestic group is sometimes used as a replacement for family and even household because it is less problematic.
- Family, along with marriage, is a primary social unit for socialization.
- Family is a source of ascribed statuses, such as ethnicity and socioeconomic status, or mother, father, sister, and brother.
- Defining “family” is not simply an academic exercise but a determinate of what is “normal” or “deviant.” The definition of family has numerous repercussions in legal and political systems.
- Early work into the sociology of the family by Talcott Parsons (1902–1979) and Robert Bales (1916–2004) in Family Socialization and Interaction Process (1955), contended that the main functions of the family are primary socialization and personality stabilization. Parsons and Bales were studying the nuclear family in the post-WWII years in the United States from the functionalist perspective.
- The term symmetrical family, coined by Michael Young (1915–2002) and Peter Willmott (1923–2000) in The Symmetrical Family (1973), based on research in England, describes the evolution of the family structure towards a more egalitarian model of a joint conjugal-role relationship instead of a segregated conjugal-role relationship. The implications and criticisms of this work are oft discussed in the social sciences.
- The Sociology of Housework (1974) by Ann Oakley (born 1944) fueled the sociological discussion of domestic labor inside a family, as did The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home (1989) by Arlie Hochschild (born 1940) and Anne Machung over a decade later.
- Families We Choose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship (1991) by Kath Weston and A World of their Own Making: Myth, Ritual, and the Quest for Family Values (1996) by John Gillis further challenged traditional notions of family and norms.
- Also called:
- family unit
- “Families of orientation, procreation, and cohabitation provide us with some of the most important roles we will assume in life. The nuclear family roles (such as parent, child, husband, wife, and sibling) combine with extended family roles (such as grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, and in-law) to form the kinship system” (Strong, Devault, and Cohen 2011:19).
- “[F]amilies once provided their children with jobs. Inheritance of the family farm or business was an important factor structuring many young people’s economic opportunities and their relationships with their parents. Nepotism has not totally vanished from modern economies; many parents can ‘pick up the phone‘ and procure opportunities for their children in the businesses of friends and associates. Nevertheless, most parents who want to help their children must now find other ways to do so. Financing their children’s college education, which often delays complete financial and residential independence of those children, is one way parents achieve this end” (Goldscheider and Torr 2007:2571).
- “Formal agents of socialization are official or legal agents (e.g., families, schools, teachers, religious organizations) whose purpose it is to socialize the individual into the values, beliefs, and behaviors of the culture. For example, a primary goal of families is to teach children to speak and to learn proper behavior. In addition, school teachers educate by giving formal instruction, and religious organizations provide moral instruction” (Ballantine et al. 2018:298).
- “In American society, the basic kinship system consists of parents and children, but it may include other relatives as well, especially grandparents. Each person in this system has certain rights and obligations as a result of his or her position in the family structure. Furthermore, a person may occupy several positions at the same time. For example, an 18-year-old woman may simultaneously be a daughter, a sister, a cousin, an aunt, and a granddaughter. Each role entails different rights and obligations. As a daughter, the young woman may have to defer to certain decisions of her parents; as a sister, to share her bedroom; as a cousin, to attend a wedding; and as a granddaughter, to visit her grandparents during the holidays” (Strong, Devault, and Cohen 2011:19).
- “The family is by far the most significant agent of socialization. Although social change has increased family diversity and created more opportunities for children to be influenced by other social institutions, the family continues to play the pivotal role in primary socialization. The family is responsible for shaping a child’s personality, emerging identity, and self-esteem. Children gain their first values and attitudes from the family, including powerful messages about gender. Learned first in the family and then reinforced by other social institutions, gender is fundamental to the shaping of all social life. Gender messages dominate and are among the best predictors of a range of later attitudes and behaviors” (Lindsey 2016:78).
- “We are living, I believe, through a transitional and contested period of family history, a period after the modern family order, but before what we cannot foretell. Precisely because it is not possible to characterize with a single term the competing sets of family cultures that co-exist at present, I identify this family regime as post-modern. The post-modern family is not a new model of family life, not the next stage in an orderly progression of family history, but the stage when the belief in a logical progression of stages breaks down. Rupturing evolutionary models of family history and incorporating both experimental and nostalgic elements, ‘the’ post-modern family lurches forward and backward into an uncertain future” (Stacey 1990:18).
- Family and Kinship Resources – Books, Journals, and Helpful Links
- Word origin of “family” – Online Etymology Dictionary: etymonline.com
- Hill, Shirley A. 2012. Families: A Social Class Perspective. Los Angeles: SAGE/Pine Forge Press.
- Newman, David M. 2009. Families: A Sociological Perspective. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
- family life cycle
- family of orientation
- family planning
- family of procreation
- family role
- nuclear family
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Stacey, Judith. 1990. Brave New Families: Stories of Domestic Upheaval in Late Twentieth Century America. New York: Basic Books.
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APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)
family. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/family/
Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “family.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed October 15, 2019. https://sociologydictionary.org/family/.
MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)
“family.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2019. <https://sociologydictionary.org/family/>.