Definition of Nuclear Family
Examples of Nuclear Family
- The Obamas: Barack and Michelle and their children Malia and Sasha.
- The Simpsons: Homer and Marge and their children Bart, Lisa, and Maggie.
Nuclear Family Pronunciation
Syllabification: nu·cle·ar fam·i·ly
- American English – /nOO-klee-uhr fAm-lee/
- British English – /nyOO-kliuh fAm-uh-lee/
International Phonetic Alphabet
- American English – /ˈnukliər ˈfæməli/
- British English – /ˈnjuːklɪə ˈfæmɪli/
- Plural: nuclear families
- The definition of a nuclear family varies, some limit the term to only biological (consanguineal) children of a couple while others include stepchildren and adopted children (e.g., blended family).
- An individual can be part of more than one nuclear family. For example, an individual can be a child in a family of orientation and a parent in a family of procreation.
- Nuclear families are created in part due to primogeniture, or the tradition of inheritance going to the oldest male in the family.
- A privatized (privatised) nuclear family (also called isolated nuclear family) coined by Michael Young (1915–2002) and Peter Willmott (1923–2000) in The Symmetrical Family (1973), based on research in England, refers to a nuclear family that is separated from any extended family and thus self-reliant.
- A nuclear family typically resides in a neolocal residence.
- A conjugal family is similar to a nuclear family, but a conjugal family does not require children.
- Also called elementary family.
- “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).
- “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 results suggest that when municipal-led gentrification programs privilege families, they are based on prior beliefs about the economic and social roles that families play in neighborhoods. Thus, we should expect policies that emphasize familification—the process of neighborhood change by families moving in—to be an increasingly common approach in cities where the nuclear family is symbolically significant in the local culture” (Goodsell 2013:862).
- “When male-headed nuclear families are uncritically accepted as normative (by native informants as well as anthropologists, who are usually also native informants), all other kinship patterns are relegated to a lower status as extensions of or exceptions to the rule. Yet, we know that “fictive kinship” and extended matrifocality are crucial to the survival and reproduction of some kinship systems. Among Afro-Americans, for example, friends are often turned into brothers, sisters, aunts, and cousins, a tactic that increases social solidarity under conditions of economic and social fragmentation. And a pattern of “informal matrifocality” is now emerging throughout the American class structure among the rapidly increasing population of women and children living without males in their households” (Rapp 2004:124).
- Family and Kinship Resources – Books, Journals, and Helpful Links
- Word origin of “nuclear” and “family” – Online Etymology Dictionary: etymonline.com
- Harris, C. C. 1984. The Family and Industrial Society. London: G. Allen & Unwin.
- Ware, Lawrence, Moira Maconachie, Malcolm Williams, Joan Chandler, and Brian Dodgeon. 2007. “Gender Life Course Transitions from the Nuclear Family in England and Wales 1981–2001.” Sociological Research Online 12(4):1–12. doi:10.5153/sro.1544.
- extended family
- family life cycle
- family of orientation
- family of procreation
- fictive kin
Goodsell, Todd L. 2013. “Familification: Family, Neighborhood Change, and Housing Policy.” Housing Studies 28(6):845–68.
Rapp, Rayna. 1987. “Toward a Nuclear Freeze?: The Gender Politics of Euro-American Kinship Analysis,” Pp. 119–31 in Gender and Kinship: Essays toward a Unified Analysis, edited by J. F. Collier, S. J. Yanagisako, and M. Bloch. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
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ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “nuclear family.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved September 18, 2021 (https://sociologydictionary.org/nuclear-family/).
APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)
nuclear family. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/nuclear-family/
Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “nuclear family.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed September 18, 2021. https://sociologydictionary.org/nuclear-family/.
MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)
“nuclear family.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 18 Sep. 2021. <https://sociologydictionary.org/nuclear-family/>.