One of the most common definitions of the family has been advanced by George Peter Murdock: “ A social group characterized by common residence, economic cooperation and reproduction. It includes adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, and one or more children, owned or adopted, of the sexually cohabiting adults.” Murdock notes that this family structure is found in every society and it is the basic unit. In general, sociologists define the family as a group of people who are related by kinship ties. Kinship ties exist through relations of blood, marriage or adoption. Most sociologists today recognize a diversity of family forms. Family life can be organized in a number of ways and sociologists use different terms to describe the wide varieties of family.

The Nuclear Family The nuclear or conjugal family is the smallest family unit and is the officially accepted type of family in modern western societies. It is a basic human social unit, consisting of a father, mother and child or children who live in the same household. This structure is regarded as the ideal structure with the marriage of a man and woman. Polygamy A variation of the nuclear family can be found where marriage occurs with a second partner without divorcing the first, in effects allowing the formation of two or more nuclear families. In western societies, this is a crime known as bigamy and it is acceptable in some societies. There are two types of polygamy: polygyny and polyandry. Polygyny is the marriage of one man to two or more women at the same time. This form is practiced in Islamic countries such as Egypt, some of the oil rich Arab countries, among Muslims and some African societies. The husband/father is shared at one level between or among co-wives and at another level, between or among sets of children. The husband/father usually has separate quarters in the home or lives in a nearby separate quarters in the home or lives in a nearby separated dwelling. Polyandry is the marriage of one woman to two or more men at the same time. This is quite rare and is found in those societies where living standards are so low that a man can afford to support a wife and child by sharing the responsibilities with other men. This family form has been found in Southern India.

The Single Parent Family In the contemporary period the single parent family is increasingly common in Western societies. extended family structure that focuses upon the father. this type of family would have started as a nuclear family but would end up as a single parent family. The branch family maintains some links with the original stem family. because it contains the generations of grandparents. step-fathers and step- .The Extended Family This family type can be found in most societies throughout the world. There are also instances where it exists by choice. One possible reason that has been advanced for this type of family in agricultural societies/communities is the need to keep property. usually the female. The Reconstituted Family The reconstituted family is a family where one or both parents have been previously married. one parent. and they bring with them a child or children of the previous marriage. In some cases. The stem/branch variation is an Asian. Extended families tend to be quite large and in its classic form can be found in societies or communities whose economies are agriculturally based. but with time becomes increasingly autonomous. especially his first sson and their children. divorce or separation of a couple. chooses to have and raise a child(children) outside of any formal relationship with the other parent. The classic extended family is made up of several nuclear families joined by kinship relations. perhaps because of death of a partner. his sons. In the more contemporary period. In such formal family structure an elder has the decision making power. with various combinations of step-mothers. The stem consists of the father and his wife and children. The branch is often started by second and third sons eventually establishing a new stem family. intact. parents and children or other relatives such as aunts and uncles. The joint and stem/branch families are variants of the extended family found in some societies. especially Japanese. That elder may be either a man or woman depending upon the cultural background of the group. specifically. The classic extended family can also be referred to as a three or four generation family. especially land. together with his first son and his household. aunts and uncles are included are included in the immediate extended family household. the modified extended family tends to consist of related nuclear families. maintain regular contact through the telephone or email with continuing close relations made possible by advances in communication technology. This arrangement leads to a new reconstituted family. Joint and Stem/Branch Family Structures. The joint family is characteristic of the extended family in India where cousins. who although living far apart geographically.

Such a marriage type is usually the result of divorce and remarriage and is more often seen in developed rather than in developing countries. Same Sex Family There is increasing evidence of lesbian and male homosexual couples who are choosing to become joint parents and raise children as a family. define social institutions in terms of their functions or the part they play in maintaining society. Functionalists focus on three main issues in their contribution to the study of the family as follows: 1. The functions of the family. In societies based on subsistence agriculture. The Symmetrical Family The symmetrical family is one where the roles of husband and wife or cohabiting partners have become more alike and equal. in this family type. a single child will be the biological offspring of only one partner. roles and statuses among others. families tend to be large. There are more shared tasks within relationships rather than a clear division between the roles of the male and female partner. Functionalists. The nuclear family adapts to the demand for geographical and social mobility in modern achievement-based societies. The family is seen as necessary for social solidarity. artificial insemination and. The focus here is on the degree of fit. in the case of males. values. the husband or . extended groups. However in industrial modern societies the dominant form of family is the nuclear unit. order or integration since it teaches society’s culture to its young members through the process of primary socialization. 3. 2. The functions performed by the family for individual members. that is. that is .children. its norms. For example. Both partners are likely to be wage earners in the symmetrical family. integration and harmony between the parts of the social system that allow the society to function efficiently. The main focus here is with the contribution made by the family to the maintenance of the social systems. It is possible that. The functional relationships between the family and other parts of the social system. may involve the use of a surrogate mother. Social institutions are seen as the basis upon which a society reproduces its culture. there is particular ‘fit’ between the family and the economy. For example. The methods used for having these children may include adoption. individual roles in the family are determined by the gender of the spouse. SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES ON THE FAMILY The Functionalist Perspective The functionalist perspective presents a view of society as a set of social institutions that perform specific functions to ensure consensus and achieve continuity. such as Parsons. implantation of an embryo.

The Reproductive Function According to the function. values and roles to new members of the society. Spouses must therefore provide sexual gratification for each other. The reproductive function also helps the family to replenish the society with members since it is expected that in all societies people will die. particularly that of fathers to their children. George Peter Murdock – Universal Functions of the Family The Economic Function The nuclear family functions as an economic unit that seeks to meet the material needs of its members. no longer having to compete with others for sexual favors outside of the family. The education function involves the teaching of norms. These are the basic necessities of food. The Education Function The function is also referred to as the socialization function. while wives engage in lighter tasks such as cooking and cleaning. It is claimed that this domestic division of labour is practical since it is derived from women’s childbearing and nurturing functions. Within the family the two adults are usually united in an on-going bond based on marriage. this function of the family is reflected in the identification of children in relation to their parents.wife. Rules exist that indicate with whom one can or cannot have sexual intercourse. In many societies. shelter and clothing. The family is the primary agent of socialization and is generally the most lasting influence in a child’s life. In pre-industrial society all members of the family contributed to the production of goods and services that the family required. reproduction takes place within a stable mating bond or partnership that should afford the female economic and emotional support during the pregnancy and child rearing. where such acts can or cannot occur and so on. This is society’s way of passing on the social status and identity of persons. Husbands generally perform the heavier tasks that require physical strength. The largest groups being socialized by the society are infants and young children. The Sexual Function Every society regulates sexual relationships. . The nuclear family is seen to play an important role in this regard by helping to regulate sexual relationships. and the family home was usually the place where production occurred. In most cases it is not common for people to mate indiscriminately.

3.Main Critics of the Functionalist Theories of the Family In modern industrialized society the functionalist views of the family have come under heavy criticisms. Some mothers have been known to lash out at sons for their fathers indiscretions. (Vogel and Bell) CONFLICT PERSPECTIVES ON THE FAMILY Friedrich Engels and later Karl Marx were the first proponents of the conflict approach to the study of the family. In some instances. Engels (1884)in the publication. Its geographical separation from kin puts parents under additional emotional and financial stress. Children are often used as ‘scapegoats’ by parents venting their frustrations. The modern nuclear family is far from harmonious. The Origins of the Family. Functionalists like Parsons. . Morgan (1975) stresses the point that Parsons fails to explore the possibility of differences between middle-class and working class families or different family structures in ethnic minority communities. These criticisms are summarized below: 1. Critics point to a body of evidence which. 2. parents fight and children rebel. fail to consider the influence of class. Engel’s Views on the Family. it creates mental illness such as schizophrenia especially where spouses fail to agree about the way children should be socialized. tracing its development through several stages. Private Property and the State puts forward an evolutionary view of the family. by contributing to ensuring that the ruling or dominant class maintains the hegemony. ethnicity and region. religion. (Laing and Esterson. The Marxist Perspective on the Family Marxist Theory sees the family as an institution which helps in the reproduction of the status quo. 1970) 4. The family is presented as the main unit that transmits and maintains the ruling class ideology in the form of norms and values that are passed on to young members. In this way it is suggested that family life is much more diverse than the picture functionalists create. The family sometimes exploits children’s dependence. each stage being more complex than the one before. they say strongly suggests that many families are far from happy and stable. As a result.

For Engel’s the family form varies according to the mode of production. The family he said gradually evolved through several stages. The family is a major prop to the economy for two main reasons: first.Engels was of the view that in the era of primitive communism. under capitalism. He further argued that over time. The main ideas contained in Zaretsky’s work are summarized below. the state created laws that encouraged and strengthened monogamous marriages. Zaretsky’s view suggests that the private life of the family provides opportunities for satisfaction that are unavailable in the alienating work environment. . The modern family that emerged with the development of factory based production has now become a unit of consumption. the family as a unit consumes many of the products of capitalists. a time when all the means of production were owned communally. as well as luxury goods for the more well to do families in the society. The paternity of children could more definitely be assured in a monogamous marriage and the sexuality of women could be controlled more firmly. Zaretsky. that is marriages between one man and one woman exclusively. The family creates the illusion that its ‘private life’ is quite separate from the economy. According to Engels. basic items such as household appliances and furniture. The nuclear family later developed in response to the needs of the capitalist system of production where the private ownership of the means of production was paramount. 1. for example. the domestic labour of housewives allows for the production of future generations of workers. 2. With its reduced number of family life as a safe haven away from the exploitative capitalist production system in offices and factories. focused his analysis on the nuclear family in modern capitalist societies. second. Eli Zaretsky’s View on the Family Eli Zaretsky (1976) in Capitalism. because this type of marriage ensured the legitimacy of heirs. the existence of private property makes it expedient for members of the bourgeoisie to produce legal male heirs so that wealth and property can be kept within the class. including the stage of polygyny. Zaretsky’s view mainly relate to working class families. Thus. This illusion stem from the fact that modern day families are no longer units of production where all family members are involved in the production of particular goods and services. in order to protect private property. society began to put restrictions on those with whom persons could have sexual relationships. welcomed it nonetheless. the family did not really exist. while acknowledging that the idea of a private life may be an illusion. Engels claim that this was a time of communal promiscuity when there were no limits on who had sexual relations with whom and there was no need for marriage since the idea of private property did not exist. the Family and Personal Life.

. Notwithstanding the above. Zaretsky emphasized that the family as constituted in a capitalist society. Thus. Zaretsky insists like Marx that under capitalism only members of the bourgeoisie would be free from exploitation and alienation.3. it actually props up the capitalist system that reinforces the status quo. while it may work to cushion the effects of pressures from the society. is unable to provide for the psychological and personal needs of the individual. it is only when socialism is attained will the family be able to produce real opportunities for its members to become happy.