What is a family?

What is a Family?

What is a family might seem like quite an easy question but when you think a little deeper it is a little more complicated then that. Sociologists link family to the idea of kinship. By this they mean a link between people that is based on blood, marriage, civil partnership or adoption. However in recent years there has been a growing number of people choosing to cohabit it has been argued that cohabiting couples should also be considered a family type.

How is a family different to a household?

A household is either one person or a group of people that live together and share living arrangements such as bills and/or food, therefore a family live in a household but not all households are families. Examples of a household that is not a family could include students sharing a house whilst at university. Also households in pre-industrial Britain were much larger then they are today due to many upper class families had domestic servants who were not family members.

Is there only one type of family?

In short NO.

Almost every society in the world has a form of family within its structure and very often when people think about family they think about mother, father and children. However there are many different types of family and sociologists use a number of key terms to describe the variety of marriages and households types:

Marriage Types

  • Monogamy
    • Two individuals who are exclusive to each other sexually.
  • Serial Monogamy 
    • A series of monogamous relationships.
  • Arranged Marriage
    • Marriages arranged by parents to match their children with partners of a similar background and status.
  • Civil Partnership
    • Legal recognition given to the relationships of same-sex couples, in which they are given the treatment in terms of legal matters as heterosexual couples. In 2014 homosexual couples were legally enabled to marry on the same basis as heterosexual couples.
  • Polygamy
    • Marriage to multiple people at the same time.
  • Polygyny
    • One husband with a number of wives.
  • Polyandry 
    • One wife with a number of husbands.

Family and Household Structures:

  • Nuclear Family
    • Two generations: parents and children living in a the same household.
  • Extended Family
    • All kin including and beyond the nuclear family
  • Classic Extended Family
    • An extended family sharing the same household or living near each other.
  • Modified Extended Family
    • An extended family living far apart, but keeping in touch via phone, email and social networks.
  • Bean Pole Family
    • A multi generational extended family, which is long and thin, with few aunts and uncles, reflecting fewer children being born in each generation, but people living longer.
  • Patriarchal Family
    • Authority is held by the males.
  • Matriarchal Family 
    • Authority is held by the females.
  • Symmetrical Family
    • Authority and household tasks shared between male and female partners.
  • Reconstituted Family (Step or Blended family)
    • one or both partners have previously been married, with children from the previous relationship.
  • Lone Parent Family
    • A single parent with dependent children, most commonly from divorce or separation, but could also be due to death.
  • Gay / Lesbian Family
    • same sex couple with children.
  • Single Person Household
    • An individual living alone.

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