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What is the sociological definition of a family?

The concept of “family” has evolved in recent decades. The intolerant view of a nuclear family, where a man and woman in wedlock have children and the male provides while the female undertakes child care responsibilities, no longer applies to many modern family units. So, what is a family?

Family is the setting for socializing children

Family is the name we give to the setting in which we socialize children.

Human infants are born with sensory capabilities, not innate reflexes

Humans are born without innate reflexes, indicating that parental guidance is far more important in human development than in the development and evolution of other species. Explore

Families can take many forms

Families can be biologically related, adoptive, or fostered. They can feature distant relatives or a "nuclear" family of two parents of any sexes. Whatever the form, provided it is socializing children, it can still be classified as a family. Explore

Families are defined by what they do

Functionalists believe families are defined by what they do, rather than what they "are".

Functional definitions of families are more inclusive

By defining families by what they do rather than what they are, we can include all the modern variations of a family unit in the sociological definition of a family. Explore

Families physically care for members

Families are responsible for the physical care of vulnerable members, including the young and elderly. Explore

Families provide support

Families provide emotional and/or financial support. Explore

Families preserve a state of equilibrium

Families are by design forces that preserve the status quo. Explore

Families control members

Families are responsible for keeping each other in check by punishing bad behaviour and reinforcing good behaviour. Explore

Family means a shared residence, economic cooperation, and reproduction

A classic sociological definition of the family was put forward by George Peter Murdock. He asserted that families shared a residence, were somewhat economically integrated, and are built around the reproductive relationship of the parents.

Families share these factors across cultures

These three pillars of a family are visible across cultures. Explore

Polyamorous and non-monogamous relationships are widespread

Any definition that excludes the possibility of polygamy within a family unit falls short. Explore

A common residence differentiates family from close friends

A shared residence is essential for the distinction of family from non-familial friendship groups. Explore

The family is responsible for producing new members

Families create new family members through procreation. Explore

It depends on the type of family and approach

The sociological definition of a family varies depending on the type of family.

You cannot group all families under one sociological definition

Families appear in many guises and forms. No single sociological definition can effectively include all families, while excluding close friendship groups. Explore

Families of orientation vs families of procreation

There is an important difference between the family you are born into, and the family you create with a lover. Explore

Micro, Macro, and meso definitions

Sociological definitions for a family vary depending on the sociological approach. Explore

Family has different meanings at different times

Because familial constructs change with social, economic and political constructs, any accurate sociological definition of a family can only apply at the time it is deduced.

The family unit is constantly evolving

Social attitudes to families are constantly shifting. Therefore, any definition is only valid at the time it was written. Explore

Family is dependency

Family is the physical and economic dependency on other individuals.

This page was last edited on Sunday, 28 Jun 2020 at 16:03 UTC


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