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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.

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.

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.

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.

Polyamorous and non-monogamous relationships are widespread

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

A common residence differentiates family from close friends

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

The family is responsible for producing new members

Families create new family members through procreation. Producing offspring is a fundamental necessity for life, and the family fulfills the role of procreation, raising children, and furthering human life for generations.

Family is dependency

Family is the physical and economic dependency on other individuals.

Families are dependent on each other for multiple forms of support.

Families are dependent on its members for survival in physical, emotional, and economic ways. Parents birth, nurse, and feed their children. Parents offer economic support for their dependents. Children, as parents get older, return that support.

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.

Families physically care for members

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

Families control members

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

Families preserve a state of equilibrium

Families are by design forces that preserve the status quo.

Families provide support

Families provide emotional and financial support unconditionally to members of a family. The trust a group of people has for functioning as a support system for each other is what makes a family a family.

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.

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.

Micro, Macro, and meso definitions

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

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