Chapter Study Outline

Theoretical Perspectives on the Family

  • Kinship, family, and marriage are closely related terms of key significance for sociology and anthropology. Kinship comprises either genetic ties or ties initiated by marriage. A family is a group of kin having responsibility for the upbringing of children. Marriage is a union of two persons living together in a socially approved sexual relationship.
  • A nuclear family is a household in which a married couple or single parent lives with their own or adopted children. Where kin in addition to parents and children live in the same household or have close and continuous relationships, we speak of an extended family.
  • In Western societies, marriage, and therefore the family, is associated with monogamy (a culturally approved sexual relationship between one man and one woman). Many other cultures tolerate or encourage polygamy, in which an individual may have two or more spouses at the same time. Polygyny, in which a man may marry more than one wife, is far more common than polyandry, in which a woman may have more than one husband.

The Family in History

  • The modern Western family, which features close emotional bonds, domestic privacy, and a preoccupation with child rearing, is characterized by affective individualism, meaning that marriage partners are chosen on the basis of romantic love. This was not always the norm. In premodern Europe, parents, extended family members, or landlords decided on marriage partners, basing their choices largely on social or economic considerations.

Changes in Family Patterns Worldwide

  • There are many types of families, but there is a trend toward the Western norm of the nuclear family. Some reasons for this trend include the Western ideal of romantic love, the growth of urbanization and of centralized governments, and employment in organizations outside traditional family influence.

Marriage and Family in the United States

  • There have been major changes in patterns of family life in the United States during the post-World War II period: A high percentage of women are in the paid labor force, there are rising divorce rates, and substantial proportions of the population either live in single-parent households or live with stepfamilies. Cohabitation (in which a couple lives together in a sexual relationship outside of marriage) is increasingly common in many industrial countries.

The Dark Side of the Family

  • Family life is not always harmonious and happy. The "dark side" of the family comprises patterns of abuse and family violence. Although no social class is immune to spousal abuse, it is more common among low-income couples.

Alternative Forms of Marriage and the Family

  • Cohabitation and homosexuality have become more common recently. Although alternative forms of social and sexual relationships will surely flourish further, marriage and the family remain firmly established institutions.