|Georgas, J. (2003). Family: Variations and changes across
cultures. In W. J. Lonner, D.
L. Dinnel, S. A. Hayes, & D. N. Sattler (Eds.), Online Readings
in Psychology and Culture (Unit 13, Chapter 3),
Center for Cross-Cultural Research, Western Washington University,
Bellingham, Washington USA
This material is copyrighted by the author(s), who have kindly extended to the Center the right to use the material as described in the Introduction to this collection and the form entitled "Agreement to Extend License to Use Work."
UNIT 13, CHAPTER 3
FAMILY: VARIATIONS AND CHANGES ACROSS CULTURES
The University of Athens
order to study psychological phenomena cross-culturally, it is necessary to
understand the different types of family in cultures throughout the world and
also how family types are related to cultural features of societies. This
article discusses: The definitions and the structure and functions of family;
the different family types and relationships with kin; the ecocultural
determinants of variations of family types, e.g, ecological features,
means of subsistence, political and legal system, education and religion;
changes in family in different cultures; the influence of
modernization and globalization on family change throughout the world.
is common knowledge that cultures seem to have different types of family
systems. In the United States and Canada and the countries of northern Europe
the nuclear family, father, mother and the children, appears to predominate. In
almost all of the rest of the world, extended families, the grandparents,
father, mother, children, but also aunts, uncles, cousins, and other kin are
considered to be "family." The 20th century has seen the greatest
upheaval in history of family
change. Family types in North America and northern Europe have been changing
with the increase of nuclear families and the decrease of extended families, and
during the past 20 or more years, with the increase of
unmarried families, divorced families, unmarried mothers, and homosexual
families. Nuclear families have also been increasing in all the continents of
purpose of this article is to describe the different types of families in
different cultures throughout the world and to describe the types of changes in
family. This goal is an integral part of cross-cultural psychology, whose aim is
to search for similarities and differences in psychology variables in cultures;
that is, psychological phenomena that are universal across all cultures as well
as variations in the manifestation of psychological phenomena as a function of
specific aspects of cultures. What are these specific aspects of culture that we
are interested in? They are the "context" of societies which shape
human behavior according to cultural institutions, norms, values, language,
history and traditions. The search for differences and similarities in
psychological phenomena is dependent on an understanding of the social structure
and the cultural traditions of countries and small societies. Only then can the
cross-cultural psychologist analyze "why" scores on psychological
measures are the same and differ. Analysis of the culture of a society and even
its history is a necessary element for the cross-cultural understanding of
similarities and variations of psychological phenomena. This approach has two
dimensions, an indigenous and a cross-cultural. The indigenous approach is the
vertical dimension; understanding psychological phenomena in terms of the social
structure and culture of individual countries. The cross-cultural approach is
the horizontal dimension; understanding psychological phenomena by comparing the
social structure and culture of many countries.
we will analyze the family as a social system in different cultures, so that the
interested person can then understand how psychological phenomena are related to
family and culture. The first section presents definitions of family and the
structure and functions of family. The second describes the different family
types and relationships with kin. The third section an important issue in
cultures and family: determinants of family types. That is, what are the
ecocultural determinants of
variations of family types and the changes in families across cultures; the
ecological features, means of subsistence, political and legal system, education
and religion. The fourth section
will discuss issues related to family change in different cultures throughout
the world. What are the consequences of modernization
and globalization on family change? Will families throughout the world
eventually evolve into the nuclear family, divorced family and one-parent family
systems of North America and northern Europe? Or do cultural features of each
nation shape changes in family types?
Structure and Function
anthropologist George Murdock's definition of the family over fifty years ago
was, "The family is 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, own or adopted, of the sexually cohabiting adults." The
functions of family were considered to be: sexual, reproduction, socialization,
and economic More recently, the sociologist Popenoe defined family in terms of
recent social and economic changes in the United States, e.g., the increases in
one-parent divorced and unmarried mother families, and homosexual families.
Popenoe's definition differs from
that of Murdock in that the minimum number constituting a family is one adult
and one dependent person, the parents do not have to be of both sexes, and the
couple does not have to be married. The functions of the family are procreation
and socialization of children, sexual regulation, economic cooperation, and
provision of care, affection and companionship.
concepts are employed by anthropologists and sociologists in discussing the
family: structure and function. Structure refers to the number of
members of the family and to familial positions such as mother, father, son,
daughter, grandfather, grandmother, uncles and aunts, cousins and other kin. The
nuclear family, for example, is composed of two generations, the parents and the
children, while the different extended family types are composed of at least
three generations, for example, the grandparents, the parents, the children, as
well as kin on both sides. The functions, as described above, refer to how the
families satisfy their physical and psychological needs in order to maintain the
family and to survive as a group. For example, families universally must provide
shelter for themselves - a house - either a permanent edifice or a temporary
abode such as a tent or an igloo. They must maintain the home, clean and repair
it, add rooms, etc. Families must be engaged in some type of work in order to
provide sustenance and the other family needs. This work might be farming,
fishing, hunting, herding, gathering of berries, or working in a store, a
factory, or owning a small business, working as a nurse, a computer specialist,
etc. The family must provide food for its members, which entails tasks of
acquiring, cooking, cleaning the utensils, storing food, etc. The family
provides, mends and cleans clothers, as well as cares for the cleanliness of
their bodies. Raising the children, educating them, maintaining contacts with
the kin, engaging them in the traditions of the community are part of the
process of socialization. The parents provide emotional warmth and comfort to
the child and to each other, set limits to behavior, are responsible for the
psychological development of the child at different ages. Upon reaching
adulthood, the family participates in the marriage of the sons and daughters and
the emergent family maintains different degrees of
contact with the parents/grandparents and other kin. These are some of
the major functions of the family which are universal across all societies in
the world. It is the variations in these functions in different cultures that
are of interest to observe and study.
the structure refers to the positions of the members of the family, e.g., mother
and father, each society assigns specific roles assigned to the family members.
For example, traditional roles of the nuclear family in North America and
northern Europe in the middle of the 20th century were the working father, and
the mother whose role was the "housewife" and responsible for raising
the children. All societies have unwritten social constructs and values
regarding the proper roles of family members, although there are individual
differences in all societies as to agreement or disagreement with these roles.
For example, many women in almost all societies today, even in countries such as
Nigeria and Japan, disagree that the mother's place is in the home and believe
the woman should be educated and work. On the other hand, many women agree with
the traditional roles that society has assigned them.
different family types or structures are based on anthropological and
sociological studies of small and large societies throughout the world.
are a number of typologies of family types, but a simple one will be presented
and Three Generation Families
nuclear family consists of two generations: the wife/mother,
husband/father, and their children.
one-parent family, divorced or unmarried parent, is also a two-generation family.
different types of extended families consist of at least three
generations: the grandparents on both sides, the wife/mother, husband/father,
and their children, the aunts, siblings, cousins, nieces and other kin of the
wife and husband. However, before discussing the types of extended families, an
important distinction must be made be between the polygynous (one
husband/father and two or more wives/mothers) family and the monogamous
(one husband one wife) family. Polygynous families are found in many cultures,
e.g., four wives are permitted according to Islam. However, the actual number of
polygamous families in Islamic nations today is very small, e.g, almost 90 % of
husbands in Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia,
have only one wife. In Pakistan, a man seeking a second wife must obtain
permission from an Arbitration Council, which requires a statement of consent
from the first wife before granting permission. Thus some of the different types
of extended families may be either polygynous or monogamous.
patrilineal and matrilineal, or in terms of authority structure, the patriarchal
and matriarchal families
are at least three-generational. They can potentially consist of the
grandparents, the married sons, the grandchildren, and also the
grandfather's or grandmother's siblings, nieces, grandnieces, and in many
cases, other kin. This is perhaps the most common form of family and is
found in many countries throughout the world. The patriarch or matriarch of
this family is the head of family, controls the family property and the
finances, makes all the important decisions, and is responsible for the
protection and welfare of the entire family.
The Queen of England is the head of a matriarchal family and the royal
houses of many countries are patriarchal in form.
stem family consists of the grandparents and the eldest married son
and their children who live together under the authority of the
grandfather/household head. The eldest son inherits the family plot and the
stem continues through the first son. The other sons and daughters usually
leave the household upon marriage. The stem family was characteristic of
central European countries, such as Austria, southern Germany and other
societies throughout the world.
joint family is a continuation of the patriarchal family after the
death of the grandfather, but the difference is that all the married sons
share the inheritance and work together.
fully extended family, the zadruga in the Balkans countries of
Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, has a
structure similar to that of the joint family, but with the difference that
cousins and other kin were also included as members of the family. The total
number of family members might be over 50.
relationships in extended families vary widely. Lineal relationships
refer to those between the grandparents and the grandchildren. Collateral
relationships refer to those with uncles and aunts, cousins, and nephews and
nieces. Affinal refer to those between parents-in-law, children-in-law,
and siblings-in-law as well as with matrilineal and patrilineal kin. Kinship
relationships and obligations toward affinal, collatoral and affinal kin are
related to lines of descent, to residence, to inheritance of property, to
marriage, divorce and to roles in different cultures.
terms for kin vary in cultures. That is, in addition to differentiating family
positions such as mother, father, son, daughter, grandfather, grandmother,
niece, nephew, father and mother-in-law and other family positions, many
societies employ even more differentiated systems. For example, in Pakistan
generic terms such as "aunt," "uncle" or even
"grandparents" are not employed, but very specific terms delineating
matrilineal and patrilineal kin,, such as "my-maternal-aunt."
The very complex "architectural" system of kinship
relationships of the Chinese is based on 17 determinants. These determinants
permit the identification of a kin within the entire extended family system
based on specific names in terms of lineal and collateral differentiation and
also in terms of generational stratification, e.g., "father's sister's
son's daughter's son."
have different rules as to where the couple resides after marriage. The most
common form of post-marital residence is patrilocal, residence with or
near the husband's patrilineal kinsmen. Avunculocal refers to residence
with or near the maternal uncle or other male matrilineal kinsmen of the
husband. Neolocal means residence apart from the relatives of both
spouses, which is the most characteristic form of nuclear family residence in
northern Europe and North America.
have specific rules of descent, that is, relationships with paternal and
maternal kin. Bilateral refers to affiliation with both mother's and
father's relatives. Patrilineal refers to affialition with kin of both
sexes through the maternal and paternal fathers only, but not through maternal
and paternal mothers. Matrilineal refers to affiliation with kin of both
sexes through the maternal and paternal mothers only, but not through maternal
and paternal fathers. Ambilineal or cognatic refers to affiliation
with kin through either the maternal parents or the paternal parents. Double
refers to affiliation is with both father's patrilineal kin and mother's
have rules regarding whom one is permitted to marry (endogamy), and
restrictions regarding whom one cannot marry (exogamy).
In some societies, as in India or Pakistan, endogamy means that marriage
is restricted to the same caste, the same village, the same religion, the same
race. These social norms are not as restrictive in North America and Europe. In
also societies, marriage is not permitted between siblings, but some permit
marriage with first cousins, or with the son or daughter of a godparent. In most
cultures, marriages were arranged between the two families, and a verbal or
written contract was agreed upon regarding the dowry or the bride wealth,
although at the present time this is changing gradually in many societies in
Africa and Asia.
of property is an important feature of arranged marriages and is related to
lineal descent. For example, in the royal family of Great Britain, the oldest
son, the Prince of Wales, inherits the title and all the property. If there is
no male heir, as was the case with the present Queen, the eldest daughter. In
China up to the 19th century, inheritance was egalitarian, but in Japan a single
child inherited the property and a father could disinherit his son if he was not
worthy and adopt a young man who inherited the property.
is socially disapproved in all societies, but permitted in most. Catholic
nations do not permitted divorce except under highly unusual situations
requiring a special dispensation. The Orthodox Church permits three marriages
and three divorces. Islamic law, the sharia, permits divorces, but divorce has
legal and social consequences. Since the married daughter inherits property from
the father, the wife retains property in her name after marriage, and the
husband has no legal claim to it after divorce, as well custody of the children
under age seven.
the Nuclear Family Separate or Part of the Extended Family?
of the questions related to the nuclear family is the degree to which it is
separate and autonomous and the degree to which it maintains bonds with the kin
- the extended family members. Much
of the thinking about the structure and function of the nuclear family
was shaped by the sociologist Talcott Parsons in the 1940s.
Parson theorized that the adaptation of the American family from its
extended family system in agricultural areas to urban areas required a nuclear
family structure. The young couple in the large city lived far away and was
fragmented from their families in the small towns. The nuclear family became
primarily a unit of residence and consumption. The financial and educative
functions become dependent on the state, in contrast with the extended family in
small towns. Thus, the nuclear family was isolated geographically and
psychologically from its kin and its major remaining function was to provide for
the psychological aspects of the family, such as the socialization of the
children. Parsons argued that this social mobility which characterizes America
was made possible by the breaking of family ties, but at the cost of
psychological isolation. Actually, America had a long history, going back to
colonial times, of the independent nuclear family, as did England, northern
France and some other European countries.
theory of the isolation of the nuclear family from its extended family
and kinship network, leading to psychological isolation and anomie had a strong
influence on psychological and sociological theorizing about the nuclear family.
However, studies of social networks in North America and Northern Europe in the
past 40 years have indicated that the nuclear family is not isolated from its
kin not is it independent to the degree assumed by Parsons and other
sociologists of the family. Nuclear
families, even in industrial countries, have networks with grandparents,
brothers and sisters and other kin. The question is the degree of contact and
communication with these kin, even in nations of Northern America and northern
key to studying how family structure is related to function and how it effects
psychological differentiation, and how family type is related to economic base
and culture, is the nuclear family. Murdock made an important distinction (1949)
regarding the relationship of the nuclear family to the extended family; that
the extended family represents a constellation of nuclear families; the nuclear
family of the paternal grandparents, the nuclear family of the maternal
grandparents, the nuclear family of the married sons, married daughter, married
cousins, etc. Thus, in focusing on a particular nuclear family, it is a mistake
to assume it is an independent unit, but because the extended family is
essentially a constellation of nuclear families across at least
three-generations. The important question is the degree of contact and
interdependence between this constellation of nuclear families.
different cycles of family are a related issue. In countries in which the
extended family system is predominant, not all families are extended in
structure and function. At the time of marriage and then after children, the
nuclear family of the married sons and daughters is an integral part of
the extended family. The three-generation extended family has a lifetime
of, perhaps 20 or 30 years. However, after the death of the patriarch of the
family, the grandparent, one cycle closes, and a new cycle begins with the two
or three nuclear families of the married and unmarried sons and daughters. These
are nuclear families in transition. Some will form new extended families, others
may not have children, some will not marry, others, e.g., the second son in the
stem family, will not have the economic base to form a new stem family. That is,
even in cultures with a dominant extended family system, there are always
issue is how nuclear families are determined by demographers and researchers.
The census, demographic and research studies are based on interviews with
people. Respondents are asked the number of people who live in the apartment or
house and their family positions, e.g., mother, father, children, grandparents,
etc. If two generations, parents and the children, live in the household, they
are identified as a nuclear or two-generation family. However demographic
statistics provide only "surface" information, difficult to interpret
without data about family networks, attitudes, values, and the degree of
interaction between family members. Generalizing only on the basis of
the percent of nuclear families in a country may lead to erroneous
conclusions about the functions of nuclear families in a country. For example,
in a demographic study of European Union nations, Germany and Austria were found
to have lower percents of nuclear families than Greece. Nuclear households in
Greece, as in many other countries throughout the world, are very near to the
grandparents; in the apartment next door, on the next floor, in the
neighborhood, and the visits and telephone calls between kin are very frequent.
Thus, although nuclear in terms of "common residence" the Greek
families are in fact extended in terms of their relationships and interaction,
and it would be a mistake to assume that the Greek family is more
"nuclear" than the German or Austrian.
is, there is also the psychological component of those who one considers to be
"family." Social representation of one's "family" may
consist of a mosaic of parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, uncles,
aunts and cousins on both sides, together with different degrees of emotional
attachments to each one, different types of interactions, bonds, memories, etc.
Each person has a genealogical tree consisting of a constellation of overlapping
kinship groups; through the mother, the father, the mother-in-law,
father-in-law, but also through the sister-in-law, brother-in-law,
cousin-in-law, etc. The overlapping circles of nuclear families in this
constellation of kin relationships are almost endless. Both the psychological
dimension of "family" -
one's social representation - and the social values regarding which kin
relationships are important, determine which kin affiliations are important to
the individual ("my favorite uncle") or the family ("our older
brother's family). Thus, it is not so important "who lives in the
box," but what are the types of affiliations and psychological ties with
the constellation of different family members in the person's conception of
his/her "family," whether it is an "independent" nuclear
family in Germany or an "extended family" in Nigeria.
a cross-cultural study Georgas studied residence patterns, interaction and
telephone communication with grandparents, aunts/uncles, and cousins in 16
countries from North and Central America, northern and southern Europe and East
Asia. Although countries of southern Europe and East Asia lived closest to their
kin, and had the highest interaction and communication, and although the United
States and Canada as well as the UK, Germany, the Netherlands had lower levels
of geographic proximity and contacts, their nuclear families could not be
described as psychologically "isolated."
conclusion, although the United States, Canada and the countries of northern
Europe have more nuclear families who live in a separate house and who are
financially independent, contacts and social support from relatives are still
maintained to a certain degree. In addition, in a polyethnic society such as the
United States with many recent migrants from throughout the world, the typical
family is not nuclear, but one in which close ties are maintained with the other
nuclear families in their extended family.
of Family Types
are family types related to the type of society? As discussed above, cultures
variety widely in terms of types of family, the complex relationships between
kin, how marriage takes place, how divorce is obtained, place of residence, the
development of children, etc. Cultural anthropologists have described in great
detail the rules of small societies related to family life and have tried to
relate them to the traditions, the meanings, and institutions of the culture.
However, it is very difficult to analyze and isolate the determinants which
shape the types of family and the practices related to them in each culture and
to generalize them across cultures. Cross-cultural psychology has also played an
important role in this quest, by comparing different cultures across
psychological dimensions. A
cross-cultural theory of the relationship between cultures and psychological
variables is the Ecocultural Framework of Berry. The Framework seeks to explain
similarities and differences in psychological diversity, at both the individual
level and the cultural level, by taking into account two sources of influence,
the ecological and the sociopolitical, and a set of variables that link these
influences to psychological characteristics (cultural and biological adaptation
at the population level, and various "transmission variables" to
individuals such as enculturation, socialization, genetics, and acculturation).
The Ecocultural Framework considers human diversity, both cultural and
psychological, to be a set of collective (the society) and individual
adaptations to the context. The
Framework is useful in teasing out the ecological and sociopolitical
determinants of family types.
of the determinants of family types which have been studied are the ecological
features, the means of subsistence of the society, and religion.
have documented how ecological features determine means of subsistence of the
members of the society. Humans have subsisted during many millennia mostly
through agriculture. That is, people who live in areas where the land is fertile
grow crops in order to subsist. Herding of animals also takes place in areas
where land is fertile, but even in mountains or savannahs or the desert. Some
societies by the sea or lakes survive by fishing, others by hunting, and others
by gathering. In today's complex societies the means of subsistence is to work
in industry, in commerce, a small business such as a restaurant, providing
services such as a government employee, etc.
have shown that the type of family is related to ecological features and means
of subsistence. Agricultural families are characterized by large extended
families. The small nuclear family is usually characteristic of small hunting
and gathering societies as well as life in
large urban areas. Another finding is that extended families are characterized
by highly differentiated social stratification, while nuclear families less
societies tend to have a permanent base, land and houses, and to live near
kin, usually part of a town or small community. Before the mechanization
of farming, and the presently in most of the world, farming requires the help of
many people, usually children and kin, who cooperate to cultivate crops. Studies
have found that children in agricultural and pastoral societies are taught to be
responsible, compliant, obedient, to respect their elders and the hierarchy.
the other hand, hunting or gathering as a means of subsistence requires moving
from area to area. Many hunting and gathering societies do not have a permanent
home, but temporary huts or shelters. Mobility means that the small nuclear
family is more adaptable for survival under these ecological restraints.
Children in hunting and gathering societies tend to be self-reliant,
independent, and achievement oriented and the family is less stratified. A good
hunter of any age is respected for his/her competence in killing game, which is
different from the hierarchical structure of the agricultural society.
Political and Legal System
political system in complex societies passes laws regulating types of families
and the judicial system adjudicates issue related to the family. The United
States does not permit polygamous families and the judicial system makes
decisions regarding divorce and custody of the children. In Scandinavian
countries, unmarried mothers are recognized as families and receive child
benefits. In the Netherlands, homosexual marriages are recognized. In Pakistan
and other Islamic nations, polygamous marriages are recognized and the law
protects the property of the divorced woman.
in the Small Communities
the past, the world was composed primarily of small communities that were
tightly organized through relationships with kin and the clan. The large
nation-state with centralized powers, such as the British Empire, or the United
States in the 18th century, or Germany in the 19th century does not represent
the globe. In India or the Arabic countries, e.g., nations were created in the
20th century based on many ethnic groups or clans. For most people throughout
the world, the central government was a powerful, distant, unfriendly,
institution whose only contact with their community was to collect taxes and
impose unwanted laws. Small communities were composed of extended
families, tied together through blood relationships, through marriage and
forming a clan. through the need for survival. The family loyalty was to the
extended family and the clan and not to the state, because the family and the
clan was the basis for survival, protection, and development. This is still the
case in many polyethnic countries throughout the world. In these small
communities, all issues related to the family were decided by the leader or
elders of the community without formal laws, and continued through tradition.
dogma is a major factor in the types of families, divorce and custody of the
children. Christianity permits only monogamous marriages while Islam permits
polygamous marriages. The Catholic church does not permit divorce while the
Orthodox permits three divorces and the Protestant churches permit divorce.
There are many other examples from other cultures regarding how religion shapes
to education has been a major determinant in different types of families, and
particularly in the changes in family types. In many societies, both in the East
and West, changes from an agricultural economic system to an industrial system
in the 19th and early 20th centuries were accompanied by an increasing number of
young people attending secondary schools and universities. After obtaining their
degree, they sought jobs in industry or in services or as professionals.
Returning to the farm or the small town was not an option, and thus education
played a major role in changes in the family from the extended type to the
nuclear type. Also, in almost all societies, education was only for the males.
In the second half of the 20th century, women increasingly continued on to
university level, and also found jobs. This also resulted in changes in their
roles as mothers in the traditional family. In many societies, e.g., Africa,
only orphans or abandoned children went to Western type schools, while the
children in extended families learned the tasks of the extended family at home
and in the fields.
issues discussed above, such as, the different types family, the relations with
kin, marriage, divorce, children, are based on studies since the 19th century.
Many of the rules, practices and family types have changed in recent years,
while others have remained. In a changing world in which small societies have
been exposed to television and cd's, computers, economic changes, technology,
tourism, the structure and function of the family has been changing, just as
these societies have also been changing. Acculturation and enculturation in
response to these pressures for change have also affected the links between
ecology, social structure, family types and psychological variables. How much
has the family changed in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas and Oceania? It is
clear that family types have changed most radically in North America and
northern Europe. But changes in the family have occurred throughout the world at
different rates and in different forms. A critical question raised by
modernization theory and globalization is, "Will the traditional types of
families in these cultures eventually evolve into the nuclear family, divorced
family and one-parent family systems of North America and northern Europe? Or do
cultural features of each society continue to play a role in maintaining aspects
of their traditional family structure and function and also in shaping changes
in family types?" Let us analyze more closely issues related to this
of economic changes, television, movies, education, the internet, tourism,
commerce, the traditional family systems of small societies are no longer
totally dependent on subsistence systems such as hunting, gathering or even
agriculture. The number of nuclear families are increasing in urban areas in
most developing societies, young people are increasingly choosing their spouses
rather than having to submit to arranged marriages, women are entering the work
force, traditional family roles have changed, the father no longer has absolute
power in the family. There is a trend toward more families becoming structurally
nuclear, even in small societies. But it may be misleading to conclude that
families throughout the world are " becoming ...nuclear" functionally
in the sense of the north American and northern European nuclear family. Even
though the numbers of nuclear families are increasing in most societies, they
still maintain very close relations with their kin. In urban areas in almost all
societies, many nuclear families of the married sons and daughters are either in
the same building or very near by the grandparents. There is an economic
explanation for this. In the richest nations of world, e.g., the U.S. and
Canada, northern Europe, Japan and South Korea, high economic level means that
young people who work can also rent an apartment or obtain a morgage to buy a
house. In the rest of the world, the wages of young people are not high enough
for them to secure an independent abode. So nuclear families live near the
grandparents. But in Japan and South Korea, for example, where economic
circumstances permit a married son to acquire a separate home, the married son
and the wife still maintain very close relationships with the grandparents, and
continue to adhere to values such as respecting the grandparents. Even working
wives with higher education takes pains in maintaining many traditional family
values in these countries.
an independent home is a basic psychological need for privacy, whether the home
is thousands of miles away from the grandparents or in the next apartment. Thus,
a separate residence does not necessarily mean isolation from kin relationships.
Geographical proximity and psychological distance are not the same. A
separate domicile of the nuclear family members, either next door or far away,
is technically geographical separation, but does not necessarily imply
psychological separation from the kin.
change is in the power of the father in the family. With the increase of
educated and working mothers in many societies throughout the world, mother has
gained economic power as have working children, while the father has been losing
his absolute control of the family. In Mongolia, studies have found that
children in urban areas side with mother because she not only works and brings
money in, but also cooks, cares for the house and them.
has developed a model of family change based on socio-economic development in
which she theorizes three patterns of family interaction: 1) the traditional
family in developing countries characterized by total interdependence between
generations in material and emotional realms, 2) the individualistic nuclear
family model of Western society based on independence, and 3) a synthesis of
these two, involving material independence but psychological interdependence
a theory developed by sociology and political science, hypothesizes that
increasing economic level and industrialization in a society results in the
rejection of traditional values and culture, and inevitable convergence toward a
system of "modern" values and increasing individualization. One of the
consequences of modernization is the transition of the extended family system in
economically underdeveloped societies to the nuclear family characteristic of
industrial societies. Increasing evidence from studies of small societies and
developing nations indicates that these predictions, that families in these
societies will eventually change to the Western type of nuclear family system
may be mistaken. However, the sociologist Inkeles, a leading proponent of
modernization theory expresses doubt that families throughout the world will
converge to a universal nuclear family type, despite changes in residence
patterns, choice of marriage partner, parental authority, and rates of female
employment in developing and industrialized countries. He believes that family
relations are too complex and subtle to respond uniformly to economic changes,
most likely because of different cultural "sensitivities."
In addition, he states that despite changes in the forms of family,
certain patterns of family life remain constant across cultures over time, and
certain basic human remain resistant to any type of change in social
organization. An example given is that which links a man and a woman in a
long-term association through some arrangement similar to what is called
"marriage". We would also add to this; a long-term association with
kin. Another example regarding
universal psychological relationships (Georgas, et al., 1999) was the finding in
16 countries that the emotional bonds between children and mothers were
uniformly closest, second closest were bonds between siblings, and third were
bonds between children and fathers. That is, this phenomenon was common across
16 countries with very different cultures and social institutions such as, the
United States, China, India, and Britain. Thus, this relationship appears
to be universal and that modernization has not changed this relationship, even
in wealthy countries.
recent challenge to modernization theory has been made by Huntington with his
thesis that the ideological distinctions between capitalism and Marxism which
characterized the 20th century stopped with the end of the cold war. Huntington
argues that age old cultural valuesof long-standing "civilizations,"
such as religion, have replaced ideological distinctions, and that modernization
theory and economic development cannot account for many current changes in the
world. Globalization is also a current term employed in many ways by different
theorists, but with a common chord that cultures throughout the world are
opening up and becoming more similar in many ways.
Thus, modernization and globalization would predict that the morphological change of traditional types of families to the nuclear and one-parent family structure and function of North America and Western Europe, bulldozed by an economic engine is just a matter of time. On the other hand, there is support for the argument that there many paths leading to different forms of family structure and function, influenced by economic growth but also influenced by long standing cultural traditions. The answer is not yet in to these questions. It is also a question of whether the centrifugal forces of economic and institutional changes, which tend to weaken emotional ties among family members, are more powerful than the centripetal psychological forces which establish emotional bonds between people and particularly among family members. Psychology, and particularly cross-cultural psychology, can play a critical role in attempting to find answers to this dilemma.
Questions for Discussion
Will the traditional types of families in cultures in Asia, Africa, Oceania, and
South America eventually evolve into the nuclear family, divorced family and
one-parent family systems of North America and northern Europe? Or do cultural
features of each society continue to play a role in maintaining aspects of their
traditional family structure and function and also in shaping changes in family
Draw a genealogical chart of your extended family. Start with your mother,
father and your brothers or sisters, if your have them. Then begin with your
mother's father and mother (your maternal grandparents) and your father's mother
and father (your paternal grandparents). List your paternal and maternal
grandparents' brothers and sisters (your great uncles and great aunts). Then
list your mother's and father's brothers and sisters (your uncles and aunts).
Then list your uncles' and aunts' sons and daughters (your cousins). How close
to you feel emotionally to which members of your extended family? How often do
you see them? How often do you telephone them? How close do you live near them?
This is an indication of your family network and the strength of your bonds with
some of them.
Agricultural families in many cultures throughout the world are characterized by
large extended families because many people are required in order to cultivate
the land. The small nuclear family is usually characteristic of small hunting
and gathering societies because mobility is necessary in order to find game or
to gather food. Nuclear or one-person families are characteristic of large urban
areas. Discuss why the nuclear
family is characteristic of industrial societies and urban areas.
The sociologist Popenoe defined the minimal family as composed of at least one
adult and one dependent person; the parents do not have to be of both sexes; the
couple does not have to be married. The U.S. Bureau of the Census defines family
as "...two or more persons living together and related by blood, marriage
or adoption." What may be the problems of the latter definition in
identifying whether the occupants of a household are a family?
5. Some sociologists and psychologists maintain that the increased divorce rate signals the breakdown of the family as a social institution. Others maintain that the increase in divorce rate signals the increased opportunity in today's world for women and men to end a bad marriage and to seek a new relationship built on trust and communication, which is an indication of the continued importance of the family. What are the arguments for each position?
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