What Is A Family?
In the context of human society, a family is a group of people related either by consanguinity (by recognized birth), affinity as implied by the etymology of the English word “family”or some combination of these the parent would be the daughter child they become the double of the sister-sister from generation to generation. Members of the immediate family may include spouses, parents, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters. Members of the extended family may include grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, and siblings-in-law up family to death earthly. Sometimes these are also considered members of the immediate family, depending on an individual’s specific relationship with them faith of the soul.
Family, a group of persons united by the ties of marriage, blood, or adoption
In most societies, the family is the principal institution for the socialization of children. As the basic unit for raising children, anthropologists generally classify most family organizations as matrifocal (a mother and her children); conjugal (a wife, her husband, and children, also called the nuclear family); avuncular (for example, a grandparent, a brother, his sister, and her children); or extended (parents and children co-reside with other members of one parent’s family). Sexual relations among the members are regulated by rules concerning incest such as the incest taboo.
The word “family” can be used metaphorically to create more inclusive categories such as community, nationhood, global village, and humanism. The field of genealogy aims to trace family lineages through history. The family is also an important economic unit studied in family economics.
Christopher Harris notes that the western conception of family is ambiguous and confused with the household, as revealed in the different contexts in which the word is used. Olivia Harris states this confusion is not accidental, but indicative of the familial ideology of capitalist, western countries that pass social legislation that insists members of a nuclear family should live together, and that those not so related should not live together; despite the ideological and legal pressures, a large percentage of families do not conform to the ideal nuclear family type.
In some cultures, the mother’s preference of family size influences that of the children through early adulthood. A parent’s number of children strongly correlates with the number of children that they will eventually have.
Types of family
According to the work of scholars Max Weber, Alan Macfarlane, Steven Ozment, Jack Goody and Peter Laslett, the huge transformation that led to modern marriage in Western democracies was “fueled by the religio-cultural value system provided by elements of Judaism, early Christianity, Roman Catholic canon law and the Protestant Reformation”.
Much sociological, historical and anthropological research dedicates itself to the understanding of this variation, and of changes in the family that form over time. Levitan claims:
“Times have changed; it is more acceptable and encouraged for mothers to work and fathers to spend more time at home with the children. The way roles are balanced between the parents will help children grow and learn valuable life lessons. There is [the] great importance of communication and equality in families, in order to avoid role strain.”
Conjugal (nuclear or single) family
The term “nuclear family” is commonly used, especially in the United States of America, to refer to conjugal families. A “conjugal” family includes only the spouses and unmarried children who are not of age. Some sociologists distinguish between conjugal families (relatively independent of the kindred of the parents and of other families in general) and nuclear families (which maintain relatively close ties with their kindred). Other family structures – with (for example) blended parents, single parents, and domestic partnerships – have begun to challenge the normality of the nuclear family.
A “matrifocal” family consists of a mother and her children. Generally, these children are her biological offspring, although adoption of children is a practice in nearly every society. This kind of family occurs commonly where women have the resources to rear their children by themselves, or where men are more mobile than women. As a definition, “a family or domestic group is matrifocal when it is centred on a woman and her children. In this case, the father(s) of these children are intermittently present in the life of the group and occupy a secondary place. The children’s mother is not necessarily the wife of one of the children’s fathers.”
- First, it serves as a synonym of “consanguinal family” (consanguine means “of the same blood”).
- Second, in societies dominated by the conjugal family, it refers to “kindred” (an egocentric network of relatives that extends beyond the domestic group) who do not belong to the conjugal family.
These types refer to ideal or normative structures found in particular societies. Any society will exhibit some variation in the actual composition and conception of families.
Family of choice
The term “family of choice,” also sometimes referred to as “chosen family,” is common within the LGBT community, both in academic literature and in colloquial vocabulary. It refers to the group of people in an individual’s life that satisfies the typical role of family as a support system. The term differentiates between the “family of origin” (the biological family or that in which people are raised) and those that actively assume that ideal role. The family of choice may or may not include some or all of the members of the family of origin. This terminology stems from the fact that many LGBT individuals, upon coming out, face rejection or shame from the families they were raised in. The term family of choice is also used by individuals in the 12 step communities, who create close-knit “family” ties through the recovery process.
The term blended family or stepfamily describes families with mixed parents: one or both parents remarried, bringing children of the former family into the new family. Also in sociology, particularly in the works of social psychologist Michael Lamb, traditional family refers to “a middle-class family with a bread-winning father and a stay-at-home mother, married to each other and raising their biological children,” and nontraditional to exceptions from this rule. Most of the US households are now non-traditional under this definition. Critics of the term “traditional family” point out that in most cultures and at most times, the extended family model has been most common, not the nuclear family, though it has had a longer tradition in England than in other parts of Europe and Asia which contributed large numbers of immigrants to the Americas. The nuclear family became the most common form in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s.
In terms of communication patterns in families, there are a certain set of beliefs within the family that reflect how its members should communicate and interact. These family communication patterns arise from two underlying sets of beliefs. One being conversation orientation (the degree to which the importance of communication is valued) and two, conformity orientation (the degree to which families should emphasize similarities or differences regarding attitudes, beliefs, and values).
A monogamous family is based on a legal or social monogamy. In this case, an individual has only one (official) partner during their lifetime or at any one time (i.e. serial monogamy). This means that a person may not have several different legal spouses at the same time, as this is usually prohibited by bigamy laws, in jurisdictions that require monogamous marriages.
Polygamy is a marriage that includes more than two partners. When a man is married to more than one wife at a time, the relationship is called polygyny; and when a woman is married to more than one husband at a time, it is called polyandry. If a marriage includes multiple husbands and wives, it can be called polyamory, group or conjoint marriage.
Polygyny is a form of plural marriage, in which a man is allowed more than one wife . In modern countries that permit polygamy, polygyny is typically the only form permitted. Polygyny is practiced primarily (but not only) in parts of the Middle East and Africa; and is often associated with Islam, however, there are certain conditions in Islam that must be met to perform polygyny.
Polyandry is a form of marriage whereby a woman takes two or more husbands at the same time. Fraternal polyandry, where two or more brothers are married to the same wife, is a common form of polyandry. Polyandry was traditionally practiced in areas of the Himalayan mountains, among Tibetans in Nepal, in parts of China and in parts of northern India. Polyandry is most common in societies marked by high male mortality or where males will often be apart from the rest of the family for a considerable period of time.
Degrees of kinship
There is another measure for the degree degree of relationship, which is determined by counting up generations to the first common ancestor and back down to the target individual, which is used for various genealogical and legal purposes.
|Kinship||Degree of relationship
|Degree of relationship
by counting generations to common ancestor
|Full sibling||first-degree||50% (2×2−2)||second-degree|
|Half Niece/nephew/aunt/uncle||third-degree||12.5% (2−3)||third-degree|
|First cousin||third-degree||12.5% (2×2−4)||fourth-degree|
|Half first cousin||fourth-degree||6.25% (2−4)||fourth-degree|
|Great grandparent||third-degree||12.5% (2−3)||third-degree|
|First cousin once removed||fifth-degree||6.25% (2⋅2−5)||fifth-degree|
|Second cousin||sixth-degree||3.125% (2−6+2−6)||sixth-degree|
Morgan made a distinction between kinship systems that use classificatory terminology and those that use descriptive terminology. Classificatory systems are generally and erroneously understood to be those that “class together” with a single term relatives who actually do not have the same type of relationship to ego. (What defines “same type of relationship” under such definitions seems to be genealogical relationship. This is problematic given that any genealogical description, no matter how standardized, employs words originating in a folk understanding of kinship.) What Morgan’s terminology actually differentiates are those (classificatory) kinship systems that do not distinguish lineal and collateral relationships and those (descriptive) kinship systems that do. Morgan, a lawyer, came to make this distinction in an effort to understand Seneca inheritance practices. A Seneca man’s effects were inherited by his sisters’ children rather than by his own children. Morgan identified six basic patterns of kinship terminologies:
- Hawaiian: only distinguishes relatives based upon sex and generation.
- Sudanese: no two relatives share the same term.
- Eskimo: in addition to distinguishing relatives based upon sex and generation, also distinguishes between lineal relatives and collateral relatives.
- Iroquois: in addition to sex and generation, also distinguishes between siblings of opposite sexes in the parental generation.
- Crow: a matrilineal system with some features of an Iroquois system, but with a “skewing” feature in which generation is “frozen” for some relatives.
- Omaha: like a Crow system but patrilineal.
- Father: a male parent
- Mother: a female parent
- Son: a male child of the parent(s)
- Daughter: a female child of the parent(s)
- Brother: a male sibling
- Sister: a female sibling
- Husband: a male spouse
- Wife: a female spouse
- Grandfather: the father of a parent
- Grandmother: the mother of a parent
- Cousins: two people who share at least one grandparent in common, but none of the same parents.
- (In some language there is a difference between a grandfather/grandmother from the father’s side and one from the mother’s side)
Such systems generally assume that the mother’s husband is also the biological father. In some families, a woman may have children with more than one man or a man may have children with more than one woman. The system refers to a child who shares only one parent with another child as a “half-brother” or “half-sister”. For children who do not share biological or adoptive parents in common, English-speakers use the term “stepbrother” or “stepsister” to refer to their new relationship with each other when one of their biological parents marries one of the other child’s biological parents. Any person (other than the biological parent of a child) who marries the parent of that child becomes the “stepparent” of the child, either the “stepmother” or “stepfather”. The same terms generally apply to children adopted into a family as to children born into the family. In the United States, one in five mothers have children by different fathers; among mothers with two or more children the figure is higher, with 28% having children with at least two different men. Such families are more common among Blacks and Hispanics, and among the lower socioeconomic class.
Typically, societies with conjugal families also favor neolocal residence; thus upon marriage, a person separates from the nuclear family of their childhood (family of orientation) and forms a new nuclear family (family of procreation). However, in western society, the single parent family has been growing more accepted and has begun to make an impact on culture. Single parent families are more commonly single mother families than single father. These families sometimes face difficult issues besides the fact that they have to rear their children on their own, for example, low income making it difficult to pay for rent, child care, and other necessities for a healthy and safe home. Members of the nuclear families of members of one’s own (former) nuclear family may class as lineal or as collateral. Kin who regard them as lineal refer to them in terms that build on the terms used within the nuclear family:
- Grandfather: a parent’s father
- Grandmother: a parent’s mother
- Grandson: a child’s son
- Granddaughter: a child’s daughter
For collateral relatives, more classificatory terms come into play, terms that do not build on the terms used within the nuclear family:
- Uncle: parent’s brother, or male spouse of parent’s sibling
- Aunt: parent’s sister, or female spouse of parent’s sibling
- Nephew: sibling’s son, or spouse’s sibling’s son
- Niece: sibling’s daughter, or spouse’s sibling’s daughter
When additional generations intervene (in other words, when one’s collateral relatives belong to the same generation as one’s grandparents or grandchildren), the prefixes “great-” or “grand-” modifies these terms. Also, as with grandparents and grandchildren, as more generations intervene the prefix becomes “great-grand-,” adding another “great-” for each additional generation. Most collateral relatives have never had membership of the nuclear family of the members of one’s own nuclear family.
- Cousin: the most classificatory term; the children of uncles or aunts. One can further distinguish cousins by degrees of collaterality and by generation. Two persons of the same generation who share a grandparent count as “first cousins” (one degree of collaterality); if they share a great-grandparent they count as “second cousins” (two degrees of collaterality) and so on. If two persons share an ancestor, one as a grandchild and the other as a great-grandchild of that individual, then the two descendants class as “first cousins once removed” (removed by one generation); if they shared ancestor figures as the grandparent of one individual and the great-great-grandparent of the other, the individuals class as “first cousins twice removed” (removed by two generations), and so on. Similarly, if they shared ancestor figures as the great-grandparent of one person and the great-great-grandparent of the other, the individuals class as “second cousins once removed”. Hence one can refer to a “third cousin once removed upwards.”
Cousins of an older generation (in other words, one’s parents’ first cousins), although technically first cousins once removed, are often classified with “aunts” and “uncles.” Similarly, a person may refer to close friends of one’s parents as “aunt” or “uncle,” or may refer to close friends as “brother” or “sister,” using the practice of fictive kinship. English-speakers mark relationships by marriage (except for wife/husband) with the tag “-in-law.” The mother and father of one’s spouse become one’s mother-in-law and father-in-law; the female spouse of one’s child becomes one’s daughter-in-law and the male spouse of one’s child becomes one’s son-in-law. The term “sister-in-law” refers to three essentially different relationships, either the wife of one’s sibling, or the sister of one’s spouse, or, in some uses, the wife of one’s spouse’s sibling. “Brother-in-law” expresses a similar ambiguity. The terms “half-brother” and “half-sister” indicate siblings who share only one biological or adoptive parent.
Types of kinship
Patrilineality, also known as the male line or agnatic kinship, is a form of kinship system in which an individual’s family membership derives from and is traced through his or her father’s lineage. It generally involves the inheritance of property, rights, names, or titles by persons related through male kin.
A patriline (“father line”) is a person’s father, and additional ancestors that are traced only through males. One’s patriline is thus a record of descent from a man in which the individuals in all intervening generations are male. In cultural anthropology, a patrilineage is a consanguineal male and female kinship group, each of whose members is descended from the common ancestor through male forebears.
Matrilineality is a form of kinship system in which an individual’s family membership derives from and is traced through his or her mother’s lineage.
It may also correlate with a societal system in which each person is identified with their matriline—their mother’s lineage—and which can involve the inheritance of property and titles. A matriline is a line of descent from a femaleancestor to a descendant in which the individuals in all intervening generations are mothers – in other words, a “mother line”.
In a matrilineal descent system, an individual is considered to belong to the same descent group as her or his mother. This matrilineal descent pattern is in contrasts to the more common pattern of patrilineal descent pattern.
Bilateral descent is a form of kinship system in which an individual’s family membership derives from and is traced through both the paternal and maternal sides. The relatives on the mother’s side and father’s side are equally important for emotional ties or for transfer of property or wealth. It is a family arrangement where descent and inheritance are passed equally through both parents. Families who use this system trace descent through both parents simultaneously and recognize multiple ancestors, but unlike with cognatic descent it is not used to form descent groups.
Traditionally, this is found among some groups in West Africa, India, Australia, Indonesia, Melanesia, Malaysia and Polynesia. Anthropologists believe that a tribal structure based on bilateral descent helps members live in extreme environments because it allows individuals to rely on two sets of families dispersed over a wide area.
History of theories
Early scholars of family history applied Darwin’s biological theory of evolution in their theory of evolution of family systems. American anthropologist Lewis H. Morgan published Ancient Society in 1877 based on his theory of the three stages of human progress from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilization. Morgan’s book was the “inspiration for Friedrich Engels’ book” The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State published in 1884.
Engels expanded Morgan’s hypothesis that economical factors caused the transformation of primitive community into a class-divided society. Engels’ theory of resource control, and later that of Karl Marx, was used to explain the cause and effect of change in family structure and function. The popularity of this theory was largely unmatched until the 1980s, when other sociological theories, most notably structural functionalism, gained acceptance.
The nuclear family in industrial society
“The popular wisdom”, according to Zinn and Eitzen, sees the family structures of the past as superior to those today, and families as more stable and happier at a time when they did not have to contend with problems such as illegitimate children and divorce. They respond to this, saying, “there is no golden age of the family gleaming at us in the far back historical past.” “Desertion by spouses, illegitimate children, and other conditions that are considered characteristics of modern times existed in the past as well.”
The postmodern family
Others argue that whether or not one views the family as “declining” depends on one’s definition of “family”. “Married couples have dropped below half of all American households. This drop is shocking from traditional forms of the family system. Only a fifth of households were following traditional ways of having married couples raising a family together.” In the Western World, marriages are no longer arranged for economic, social or political gain, and children are no longer expected to contribute to family income. Instead, people choose mates based on love. This increased role of love indicates a societal shift toward favoring emotional fulfilment and relationships within a family, and this shift necessarily weakens the institution of the family.
Margaret Mead considers the family as a main safeguard to continuing human progress. Observing, “Human beings have learned, laboriously, to be human”, she adds: “we hold our present form of humanity on trust, [and] it is possible to lose it” … “It is not without significance that the most successful large-scale abrogations of the family have occurred not among simple savages, living close to the subsistence edge, but among great nations and strong empires, the resources of which were ample, the populations huge, and the power almost unlimited”
Many countries (particularly Western) have, in recent years, changed their family laws in order to accommodate diverse family models. For instance, in the United Kingdom, in Scotland, the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 provides cohabitants with some limited rights. In 2010, Ireland enacted the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. There have also been moves at an international level, most notably, the Council of Europe European Convention on the Legal Status of Children Born out of Wedlock which came into force in 1978. Countries which ratify it must ensure that children born outside marriage are provided with legal rights as stipulated in the text of this Convention. The Convention was ratified by the UK in 1981 and by Ireland in 1988.
Oedipal family model and fascism
As it has been explained by Deleuze, Guattari and Foucault, as well as other philosophers and psychiatrists such as Laing and Reich, the patriarchal-family conceived in the West tradition serves the purpose of perpetuating a propertarian and authoritarian society. The child grows according to the oedipal model, which is typical of the structure of capitalist societies, and he becomes in turn owner of submissive children and protector of the woman. The model, common in the western societies, of the family triangle, husband-wife-children isolated from the outside, is also called the oedipal model of the family, and it is a form of patriarchal family. Many philosophers and psychiatrists have analyzed such a model. In such a family, they argue, the young develop in a perverse relationship, wherein they learn to love the same person who beats and oppresses them. They believe that young children grow up and develop loving a person who is oppressing them physically or mentally, and that these children are not taught in a way that will raise affectionate children. Such philosophers claim that the family therefore constitutes the first cell of the fascist society, as the children will carry this attitude of love for oppressive figures in their adult life. They claim that fathers torment their sons. Deleuze and Guattari, in their analysis of the dynamics at work within a family, “track down all varieties of fascism, from the enormous ones that surround and crush us to the petty ones that constitute the tyrannical bitterness of our everyday lives”.
As the young undergoes physical and psychological repression from someone for whom they develop love, they develop a loving attitude towards authority figures. They will bring such attitude in their adult life, when they will desire social repression and will form docile subjects for society. Michel Foucault, in his systematic study of sexuality, argued that rather than being merely repressed, the desires of the individual are efficiently mobilized and used, to control the individual, alter interpersonal relationships and control the masses. Foucault believed organized religion, through moral prohibitions, and economic powers, through advertising, make use of unconscious sex drives. Dominating desire, they dominate individuals. According to the analysis of Michel Foucault, in the west:
the [conjugal] family organization, precisely to the extent that it was insular and heteromorphous with respect to the other power mechanisms, was used to support the great “maneuvers” employed for the Malthusian control of the birthrate, for the populationist incitements, for the medicalization of sex and the psychiatrization of its nongenital forms.— Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality vol I, chap. IV, sect. Method, rule 3, p. 99
Domestic violence (DV) is violence that happens within the family. The legal and social understanding of the concept of DV differs by culture. The definition of the term “domestic violence” varies, depending on the context in which it is used. It may be defined differently in medical, legal, political or social contexts. The definitions have varied over time, and vary in different parts of the world.
The Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence states that:
- ” “domestic violence” shall mean all acts of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence that occur within the family or domestic unit or between former or current spouses or partners, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence with the victim”.
In 1993, the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women identified domestic violence as one of three contexts in which violence against women occurs, describing it as:
- “Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation”.
Family violence is a broader definition, often used to include child abuse, elder abuse, and other violent acts between family members.
Child abuse is defined by the WHO as:
- “Child maltreatment, sometimes referred to as child abuse and neglect, includes all forms of physical and emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, and exploitation that results in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, development or dignity. Within this broad definition, five subtypes can be distinguished – physical abuse; sexual abuse; neglect and negligent treatment; emotional abuse; and exploitation.” There exists legislation to prevent and punish the occurrence of these offences. There are laws regarding familial sexual activity, which states that it is a criminal offence to have any kind of sexual relationship between one’s grandparent, parent, sibling, aunt or uncle.
Elder abuse is, according to the WHO: “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person”.
Parental abuse of children (child abuse)
Child abuse is the physical, sexual or emotional maltreatment or neglect of a child or children. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department for Children and Families (DCF) define child maltreatment as any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or other caregiver that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child. Child abuse can occur in a child’s home, or in the organizations, schools or communities the child interacts with. There are four major categories of child abuse: neglect, physical abuse, psychological or emotional abuse, and sexual abuse.
Parental abuse by children
Abuse of parents by their children is a common but under reported and under researched subject. Parents are quite often subject to levels of childhood aggression in excess of normal childhood aggressive outbursts, typically in the form of verbal or physical abuse. Parents feel a sense of shame and humiliation to have that problem, so they rarely seek help and there is usually little or no help available anyway.
Elder abuse is “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.” This definition has been adopted by the World Health Organizationfrom a definition put forward by Action on Elder Abuse in the UK. Laws protecting the elderly from abuse are similar to, and related to, laws protecting dependent adults from abuse.
The core element to the harm of elder abuse is the “expectation of trust” of the older person toward their abuser. Thus, it includes harms by people the older person knows or with whom they have a relationship, such as a spouse, partner or family member, a friend or neighbor, or people that the older person relies on for services. Many forms of elder abuse are recognized as types of domestic violence or family violence.
Forced and child marriage
Forced and child marriages are practiced in certain regions of the world, particularly in Asia and Africa, and these types of marriages are associated with a high rate of domestic violence.
A forced marriage is a marriage where one or both participants are married without their freely given consent. The line between forced marriage and consensual marriage may become blurred, because the social norms of many cultures dictate that one should never oppose the desire of one’s parents/relatives in regard to the choice of a spouse; in such cultures it is not necessary for violence, threats, intimidation etc. to occur, the person simply “consents” to the marriage even if he/she doesn’t want it, out of the implied social pressure and duty. The customs of bride price and dowry, that exist in parts of the world, can lead to buying and selling people into marriage.
A child marriage is a marriage where one or both spouses are under 18. Child marriage was common throughout history but is today condemned by international human rights organizations. Child marriages are often arranged between the families of the future bride and groom, sometimes as soon as the girl is born. Child marriages can also occur in the context of marriage by abduction.
The concept of family honor
Family honor is an abstract concept involving the perceived quality of worthiness and respectability that affects the social standing and the self-evaluation of a group of related people, both corporately and individually. The family is viewed as the main source of honor and the community highly values the relationship between honor and the family. The conduct of family members reflects upon family honor and the way the family perceives itself, and is perceived by others. In cultures of honor maintaining the family honor is often perceived as more important than either individual freedom, or individual achievement. In extreme cases, engaging in acts that are deemed to tarnish the honor of the family results in honor killings. An honor killing is the homicide of a member of a family or social group by other members, due to the perpetrators’ belief that the victim has brought shame or dishonor upon the family or community, usually for reasons such as refusing to enter an arranged marriage, being in a relationship that is disapproved by their relatives, having sex outside marriage, becoming the victim of rape, dressing in ways which are deemed inappropriate, or engaging in homosexual relations.
A family is often part of a sharing economy with common ownership.
Dowry, bride price and dower
Property regimes and taxation
In some countries married couples benefit from various taxation advantages not available to a single person or to unmarried couples. For example, spouses may be allowed to average their combined incomes. Some jurisdictions recognize common law marriage or de facto relations for this purposes. In some jurisdictions there is also an option of civil partnership or domestic partnership.
Different property regimes exist for spouses. In many countries, each marriage partner has the choice of keeping their property separate or combining properties. In the latter case, called community property, when the marriage ends by divorce each owns half. In lieu of a will or trust, property owned by the deceased generally is inherited by the surviving spouse.
Rights and laws
Reproductive rights are legal rights and freedoms relating to reproduction and reproductive health. These include the right to decide on issues regarding the number of children born, family planning, contraception, and private life, free from coercion and discrimination; as well as the right to access health services and adequate information. According to UNFPA, reproductive rights “include the right to decide the number, timing and spacing of children, the right to voluntarily marry and establish a family, and the right to the highest attainable standard of health, among others”. Family planning refers to the factors that may be considered by individuals and couples in order for them to control their fertility, anticipate and attain the desired number of children and the spacing and timing of their births.
The state and church have been, and still are in some countries, involved in controlling the size of families, often using coercive methods, such as bans on contraception or abortion (where the policy is a natalist one—for example through tax on childlessness) or conversely, discriminatory policies against large families or even forced abortions (e.g., China’s one-child policy in place from 1978 to 2015). Forced sterilization has often targeted ethnic minority groups, such as Roma women in Eastern Europe, or indigenous women in Peru (during the 1990s).
The parents’ rights movement is a movement whose members are primarily interested in issues affecting parents and children related to family law, specifically parental rights and obligations. Mothers’ rights movements focus on maternal health, workplace issues such as labor rights, breastfeeding, and rights in family law. The fathers’ rights movement is a movement whose members are primarily interested in issues related to family law, including child custody and child support, that affect fathers and their children.
Children’s rights are the human rights of children, with particular attention to the rights of special protection and care afforded to minors, including their right to association with both parents, their right to human identity, their right to be provided in regard to their other basic needs, and their right to be free from violence and abuse.
Each jurisdiction has its own marriage laws. These laws differ significantly from country to country; and these laws are often controversial. Areas of controversy include women’s rights as well as same-sex marriage.
Legal reforms to family laws have taken place in many countries during the past few decades. These dealt primarily with gender equality within marriage and with divorce laws. Women have been given equal rights in marriage in many countries, reversing older family laws based on the dominant legal role of the husband. Coverture, which was enshrined in the common law of England and the US for several centuries and throughout most of the 19th century, was abolished. In some European countries the changes that lead to gender equality were slower. The period of 1975–1979 saw a major overhaul of family laws in countries such as Italy, Spain, Austria, West Germany, and Portugal. In 1978, the Council of Europe passed the Resolution (78) 37 on equality of spouses in civil law. Among the last European countries to establish full gender equality in marriage were Switzerland. In 1985, a referendum guaranteed women legal equality with men within marriage. The new reforms came into force in January 1988. In Greece, in 1983, legislation was passed guaranteeing equality between spouses, abolishing dowry, and ending legal discrimination against illegitimate children. In 1981, Spain abolished the requirement that married women must have their husbands’ permission to initiate judicial proceedings the Netherlands, and France  in the 1980s. In recent decades, the marital power has also been abolished in African countries that had this doctrine, but many African countries that were former French colonies still have discriminatory laws in their marriages regulations, such regulations originating in the Napoleonic Code that has inspired these laws. In some countries (predominantly Roman Catholic) divorce was legalized only recently (e.g. Italy (1970), Portugal (1975), Brazil (1977), Spain (1981), Argentina (1987), Ireland (1996), Chile (2004) and Malta (2011)) although annulment and legal separation were options. Philippines still does not allow divorce. (see Divorce law by country). The laws pertaining to the situation of children born outside marriage have also been revised in many countries (see Legitimacy (family law)).
Family medicine is a medical specialty devoted to comprehensive health care for people of all ages; it is based on knowledge of the patient in the context of the family and the community, emphasizing disease prevention and health promotion. The importance of family medicine is being increasingly recognized.
Maternal mortality or maternal death is defined by WHO as “the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management but not from accidental or incidental causes.” Historically, maternal mortality was a major cause of women’s death. In recent decades, advances in healthcare have resulted in rates of maternal mortality having dropped dramatically, especially in Western countries. Maternal mortality however remains a serious problem in many African and Asian counties.
Infant and child mortality
Infant mortality is the death of a child less than one year of age. Child mortality is the death of a child before the child’s fifth birthday. Like maternal mortality, infant and child mortality were common throughout history, but have decreased significantly in modern times.
In an era of perceived permanent austerity and overall welfare state retrenchment, rich OECD countries have not been prevented from expanding family policies (Ferragina and Seeleib-Kaiser 2015). In fact, in many of these countries there has been an expansion of family policies, leading to a socialisation of family care responsibilities, traditionally disproportionately performed by women (Daly and Lewis 2000). Although at the institutional policy level, the expansion of family policy might be characterised as a “silent revolution”, relevant for gender equality, a cautious interpretation might be necessary: gender inequalities in income, opportunities, leisure and other significant outcomes remain and are sometimes sustained by policy, even if there is an observed shift in their character towards support for women’s employment (Ferragina and Seeleib-Kaiser 2015).
The policy shift has been particularly significant in countries that had previously emphasised more conservative approaches to family policies, such as Germany, Ireland, Japan, and Norway. Hence, it can no longer be assumed that in the majority of rich OECD countries care for young children will be mainly provided through unpaid work within the family. Nevertheless, a certain number of countries still fail to provide adequate childcare arrangements, constituting a barrier for full-time maternal employment. Furthermore, in some countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, gender discrimination continues to strongly intersect with class; high childcare costs constitute a disincentive to labour force participation, especially among less educated and unskilled women (Esping-Andersen 2009). This means that higher-class and more educated women tend to have better opportunities than women belonging to a lower social class.
Partisanship and women’s political agency have been the main drivers for family policy change during the 1980s and 1990s in many countries. For the 2000s, however, the importance of these drivers has significantly declined. As societal preferences have undergone profound changes—to some extent driven by the activities of women’s equality movements, as well as by the experience of women’s employment—the policy preferences of voters have also changed. Electorates in western democracies increasingly want policies supporting “modern” family lifestyles which depend on women’s employment (Ferragina and Seeleib-Kaiser 2015). As political parties react to these changed policy preferences, the traditional differences in family policy positions between political parties decline. The extent to which this translates into support for gender equality, and how such equality might be defined, is as yet not decided. However, societal policy preferences, long believed to be set in stone, are undergoing profound changes; and public opinion increasingly matters for changing policies. The changed policy preferences are also mirrored in new political discourses that prioritise social investment and the preservation of the human capital of women, especially of those who are highly skilled. The expansion of family policies geared to supporting women’s employment and investment in children is very likely to continue in western democracies.(Ferragina and Seeleib-Kaiser 2015).
While in many parts of the world family policies seek to promote a gender-equal organization of the family life, in others the male-dominated family continues to be the official policy of the authorities, which is also supported by law. For instance, the Civil Code of Iran states at Article 1105: “In relations between husband and wife; the position of the head of the family is the exclusive right of the husband”.
In some parts of the world, some governments promote a specific form of family, such as that based on traditional family values. The term “family values” is often used in political discourse in some countries, its general meaning being that of traditional or cultural values that pertain to the family’s structure, function, roles, beliefs, attitudes, and ideals, usually involving the “traditional family”—a middle-class family with a breadwinner father and a homemaker mother, raising their biological children. Any deviation from this family model is considered a “nontraditional family”. These family ideals are often advanced through policies such as marriage promotion. Some jurisdictions outlaw practices which they deem as socially or religiously unacceptable, such as fornication, cohabitation or adultery.
Work-family balance is a concept involving proper prioritizing between work/career and family life. It includes issues relating to the way how work and families intersect and influence each other. At a political level, it is reflected through policies such maternity leave and paternity leave. Since the 1950s, social scientists as well as feminists have increasingly criticized gendered arrangements of work and care, and the male breadwinner role, and policies are increasingly targeting men as fathers, as a tool of changing gender relations.
Protection of private and family life
Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides a right to respect for one’s “private and family life, his home and his correspondence”, subject to certain restrictions that are “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society”.
|“||Article 8 – Right to respect for private and family life
1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Certain social scientists have advocated the abolition of the family. An early opponent of the family was Socrates whose position was outlined by Plato in The Republic. In Book 5 of The Republic, Socrates tells his interlocutors that a just city is one in which citizens have no family ties.
The family being such a deep-rooted and much-venerated institution, few intellectuals have ventured to speak against it. Familialism has been atypically defined as a “social structure where … a family’s values are held in higher esteem than the values of the individual members of the family.” Favoritism granted to relatives regardless of merit is called nepotism.
The Russian-American rationalist and individualist philosopher, novelist and playwright Ayn Rand compared partiality towards consanguinity with racism, as a small-scale manifestation of the latter. “The worship of the family is merely racism, like a crudely primitive first installment on the worship of the tribe. It places the accident of birth above a man’s values and duty to the tribe above a man’s right to his own life.” Additionally, she spoke in favor of childfree lifestyle, while following it herself.
The British social critic, poet, mountaineer and occultist Aleister Crowley censured the institution of family in his works: “Horrid word, family! Its very etymology accuses it of servility and stagnation. / Latin, famulus, a servant; Oscan, Faamat, he dwells. … [T]hink what horrid images it evokes from the mind. Not only Victorian; wherever the family has been strong, it has always been an engine of tyranny. Weak members or weak neighbours: it is the mob spirit crushing genius, or overwhelming opposition by brute arithmetic. … In every Magical, or similar system, it is invariably the first condition which the Aspirant must fulfill: he must once and for all and for ever put his family outside his magical circle.”
One of the controversies regarding the family is the application of the concept of social justice to the private sphere of family relations, in particular with regard to the rights of women and children. Throughout much of the history, most philosophers who advocated for social justice focused on the public political arena, not on the family structures; with the family often being seen as a separate entity which needed to be protected from outside state intrusion. One notable exception was John Stuart Mill, who, in his work The Subjection of Women, advocated for greater rights for women within marriage and family. Second wave feminists argued that the personal is political, stating that there are strong connections between personal experiences and the larger social and political structures. In the context of the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, this was a challenge to the nuclear family and family values, as they were understood then. Feminists focused on domestic violence, arguing that the reluctance—in law or in practice—of the state to intervene and offer protection to women who have been abused within the family, is in violation of women’s human rights, and is the result of an ideology which places family relations outside the conceptual framework of human rights.
Global trends in family composition
In 2015, Nicholas Eberstadt, political economist at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, described a “global flight from family” in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. Statistics from an infographic by Olivier Ballou showed that,
In 2013, just over 40% of US babies were born outside marriage. The Census bureau estimated that 27% of all children lived in a fatherless home. Europe has seen a surge in child-free adults. One in five 40-something women are childless in Sweden and in Switzerland, in Italy one in four, in Berlin one in three. So-called traditional societies are seeing the same trend. About one-sixth of Japanese women in their forties have never married and about 30% of all woman that age are childless.— Infographic Olivier Ballou (AEI)
However, Swedish statisticians reported in 2013 that, in contrast to many countries, since the 2000s, fewer children have experienced their parents’ separation, childlessness had decreased in Sweden and marriages had increased. It had also become more common for couples to have a third child suggesting that the nuclear family was no longer in decline in Sweden.:10
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The conjugal family refers to a family system of spouses and their dependent children. […] The term nuclear family is used to refer to a unit consisting of spouses and their dependent children. […]
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[…] the nuclear family (consisting of parents and dependent children) […] the conjugal family (defined as nuclear in structure) […].
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‘They’re getting divorced, and they’ll do anything NOT to get custody of the kids.” So reads the promotional poster, in French, for a new movie, “Papa ou Maman”
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