Meaning And Definition Of Family: Characteristics And Functions

Table Of Contents

  • Definition Of Family
  • Characteristics Of The Family
  • Types Of Family
  • Functions Of The Family

Definition Of Family

The family is the cornerstone of every society. This is based on the fact that no human society can exist without some form of family structure. In a general parlance, it is seen as a universal social institution which forms a basic unit of social organization.

The family has been defined in various ways by eminent scholars. Most of these definitions are found below;

Smith and Preston (1982 ) defined family as a social group whose members usually related either through common ancestors or marriage and are bound by moral and economic rights and duties. Murdock (1949) defined family as a social group characterized by common residence, economic cooperation and reproduction.

The above definitions indicate that the family live and work together thereby producing offspring. With respect to this, two of the adult members must perform a sexual relationship in line with the norms of their society.

Also, the definitions made us realize that the family can be seen as a group bound together through interaction, responsibilities and duties, psychic identifications and division of labour.

Characteristics Of The Family

1. The family is the bedrock of every human society.

2. The family is a unique bio-social group of adults and children in institutionalized relationship.

3. It is the basic unit of socio-economic life with universal acceptability.

4. Through family, the individual is provided with sense of identity, security and actualization. The genetic traits of the people are mainly derived from the family in which they are born.

5. The family is the society’s shock absorber of social change.

6. The family enhances individual’s potentialities towards societal progress.

Types Of Family

The family unit has been seen as the fundamental building block for all societies. The classification of families varies from society to society. It is mainly based on the number and generation of people involved in the family group together with the leadership cum power holding positions in the family.

There are basically two main types of family structure and they are:

1. Nuclear Family

This type of family consists of a husband, his wife and their children living together in a single dwelling. It is also known as the elementary family.

Children of nuclear family, having attained adulthood or marital stage are expected to move out of their parents home thereby establishing their own residence. The nuclear family is found almost everywhere because it is the simplest way of joing the sexual dyad and the maternal dyad, both of which are essential to conceiving and raising children.

2. Extended Family

The extended family consists of several related persons such as a husband and a wife and their children, at least one of their sets of parents, as well as aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews, all living together in a single dwelling or in close proximity. This means that we can speak of extended family when other kin and other generations are included in the family system. That is, in extended family, the nuclear family incorporated into the household on a permanent basis, other persons who are usually blood relations, such as cousins, brothers, grand-children, grand-parents.

Functions Of The Family

The family has been an indispensable unit of every society. Based on this, the family as a social institution performs a number of pertinent functions for society. These functions which are inevitable for the continued survival of society justify its existence. They are as follows:

1. Sexual Regulation

The family provides the only socially approved means for the satisfaction of man’s sexual desire. This is true as no society allows its members to engage in random sexual behaviour. The family in a nutshell helps to regulate or control undesired sexual activities.

2. The Reproductive Function

The reproductive function guarantees the continued existence of human beings in the world. When a man and a woman marry, they will definitely start a new family and in the process reproduce children that would take after them. Basically, all societies in the globe need to replace their members especially as many grow old and die.

3. Educational Function

The institution of the family provides the children the educational tools they desire. Before the advent of Europeans and the introduction of formal education, the family inculcated in the children the basic societal norms that shaped their behaviour in the society. In all ramifications, the family educates the people which has positive influence on the society in general.

4. Protective Function

The family provides protective function to the people. Its members are physically, emotionally, psychologically and economically protected. There is always mutual respect and understanding among family members as attack or even assault on a family member automatically is seen as an assault to every member of the family.

5. Status Placement Function

The initial status of a child is determined by his family. A child born in a family automatically enters into the status of the parents. The institution of the family is the first point of contact of a child. It is from the classification of parents that we start out in life which may possibly be changed later. The family always acts as a springboard towards the developemtn and growth of a child. For instance, most ascribed and achieved statuses are always inherited from the family.

In any society that is stratified according to class, the class status of a child’s family greatly determines the opportunities and rewards available to that child, and this head-start substantially determines his entire life chance including his adult status.

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