In the context of human society, a family (from Latin: familia) is a
group of people related either by consanguinity (by recognized birth),
affinity (by marriage or other relationship), or co-residence (as
implied by the etymology of the English word "family"
[...] from Latin familia 'family servants, domestics collectively, the
servants in a household,' thus also 'members of a household, the
estate, property; the household, including relatives and servants,'
abstract noun formed from famulus 'servant, slave [...]') or some
combination of these. 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. Sometimes these are also considered
members of the immediate family, depending on an individual's specific
relationship with them.
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
The field of genealogy aims to trace family lineages through history.
The family is also an important economic unit studied in family
2 Types of family
2.1 Conjugal (nuclear or single) family
2.2 Matrifocal family
2.3 Extended family
Family of choice
2.5 Blended family
2.6 Monogamous family
2.7 Polygamous family
3.1 Degrees of kinship
5 Types of kinship
5.3 Bilateral descent
6 History of theories
6.1 Social Darwinists
6.2 The nuclear family in industrial society
6.3 The postmodern family
6.4 Oedipal family model and fascism
7 Domestic violence
Parental abuse of children
Parental abuse of children (child abuse)
7.1.2 Parental abuse by children
7.1.3 Elder abuse
7.2 Forced and child marriage
8 The concept of family honor
9 Economic issues
9.1 Dowry, bride price and dower
9.2 Property regimes and taxation
Rights and laws
10.1 Reproductive rights
10.2 Parents' rights
10.3 Children's rights
10.5 Legal reforms
11.2 Maternal mortality
Infant and child mortality
13 Work-family balance
13.1 Protection of private and family life
15 The family and social justice
16 Global trends in family composition
17 See also
20 External links
Detail of a gold glass medallion with a portrait of a family, from
Alexandria (Roman Egypt), 3rd–4th century (Brescia, Museo di Santa
Sauk family of photographed by
Frank Rinehart in 1899
One of the primary functions of the family involves providing a
framework for the production and reproduction of persons biologically
and socially. This can occur through the sharing of material
substances (such as food); the giving and receiving of care and
nurture (nurture kinship); jural rights and obligations; and moral and
sentimental ties. Thus, one's experience of one's family shifts
over time. From the perspective of children, the family is a "family
of orientation": the family serves to locate children socially and
plays a major role in their enculturation and socialization. From
the point of view of the parent(s), the family is a "family of
procreation", the goal of which is to produce and enculturate and
socialize children. However, producing children is not the only
function of the family; in societies with a sexual division of labor,
marriage, and the resulting relationship between two people, it is
necessary for the formation of an economically productive
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.
Further information: Fertility factor (demography)
Mennonite siblings, Montana 1937
The total fertility rate of women varies from country to country, from
a high of 6.76 children born/woman in
Niger to a low of 0.81 in
Singapore (as of 2015). Fertility is low in most Eastern European
Southern European countries; and high in most Sub-Saharan African
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
A mother with her children, Berlin, Germany, 1962
A miner with his children
Although early western cultural anthropologists and sociologists
considered family and kinship to be universally associated with
relations by "blood" (based on ideas common in their own cultures)
later research has shown that many societies instead understand
family through ideas of living together, the sharing of food (e.g.
milk kinship) and sharing care and nurture. Sociologists have a
special interest in the function and status of family forms in
stratified (especially capitalist) societies.
According to the work of scholars Max Weber, Alan Macfarlane, Steven
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
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
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 husband, the wife, and unmarried children who are
not of age. 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, such as blended parents, single parents, and domestic
partnerships have begun to challenge the normality of the nuclear
Main article: Matrifocal 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."
Settled Sami (Lapplander) family of farmers in Stensele,
Västerbotten, Sweden, early 20th century
A family from Basankusu, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The term "extended family" is also common, especially in the United
States. This term has two distinct meanings:
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
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
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
Main article: Coefficient of relationship
Family in India, 1870s
Family in a wagon, Lee County, Mississippi, August 1935.
A first-degree relative is one who shares 50% of your DNA through
direct inheritance, such as a full sibling, parent or progeny.
relationship by coefficient
Degree of relationship by counting up generations to common ancestor
and back down to target individual (used for various genealogical and
Half first cousin
First cousin once removed
Typical example of an American family, consisting of a father and a
mother, and children including sisters and a brother
Family tree showing the relationship of each person to the blue
Swedish family eating, 1902
In his book Systems of
Consanguinity and Affinity of the
anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan (1818–1881) performed the first
survey of kinship terminologies in use around the world. Although much
of his work is now considered dated, he argued that kinship
terminologies reflect different sets of distinctions. For example,
most kinship terminologies distinguish between sexes (the difference
between a brother and a sister) and between generations (the
difference between a child and a parent). Moreover, he argued, kinship
terminologies distinguish between relatives by blood and marriage
(although recently some anthropologists have argued that many
societies define kinship in terms other than "blood").
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
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
Omaha: like a Crow system but patrilineal.
Group photograph of a Norwegian family by
Gustav Borgen ca. 1900:
Father, mother, three sons and two daughters.
Extended family with roots in Cape Town, Kimberley and Pretoria, South
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson with grandchild, 1900
An infant, his mother, his maternal grandmother, and his
Queen Victoria, with her eldest daughter
Father and child, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Most Western societies employ
Eskimo kinship terminology.[citation
needed] This kinship terminology commonly occurs in societies based on
conjugal (or nuclear) families, where nuclear families have a degree
of relative mobility. Members of the nuclear use descriptive kinship
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
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
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
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
Matrilineality is a form of kinship system in which an individual's
family membership derives from and is traced through his or her
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 female ancestor 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
History of theories
Main article: History of the family
Early scholars of family history applied Darwin's biological theory of
evolution in their theory of evolution of family systems. American
Lewis H. Morgan
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
Family arrangements in the
United States have become more diverse with
no particular household arrangement representing half of the United
Contemporary society generally views the family as a haven from the
world, supplying absolute fulfillment. Zinn and Eitzen discuss the
image of the "family as haven [...] a place of intimacy, love and
trust where individuals may escape the competition of dehumanizing
forces in modern society". During industrialization, "[t]he family
as a repository of warmth and tenderness (embodied by the mother)
stands in opposition to the competitive and aggressive world of
commerce (embodied by the father). The family's task was to protect
against the outside world." However, Zinn and Eitzen note, "The
protective image of the family has waned in recent years as the ideals
of family fulfillment have taken shape. Today, the family is more
compensatory than protective. It supplies what is vitally needed but
missing in other social arrangements."
"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
Percentage of births to unmarried women, selected countries, 1980 and
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
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
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
(Scotland) Act 2006 provides cohabitants with some limited rights.
In 2010, Ireland enacted the Civil Partnership and Certain
Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. There have also been moves at an
international level, most notably, the
Council of Europe
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
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 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
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
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
The History of Sexuality vol I, chap. IV, sect.
Method, rule 3, p. 99
Main article: Domestic violence
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
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
Parental abuse of children
Parental abuse of children (child abuse)
Main article: Parental abuse of children
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
Main article: 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
Main article: Elder abuse
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
Organization from a definition put forward by Action on Elder
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
Forced and child marriage
Forced marriage and
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
A child marriage is a marriage where one or both spouses are under
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
Culture of honor
Culture of honor and
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
A family is often part of a sharing economy with common ownership.
Dowry, bride price and dower
Further information: Dowry, Bride price, and Dower
A traditional, formal presentation of the bride price at a Thai
Dowry is property (money, goods, or estate) that a wife or wife's
family gives to her husband when the wife and husband marry.
Offering dowry was common in many cultures historically (including in
Europe and North America), but this practice today is mostly
restricted to some areas primarily in South
Asia (India, Pakistan,
Bride price, (also bridewealth or bride token), is property paid by
the groom or his family to the parents of a woman upon the marriage of
their daughter to the groom. It is practiced mostly in Sub-Saharan
Africa, parts of South-East
Asia (Thailand, Cambodia), and parts of
Dower is property given to the bride herself by the groom at the time
of marriage, and which remains under her ownership and control.
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
Rights and laws
Main article: Reproductive rights
Further information: Forced sterilization, Forced pregnancy, and
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,
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
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.
Main article: Children's rights
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
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
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)).
Global maternal mortality rate per 100 000 live births, (2010)
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.
World infant mortality rates in 2012
Main article: Maternal mortality
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
Maternal mortality however remains a serious problem in
many African and Asian counties.
Infant and child mortality
Infant mortality and
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
Parents with child statue, Hrobákova street, Petržalka, Bratislava
The Family, a sculpture by Robert Thomas, in Cardiff
Family policies differ significantly between countries. Depending on
jurisdiction, family policy may have a multiplicity of functions:
horizontal redistribution, the enhancement of individual choices,
increasing fertility rates, supporting economic growth and
productivity, as well as reducing gender inequalities (Ferragina and
Seeleib-Kaiser 2015). From a societal perspective, family
policies can contribute to "horizontal redistribution" between
generations, as well as between households with and without children;
to favour individual choices by supporting the reconciliation between
care and paid work; and to reduce the costs of having children and
child poverty. From an economic perspective, employment-oriented
family policy is part of an overall redesign of welfare states geared
to foster "active citizenship", also among mothers who were formerly
not employed, through the development of an "enabling state". More
generous family policies are said to lead to higher employment rates
for women, mitigate the risk of unemployment for mothers after a
substantial period of leave, support a social investment strategy, and
offset some of the costs of raising children. From many feminist
perspectives, family policies should aim at equalising opportunities
between men and women through de-familialising care, encouraging men's
involvement in care work, and facilitating employment opportunities
for women. Profound social, economic, and cultural changes have led in
many societies to the decline of the "male breadwinner model" and the
move towards a variety of "adult worker models" (Daly 2011).
Nevertheless, family policy expansion has not always fundamentally
challenged gender inequalities: overall men have not increased their
contribution to care work sufficiently to "compensate" for women's
increased labour force participation and slightly reduced
participation in care.
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
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
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
Iran states at Article 1105: "In relations between husband and
wife; the position of the head of the family is the exclusive right of
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–life balance and Work–family balance in
the United States
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
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.
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
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
The American journalist Marty Nemko considers family to be overrated.
“Politicians, clerics, and just plain folks extol family as our most
important institution. / I believe family is overrated. So many people
suffer inordinately from family. … / Millions of people don't even
speak with a family member. Millions more spend years and fortunes on
therapists, trying to undo the ills that family perpetrated on them. /
All this shouldn’t be surprising. After all, unlike with friends, we
are placed in our family of origin at random, with no say in the
The family and social justice
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
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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Retrieved 2012-01-06. This 'family as haven' image of a refuge from an
impersonal world characterizes the family as a place of intimacy,
love, and trust in which individuals may escape the competition of
dehumanizing forces in modern society. Christopher Lasch (1977:8) has
named this image a 'haven in a heartless world' and described it as a
glorification of private life made necessary by the deprivations
experienced in the public world.
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