FamilyI. IntroductionFamily, basic social group united through bonds of kinship or marriage, present in allsocieties. Ideally, the family provides its members with protection, companionship,security, and socialization. The structure of the family, and the needs that the familyfulfills vary from society to society. The nuclear family—two adults and their children—isthe main unit in some societies. In others, it is a subordinate part of an extendedfamily, which also consists of grandparents and other relatives. A third family unit is thesingle-parent family, in which children live with an unmarried, divorced, or widowedmother or father. See Parent and Child.II. HistoryAnthropologists and social scientists have developed several theories about how familystructures and functions evolved. In prehistoric hunting and gathering societies, two orthree nuclear families, usually linked through bonds of kinship, banded together for partof the year but dispersed into separate nuclear units in those seasons when food wasscarce. The family was an economic unit; men hunted, while women gathered andprepared food and tended children. Infanticide and expulsion of the infirm who couldnot work were common. Some anthropologists contend that prehistoric people weremonogamous, because monogamy prevails in nonindustrial, tribal forms ofcontemporary society.Social scientists believe that the modern Western family developed largely from that ofthe ancient Hebrews, whose families were patriarchal in structure (see Patrilineage).The family resulting from the Greco-Roman culture was also patriarchal and bound bystrict religious precepts. In later centuries, as the Greek and then the Romancivilizations declined, so did their well-ordered family life.With the advent of Christianity, marriage and childbearing became central concerns inreligious teaching. The purely religious nature of family ties was partly abandoned infavor of civil bonds after the Reformation, which began in the 1500s. Most Westernnations now recognize the family relationship as primarily a civil matter.III. The Modern FamilyHistorical studies have shown that family structure has been less changed byurbanization and industrialization than was once supposed. The nuclear family was themost prevalent preindustrial unit and is still the basic unit of social organization. Themodern family differs from earlier traditional forms, however, in its functions,composition, and life cycle and in the roles of husbands and wives.The only function of the family that continues to survive all change is the provision ofaffection and emotional support by and to all its members, particularly infants andyoung children. Specialized institutions now perform many of the other functions thatwere once performed by the agrarian family: economic production, education, religion,and recreation. Jobs are usually separate from the family group; family members oftenwork in different occupations and in locations away from the home. Education isprovided by the state or by private groups. Religious training and recreational activitiesare available outside the home, although both still have a place in family life. The familyis still responsible for the socialization of children. Even in this capacity, however, theinfluence of peers and of the mass media has assumed a larger role.Family composition in industrial societies has changed dramatically. The averagenumber of children born to a woman in the United States, for example, fell from 7.0 in1800 to 2.0 by the early 1990s. Consequently, the number of years separating thebirths of the youngest and oldest children has declined. This has occurred inconjunction with increased longevity. In earlier times, marriage normally dissolvedthrough the death of a spouse before the youngest child left home. Today husbandsand wives potentially have about as many years together after the children leave homeas before.Some of these developments are related to ongoing changes in women’s roles. Womenin all stages of family life have joined the labor force. Rising expectations of personalgratification through marriage and family, together with eased legal grounds for divorceand increasing employment opportunities for women, have contributed to a rise in thedivorce rate in the United States and elsewhere. In 1986, for instance, there wasapproximately one divorce for every two marriages in the United States (see Divorce).During the 20th century, extended family households declined in prevalence. Thischange is associated particularly with increased residential mobility and with diminishedfinancial responsibility of children for aging parents, as pensions from jobs andgovernment-sponsored benefits for retired people became more common.By the 1970s, the prototypical nuclear family had yielded somewhat to modifiedstructures including the one-parent family, the stepfamily, and the childless family. One-parent families in the past were usually the result of the death of a spouse. Now,however, most one-parent families are the result of divorce, although some are createdwhen unmarried mothers bear children. In 1991 more than one out of four childrenlived with only one parent, usually the mother. Most one-parent families, however,eventually became two-parent families through remarriage.A stepfamily is created by a new marriage of a single parent. It may consist of a parentand children and a childless spouse, a parent and children and a spouse whose childrenlive elsewhere, or two joined one-parent families. In a stepfamily, problems in relationsbetween nonbiological parents and children may generate tension; the difficulties canbe especially great in the marriage of single parents when the children of both parentslive with them as siblings.Childless families may be increasingly the result of deliberate choice and the availabilityof birth control. For many years the proportion of couples who were childless declinedsteadily as venereal and other diseases that cause infertility were conquered. In the1970s, however, the changes in the status of women reversed this trend. Couples oftenelect to have no children or to postpone having them until their careers are wellestablished.Since the 1960s, several variations on the family unit have emerged. More unmarriedcouples are living together, before or instead of marrying. Some elderly couples, mostoften widowed, are finding it more economically practical to cohabit without marrying.Homosexual couples also live together as a family more openly today, sometimessharing their households with the children of one partner or with adopted or fosterchildren. Communal families, made up of groups of related or unrelated people, havelong existed in isolated instances (see Communal Living). Such units began to occur inthe United States during the 1960s and 1970s as an alternative life-style, but by the1980s the number of communal families was diminishing.IV. World TrendsAll industrial nations are experiencing family trends similar to those found in the UnitedStates. The problem of unwed mothers—especially very young ones and those who areunable to support themselves—and their children is an international one, althoughimproved methods of birth control and legalized abortion have slowed the trendsomewhat. Divorce is increasing even where religious and legal impediments to it arestrongest. Smaller families and a lengthened postparental stage are found in industrialsocieties.Unchecked population growth in developing nations threatens the family system. Thenumber of surviving children in a family has rapidly increased as infectious diseases,famine, and other causes of child mortality have been reduced. Because families oftencannot support so many children, the reduction in infant mortality has posed achallenge to the nuclear family and to the resources of developing nations.