set family | introduction to Sociology (2023)

learning outcomes

  • Describes the family as a social institution.

The family is a key social institution in all societies, which makes it a cultural universal. Likewise, the values ​​and norms surrounding marriage are found throughout the world in all cultures, so marriage and family are cultural universals. The states (ie wife, husband, partner, mother, father, brother, sister, etc.) partnerships. While marriage and family have historically been closely linked in American culture, and marriages create new families, their connection is becoming more complex, as illustrated by the opening vignette and subsequent data on cohabitation.

Sociologists are interested in the relationship between the institution of marriage and the institution of the family because families are the most basic social unit on which society is built, but also because marriage and the family are linked to other institutions. social, such as the economy, government and religion society. So what is a family?FfamilyIt is a socially recognized group (usually united by blood, marriage, cohabitation, or adoption) that forms an emotional connection among its members and that serves as the economic unit of society. Sociologists identify different types of families based on how someone enters them. AFamily counselingrefers to the family into which a person is born. Abreeding familydescribes someone who is formed through marriage. These distinctions have cultural significance related to issues of lineage.

MarriedIt is a legally recognized social contract between two people, traditionally based on a sexual relationship and implying the permanence of the union. Marriage is a cultural universal and, like the family, it takes many forms.Whoget marry,Whatwhat marriage means for the couple and for society,Whypeople get married (i.e. economic reasons, political reasons or for love) andas thetakes place (ie, wedding or other ceremony) vary widely within and between societies. if more than two people may be involved (consider polyplayer). Other variations on the definition of marriage may include whether the spouses are of the same or opposite sex and how one of the traditional expectations of marriage – that children will be produced – is understood today.

set family | introduction to Sociology (1)

Figure 1.The modern concept of family is much broader than in past decades, which is evidenced both in laws (formal norms) and in social control (formal and informal). (Photo (a) courtesy of Gareth Williams/flickr; photo (b) courtesy of Guillaume Paumier/Wikimedia Commons)

(Video) Theories About Family & Marriage: Crash Course Sociology #37

The sociological understanding of what constitutes a family can be explained through the paradigms of symbolic interactionism and functionalism. These two theories indicate that families are groups in which the participants see themselves as members of the family and act accordingly. In other words, families are arrangements in which people come together to form a strong primary group connection and maintain emotional ties to one another. These families may include groups of close friends or teammates.

set family | introduction to Sociology (2)

Figure 2.Family dynamics have changed significantly in the last sixty years, with fewer children living in two-parent households.

(Video) Sociology of the Family

Furthermore, the functionalist perspective sees families as groups that play vital roles for society, both internally (for the family itself) and externally (for society as a whole). Families care about the physical, emotional, and social well-being of others. Parents care for and socialize children. Later in life, adult children often care for their aging parents. While interactionism helps us understand the symbolic and subjective experience and meaning of belonging to a "family", functionalism illuminates the many purposes of families and their roles in maintaining a balanced society (Parsons and Bales 1956).

Multiple Family Units

Whatever form a family takes, it constitutes a basic social unit on which societies are based and may reflect other social changes. For example, the bar chart shows how much the family structure has changed in a relatively short period of time. What trends do you see on the bar chart? What variables could help explain the increase in single-parent families between 1960 and 1980 and 2014? What variables might help explain the decline in children living in two-parent/first-marriage families? What theoretical perspectives can help explain this phenomenon?

People in the United States in general are somewhat divided when it comes to determining what does and does not constitute a family. In a 2010 survey conducted by Indiana University professors, nearly all respondents (99.8%) agreed that a husband, wife, and children make a family. Ninety-two percent said that a husband and wife without children are still a family. The numbers descend into less traditional structures: unmarried couples with children (83%), unmarried couples without children (39.6%), gay couples with children (64%), and gay couples without children (33%) (Powell et al. al. 2010). This survey revealed that children tend to be the leading indicator for establishing "family" status: the percentage of people who agreed that unmarried couples and same-sex couples constitute a family nearly doubled when children were added.

The study also revealed that 60% of US respondents agreed that if you consider yourself family, you are family (a concept that reinforces an interactionist perspective) (Powell 2010). The government, however, is not as flexible in its definition of "family." The United States. The Census Bureau defines a household as “a group of two or more persons (one of whom is the head of household) related by birth, marriage, or adoption and residing together” (U.S. Census Bureau 2010). While this structured definition can be used as a means of consistently tracking family-related patterns over multiple years, it excludes people such as cohabiting unmarried couples. Legality aside, sociologists would argue that the general concept of family is more diverse and less structured than in the past. Society has given more freedom to the design of a family, leaving room for what works for its members (Jayson 2010).

Family is certainly a subjective concept, but it is a very objective fact that family (whatever concept one has of it) is very important to people in the United States. In a 2010 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., 76 percent of adults surveyed said that family is "the most important element" in their lives; only 1 percent said it was “not important” (Pew Research Center 2010). It is also very important for society. President Ronald Reagan famously said: “The family has always been the cornerstone of American society. Our families nurture, preserve, and pass on to each succeeding generation the values ​​we share and cherish, values ​​that are the foundation of our freedoms” (Lee 2009). Although the design of the family has changed in recent years, the foundations of closeness and emotional support are still present. Most Pew respondents said their family is now at least as close (45%) or closer (40%) than the family they grew up with (Pew Research Center 2010).

As you will have seen in the chapter on aging and the elderly, different generations have different life situations and views on aging. The same happens with situations of coexistence with the family. The Pew Research Center analyzed the living situation of 40-year-olds from different generations. At this age, millennials indicated that 45% of them did not live in a family of their own. By contrast, when Generation X and Baby Boomers were in their 40s (circa 2003 and 1987, respectively), an average of 33% of them lived outside the home (Barroso 2020). The dynamics of a nearly 50-50 relative/unknown split for millennials is very different from a two-thirds/one-third split for Boomers and Gen Xers.

(Video) Ch 1-A Sociology of The Family

The data also shows that women have children later in life and that men are much less likely to live in a household with children of their own. In 2019, 32% of millennial men lived in a household with their children, compared to 41% of Generation X men in 2003 and 44% of Boomer men in 1987 (Barroso 2020). Again, the significant drop in parenting roles is likely to have an impact on attitudes towards the family.

first families

set family | introduction to Sociology (3)

Figure 2.First families. (a) President Trump with his wife, Melania, and five children. (b) President Obama with his wife Michelle and his children Malia and Sasha.

When a political candidate runs for office in the United States, much attention is paid to the candidate's family, as it is seen as a reflection of the candidate and his values.

(Video) Sociology of the Family (SOCI 130) syllabus overview

When former US President Barack Obama ran for office, many questioned his paternal lineage from Kenya, as well as his Hawaiian upbringing andIndonesia,where her mother was doing anthropological work. His parents separated when he was young and he was raised by his white mother. Michelle Obama, originally from Chicago's South Side, was educated at Princeton and Harvard, then took a prestigious position at the University of Chicago, which she left after her husband was elected. The former couple were first married in 1992 and have two children who were born in 1998 and 2001.

President Donald Trump grew up in New York City (Queens), the son of Fred, a real estate developer, and Mary Anne Trump. He was married and divorced twice and had four children (three with Ivana Trump and one with Marla Maples) before marrying the current First Lady Melania Trump, with whom he has a fifth child, Barron Trump. Ivana and Melania were models and both were born in Eastern Europe (Czechoslovakia and Slovenia, respectively). Three marriages and five children make the First Family unique in United States presidential history.

think carefully

  • Think about family composition (ie composition) from 1960 to 2014 using the bar chart above. Can you predict what the family structure will be like in 2030? What variables could influence the family structure in the future?
  • According to the survey, what are people's general thoughts about family in the United States? How do they view non-traditional family structures? How do you think these views might change in twenty years?


(Video) Sociology of the Family: Families and Children


socially recognized groups of individuals who may be related by blood, marriage, or adoption and who form an emotional connection and an economic unit of society
family orientation:
the family you are born into
breeding family:
a family formed through marriage
a legally recognized contract between two or more people in a sexual relationship who have an expectation of permanence in their relationship


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