Modern Family: The Progressive Family Structure

S ociologists, historians, anthropologists and economists have all opined on the role of the Nuclear Family in society (especially Western societies).  Not without controversy, the idea that the ideal basic building block of society is one man + one woman + their children has been prevalent since at least the late Nineteenth Century. The main controversy in social history is whether the nuclear family is a response to industrialization or a prime supporting condition for industrial society. The Extended Family (sometimes called Kinship family) structure where multiple adult relatives (e.g., grandparents living with one of their children’s family) live together is the most commonly observed alternative (especially from the historical point of view where the interconnections of tribe and kinship were tightly interwoven across families).

Why is “immediate” family structure so important? Well, the lines that define the family unit also typically define the borders of deep financial entanglement, procreation, primary sources of emotional support and child rearing, etc. Or as sociologist James Henslin (Essentials of Sociology) states, the core functions of the family include “economic production, socialization of children, care of the sick and aged, recreation, sexual control and reproduction.” The nuclear family has been presumed ideal family structure in Western society during the modern era. However, signs of a growing need and willingness to experiment with different family structures are replete in contemporary society (from platonic life partners to a variety of polyamorous families). (more…)