The standard way of thinking about the topic of the family has it that it is a social group that plays an essential role in people’s lives. Several types of family structures exist in the world, each with its unique features that determine personal development at the early stages. It influences the academic results of children, mental and physical conditions, prospects, and general behavior. Still, society has become more diverse and complex in modern times, giving rise to entirely new perspectives on family, such as same-sex couples (Murry et al. 650). It serves as a cause for a rethinking of traditional family patterns, the relations in a family, and its role in the upbringing of a child. This essay will reflect on different types of family structures with a focus on nuclear and extended families. After presenting a broad context of the topic with varying views on the definition of a family structure and recent trends, the essay will provide each type’s historical overview, benefits, and drawbacks.
To begin with, it is essential to define a family structure from different perspectives and highlights the recent alterations in the understanding of this term. This notion usually includes the specific characteristics of the members of a household, linked by blood or marriage. The ideal traditional type referred to the nuclear family, which consisted of a married heterosexual couple and their biological child/ren. This type of family was considered a standard North American family and continues to serve as a starting point for comparison with other structures (Pearce et al. 592). However, due to the rising complexity of the world, including immigration, shifts in family formation, and widespread tolerance, new types of families tend to become new normal. For instance, increasing cohabitation rates, as well as divorce rates, lead to more single-parent households or even the rising popularity of children raised by grandparents (Murry et al. 650). The increase in same-sex marriages results in fewer children as only about 16% of such couples in the USA have biological or adoptive children (Pearce et al. 594). Thus, understanding the contemporary social context is extremely important for the research of separate family structures, such as nuclear and extended.
The nuclear family, as it is mentioned above, is considered a standard image of a family. Not only does it imply a two-parent household, but it also determines the traditional role of a mother as a caretaker and a father as a breadwinner. However, during the last half of the century, an essential 22% decrease in the number of children living with two parents can be observed (Pearce et al. 592). This shift influenced the perception of a ‘normal’ family as well: single-parent families and two-income households become common due to higher divorce rates, a decline in marriage rates, more significant opportunities of employment for both genders, longer life expectancy, and so on (Sukach et al. 2042). Culture is another dimension that should be taken into account when discussing family structures. Because of immigration, in the US, for instance, many Latino, Asian, and African-American families’ households, which historically tend to be extended, include other family members under the term “nuclear.”On the contrary, in the states with a historically big share of rural residents, such as India, the trend is the opposite: from the joint families to the nuclear ones (Khalid et al. 2). Thus, the patterns are also different in developed and developing states.
The common assumptions are that a traditional two-parent family cultivates the best conditions for children in terms of behavioral, educational, and social-emotional development. Mainly, positive outcomes of such a family can be observed in comparison with nontraditional nuclear families, such as single-parent households (Sukach et al. 2042). Notably, many scholars believe that it is not a family structure that is a determinant in these issues; rather, financial resources or cultural background can be the reason for the different parenting outcomes (Murry et al. 654). Still, the perception of a nuclear family as being the most stable and successful one stems from different factors. For instance, as it presupposes a limited number of family members, usually one or two children, they are more likely to have all the necessary resources for adulting. Better education, material possessions as well as time and attention devoted to a child by parents enable a more prosperous process of development. Moreover, it is easier to find compromises in the household when a family comprises only three or four people, which results in fewer conflicts and a more peaceful atmosphere at home. Hence, the advantages of this type of family seem sufficient to justify its acknowledgment as the best family structure.
However, some drawbacks are persistent in the nuclear family as well. One of the possible adverse outcomes of such a type can be the feeling of loneliness, especially if there is only one child in a family. With the continuous trend of two working parents in a household, a child is left to themselves most of the day. This, in turn, can even provoke some undesirable behavioral patterns such as juvenile delinquency just out of boredom. Another point worth considering is from the parent’s perspective. In reality, it is a rare case for a couple to live happily ever after and die on the same day, a nuclear family is rather harsh on widows. Due to the lack of support, feelings of loneliness, insecurity, or some physical inabilities are challenging to avoid. However, children are usually of great help in these situations. Consequently, while there is no ideal family structure, the advantages of a nuclear family appear to be more substantial for a longer period of life.
Another widespread and one of the most common types of family structures is an extended or joint family. It has a broad definition, sometimes including non-biological members who help with children but more often referring to the multigenerational household. As Cross pointed out, the number of extended families in the US has increased during recent years, from 13% in 1996 to 17% in 2014 (236). However, as was mentioned, the patterns across the world do not coincide. The correlation between culture and a type of family is clear, though. Nuclear families have mostly prevailed in more individualistic states, such as the USA or some European countries. Despite the ongoing trend towards nuclearism in India or some African cultures, extended families are more widespread than in the abovementioned states. Other features that determine the inclination towards such a family structure are economic capacity and family needs (Cross 237). In this case, the extended family serves as a tool for survival to use the resources most efficiently. Family needs also include such factors as the age of family members or their health. Hence, it explains the prevalence of extended families earlier in history.
The joint family structure has many advantages for all the members of the family. Some of them include the high level of support, help with raising a child, and transmitting cultural knowledge. The learning process and early education can be especially encouraged in such families as even in case parents’ occupation there are always some other members willing to teach a child. Moreover, some specific skills such as cooking or hunting can be instilled since childhood. Support is also considerably connected with the presence of grandparents in the household. For instance, they can share family history, which is extremely important for preserving cultural heritage, and find compromises in disputes from their experience (Pearce et al. 600). Young parents have profit from this type of family due to their lack of experience and time, while children also get enough attention and thus, avoid feelings of isolation or loneliness. Furthermore, extended family is also a good solution for grandparents as an alternative to a retirement home. From this perspective, an extended family is the most appropriate structure to fulfill the traditional role of the family as the most important social group.
On the other hand, this type of family has many drawbacks that sometimes outweigh the benefits. For instance, the females in these families usually have less freedom and more housework due to the number of family members, which leaves no time for anything else (Khalid et al. 4). At the same time, males are forced to work harder in order to earn enough money for all the family. Another point is the limited time of existence of this family structure, as, after the death of the head of a family, there is not as much unity among the members. Moreover, the disputes about the heritage often present an insoluble problem that leads to the dissolution (Khalid et al. 4). Children, in turn, can face more competition for love and attention, which reinforces an unhealthy atmosphere in a household. Overall, it is more difficult to reach some compromises among all the family members, considering the different generations and views. Lastly, it can be especially complicated for newly married couples to adjust to the norms and rules of the extended family without any controversies. Thus, although being an attractive model at first glance, an extended family structure has its pitfalls.
To conclude, nowadays, more and more family structures are emerging, making the topic even harder to analyze. Still, the traditional types – nuclear and extended families – continue to be the most widespread and stay relevant. It is complicated to understand which family structure is better because it depends on several factors, such as financial resources, specific needs, or culture and traditions. The importance of family, though, is undeniable for each member, including both parents and children or some other relatives in the extended family. Being the primary social group, family is likely to influence people in all the fields, namely, academic and career path, behavioral patterns, and mental and physical condition. Therefore, each person and couple need to understand if they need more support from the extended family, the stability and relative calmness of the nuclear family, or they search for any other family structure.
Cross, Christina J. “Extended family households among children in the United States: Differences by race/ethnicity and socio-economic status.” Population Studies 72.2 (2018): 235-251.
Khalid, Afifa, et al. “Joint Family or Nuclear Family: The Youth’s Perspective.” Asian Journal of Social Sciences and Management Studies 8.1 (2021): 1-6.
Murry, Velma McBride, and Melissa A. Lippold. “Parenting practices in diverse family structures: Examination of adolescents’ development and adjustment.” Journal of Research on Adolescence 28.3 (2018): 650-664.
Pearce, Lisa D., et al. “The increasing diversity and complexity of family structures for adolescents.” Journal of Research on Adolescence 28.3 (2018): 591-608.
Sukach, Tetiana, et al. “Nuclear Family.” Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy (2019): 2041-2044.