Introducing Families and Households

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

Introducing Families and Households

For teaching notes and resources on Families and Households from “Sociology Stuff” website created by Steve Chapman – Click Here

For 6 useful You Tube presentations on Families and Households from City Academy Bristol – Click Here

For 8 useful You Tube presentations on Families and Household from Stephen Joel – Click Here

For 15 useful You Tube presentations on Families and Households from Esher College  Click Here

For A Level Families and Households resources kindly set up by Ken Browne on Twitter follow the hashtag #SOCFAM – Click Here

For Thinking Allowed : Laurie Taylor interviews Ann Oakley  December 2018 – Click Here

For Families and Households 2018 from ONS   August 2019 – Click Here

For an ONS item: Being 18 in 2018  September 2018 – Click Here

For a full report and summary from the IFS on Women and Employment. May 2018 – Click Here

For an ONS item on child bearing trends  November 2017 – Click Here

For an item on 20-34 year olds living with parents.  November 2017 – Click Here

For Families and Households 2017 from ONS    November  2017– Click Here

For Families and Households 2018 from ONS  August 2019 – Click Here

For large selections of  recent items from ONS and scroll through for items which are relevant to the study of Families and Households and Demography;

Click Here Click Here - Click here

For examples August 2017;

Click Here Click Here 

For the latest ONS publication on Marriage, Cohabitation, Divorce and Singlehood  July 2018 – Click Here

For latest Divorce in England and Wales  Statistics from ONS September  2018– Click Here

For Radio 4 Thinking Allowed: Items on Being Single and Modern Romance  October 2015 – Click Here

For Radio 4 Analysis : Meet the Family  September 2015Click Here

For  recent survey data on Living Apart Together  August 2020Click Here

For new ESRC research on Fatherhood NEW June 2015 Click Here

For discussion of new ESRC research on Fatherhood  June 2015– Click Here

Assignments: Sample Exercises from Ken Browne’s AS Sociology Textbook  Click Here

Links to  sections of chapter  on Families and Households from Chris Livesey’s recent textbook.  One; Two; Three; Four  September 2017;

For a recent Guardian article on grandparents – Click Here

For Cohabitation trends and patterns in the UK By Ann Berrington and Juliet Stone [ESRC Centre for Population Change]  February 2015 –      

Click Here





Defining “the” Family and Families

Some Preliminaries: Kinship, Households and Marriage

Sociologists recognise that it is no simple matter to define what we mean by a Family. and in order to analyse some of the controversies surrounding the definition of “The Family” it is first useful to define the terms Kinship, Marriage and Household.

  • Kinship:  a relationship between  people who are related to each other by blood, marriage or adoption. These are often the same people we regard as our family but because our kin relationships may spread very widely we may not regard our distantly related kin as part of our family or certainly not as close family members . For example would you regard the children of your brother’s wife’s cousin as part of your family.? Do you know their names?  Have you ever seen them?
  • Kin relationships generate patterns of  obligations and expectations although kin obligations may not always be met and kin expectations may be frustrated. It has been suggested that the above textbook definition of Kin could in principle be extended to include cohabiting partners [not related by blood, marriage or adoption] but these individuals are not  currently part of the textbook definition of kin. You might like to discuss this issue with your teachers.
  • Household: this includes all of those who share a dwelling. These people may also be kin but may include others who are not joined by ties of kinship. Sometimes none of the inhabitants who share a dwelling are related kin as, for example, when a group of students or other young adults share  a dwelling. Social Trends 2004 defines a household as “a person living alone or as a group of people who have the address as their only or main residence and who either share one meal a day or share the living accommodation.” An increasing percentage of  adults living  alone or sharing  households are nevertheless members of families living in other households and they have regular contact with  these family members so that although they live alone they still feel very much  part of their family.
  •  Marriage:  a socially approved union between a man and a woman such that children born to the union are recognised as the legitimate offspring of both parents. In industrial societies with codified systems of law a marriage is also a legally recognised union but in other societies without such codification a marriage may be socially but not legally recognised.
  • Different forms of marriage exist in different cultures.
    • In Western societies and the only permitted type of marriage is Monogamy where one woman marries one man. However divorce is relatively common and adults may practise serial monogamy where they have only one marital partner at any particular time but may divorce and marry other partners at fairly regular intervals. The film star Elizabeth Taylor was quite a famous serial monogamist having had about 8 husbands.
    • In other societies  Polygamy is an accepted form of marriage  in which of one individual may have with two or more partners concurrently. We may distinguish also  between two types of Polygamy:
    1. Polyandry where a woman has more than one husband as may occur, for example in Tibet. It should be noted that polyandry occurs more rarely  than polygyny and that most polyandry is fraternal  where individual women marry one or more  brothers. For some video clips on Polyandry – Click Here [For a very detailed technical article on Polyandry although such detailed knowledge of Polyandry is certainly not required for AS Sociology students – Click Here ]
    2. Polygyny where a man has more than one wife as in some Muslim societies. Obviously , families based upon Polyandry and Polygyny are significantly different from Western style families. It should be noted that in societies where polygyny is practised it is practised almost entirely by relatively rich men who can afford to support more than one wife and that the vast majority of married men and women practise monogamous marriage.

Additional information on different types of  Marriage will be provided slightly later in the course.

Bearing in mind the above information on Kinship, Households and Marriage we can now begin to analyse various approaches to the definition of the family and of families.

  1. We could define the family as containing all related Kin: that is: as all individuals who are related by blood, marriage and adoption. However this definition of the family would exclude couples with or without children who are cohabiting rather than married since clearly the couple are not related by blood, marriage or adoption and it would also include very distant relatives whom we might not necessarily think of as family members .
  2. We could accept G. P. Murdock’s definition of the family [see below] although for a variety of reasons  this would almost certainly be unwise.
  3. G. P. Murdock’s theories of the family do highlight the distinctions between the nuclear family and the extended family.
  •  The Nuclear family is defined as a heterosexual couple and their children , natural or adopted, usually living together in the same household. Nowadays they may also produce children via the use of new reproductive technologies.
  • The classic extended family is a nuclear family plus one or more additional relations living in the same household. These families may be horizontally extended to include , say siblings of the adult members of the nuclear family or vertically to include grandparents or grandchildren.
  • The modified extended family is a family in which members of a nuclear family retain connections with other relatives who live apart from members of the nuclear family.
  • It is argued that where marriage is based on polygyny or polyandry special types of extended families are created containing additional wives or husbands.
  • We should note in relation to the nuclear family that the heterosexual couples may be married or cohabiting.
  • We should note that some families are defined as reconstituted families
  • Some gay and lesbian couples may live with their children from previous heterosexual relationships or they may adopt children or they may produce children via the use of new reproductive technologies
  1. As we shall see below increasing numbers of individuals live in lone parent families containing a lone parent [usually but not always a mother] and her/his children.
  2. Some individuals live as childless couples, heterosexual gay or lesbian, , married, cohabiting or in civil partnerships .
  3. Some individuals share households as friendship groups
  4. Some individuals live alone.

Which of the above mentioned personal relationships may reasonably be defined as Families?  

  • G. P, Murdock  and the Family

In his 1949 study entitled Social Structure GP Murdock offered a definition of the family which has subsequently been the subject of considerable debate For G P Murdock  the family is ” a social group characterised by common residence, economic co-operation and reproduction. It includes adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, and one or more children, own or adopted of the sexually cohabiting adults”. Murdock also distinguished between nuclear families [parents and dependent children] and extended families[ comprising parents children and other relatives] and went on to claim on the basis of his study of 250 societies of various types that “the nuclear family is a universal social grouping. Either as the sole prevailing form of the family, or as the basic unit from which more complex forms are compounded it exists as a distinct and strongly functional group in every known society.”

[Families based on Polygyny or Polyandry also tend to be defined as forms of extended families although one might wonder whether they might be better defined as different types of nuclear family of as families which are neither nuclear nor extended.]

According to Murdock the family performs the following functions for societies: the sexual, reproductive, economic and educational functions. These functions are seen as ” essential for social life  since without the sexual and reproductive functions there would be no members of society; without the economic function, involving, for example,  the provision of food, life would cease and without education, a term Murdock uses for socialisation, there would be no culture. Murdock argues that the sexual and reproductive functions of the nuclear family are functional both for its members and for societies as a whole [for in its absence, free, unbridled sex drives could generate considerable problems] and he also praises the traditional sexual division of labour within nuclear families.

Thus Murdock believes that the nuclear family is  “a universal social grouping” because it offers the most effective mechanisms for the fulfilment of essential functions necessary for the survival of societies: i.e. the above mentioned sexual, reproductive, educational and economic functions. Also in the functionalist approach the nuclear family is considered to operate in some sense in accordance with human nature: thus it is assumed to be natural for heterosexual adults to form permanent or near permanent relationships with one sexual partner and that that men and women have different physical and psychological characteristics which mean that economic functions can be effectively shared within nuclear families. Women need economic support during pregnancy; they are assumed to have strong maternal instincts which suit them especially for the care of young children while men are more suited to breadwinning roles either as hunters, farmers or industrial workers.

In summary functionalists argue that  the nuclear family is universal because it is functional for society and because it operates in accordance with the natural characteristics of males and females. By implication it seems that other family forms are inferior.

It is important to note the implications of Murdock’s definition of the family  because although  a  variety of family forms can be accommodated within the terms of the definition some personal relationships which other sociologists have subsequently defined as family forms are excluded from Murdock’s definition. Thus whether marriage is based upon monogamy [including serial monogamy], polygyny or polyandry and whether or not extended kin are present and whether children are biological or adopted  all of the resultant groupings would be considered as families in terms of Murdock’s definition. Also Murdock’s definition refers to ” a socially approved sexual relationship”  which means that although in 1950s western societies cohabitation was not broadly socially approved if social attitudes were to change[ as they perhaps have done in recent years cohabiting heterosexual couples could be defined as families in terms of Murdock’s definition. However under the terms of Murdock’s definition lone parent families, heterosexual couples without children , gay and lesbian couples with or without children  and strong friendship groups would not be defined as families.

It should for example be noted that the definition of a family currently adopted by the Office of National Statistics [ONS] differs significantly from G. P. Murdock’s definition. According to the ONS ” A family is a married, civil partnered or cohabiting couple with or without children or  a lone parent with at least one child. Children may by dependent or independent.”  [It should be noted that this definition is used by the ONS as the basis for the analysis of the composition of individual households and that the existence of extended families is also recognised but the vast majority of extended family members live in separate households and so are classified in their own right. For example assume that  members of an extended family live in three separate households: one household contains a heterosexual couple and two dependent children; one household contains two heterosexual grandparents; and another household contains an older independent child of the heterosexual couple who is living alone.  In terms of the ONS definition there is a nuclear family household, a childless couple family household and a lone person household although all of these individuals are clearly part of one extended family].

Murdock’s theory [and functionalist theories in general] have also been subjected to important general criticisms.

Murdock’s theory [and functionalist theories in general] have also been subjected to important general criticisms.

  1. It is argued that the nuclear family is not a universal social institution.
  2. In the case of advanced industrial societies it is argued that lone parent families, heterosexual couples without children , gay and lesbian couples with or without children  and strong friendship groups can reasonably be defined as families. Very useful detailed information on the analysis of black, lone parent matrifocal families is provided in the Haralambos and Holborn textbook and the arguments presented there can be applied similarly to lone parent families in general and to gay and lesbian families. [This issue will be considered in more detail in subsequent documents.]
  3. It is claimed that because other types of family arrangement exist both in advanced industrial and elsewhere in the world it is illogical to assume that the operation of the nuclear family derives from the requirements of human nature . Instead cross-cultural variations in family forms suggest that family forms are socially constructed rather than determined by some universal human nature which is invariant as between different societies.[ Remember the broad distinctions between explanations based upon “human nature” and sociological explanations based upon culture and social structure which were mentioned discussed in introductory discussions of the nature of Sociology.]
  4. The sexual, reproductive, educational and economic functions performed by in nuclear families can also be performed efficiently in other family forms  in other societies. Here you should consult your textbooks and make detailed notes on “The Unnatural Family” by Felicity Edbolm [1982]. If you are downloading this document you may add these notes in the following Box if you wish.

5. Family functions may be fulfilled and perhaps in organisation such as Kibbutzim and Communes which in some respects are presented as alternatives to families. Check your textbooks for information on Kibbutzim and Communes

6. It is argued that Murdock and later functionalists have overstated the effectiveness of the nuclear family and neglected its possible disadvantages. According to its critics the nuclear family may , in several respects, be dysfunctional.

The Functionalist Perspective on the Family and criticisms of it will be considered in more detail in a subsequent document.


 Household Diversity and Family Diversity

Household diversity has increased for the following reasons.[ In each case it will be necessary to analyse later in the course why these developments have occurred.]

  1. More heterosexual couples choose to cohabit rather than marry although cohabitation may be a prelude to subsequent marriage.
  2.  More heterosexual couples, whether married or cohabiting, may choose to remain childless.
  3.  More heterosexual couples make use of new reproductive technologies to produce children,
  4. More Gay and Lesbian  couples may choose to cohabit or to register their relationships as civil partnerships and it is possible also that new legislation may soon be introduced to enable Gay and Lesbian couples to marry. [For a short ONS Podcast on Civil Partnerships –Click Here] These couples  may be childless  ; they may live with their children from previous heterosexual relationships; they may produce children via new reproductive technologies. .[For a recent BBC item on the issue of Gay marriages and the Church – Click Here and for Guardian coverage of controversies at the 2012 Conservative Party Conference over the issue of Gay Marriage – Click Here]
  5. Increases in the rate of divorce and the growth of never married, non-cohabiting parents have led to an increase in the number of lone parent families.
  6. Increased divorce and remarriage results in the growth of reconstituted families containing new partners’ children  from previous relationships perhaps as well as their own biological children.
  7. Extended families continue to exist : in some cases extended kin live within the same household but more often members of vertically extended and/or horizontally extended families live in different households in what are sometimes called modified extended families.
  8. Increasing access to Higher Education and/or later marriage means that increasing numbers of young adults live alone or with friends in shared households. Some sociologists have argued that these friendship groups amount to primary groups which may involve sexual relationships and/or very strong platonic friendships so that the group in effect takes on some of the functions associated with families.
  9. Also some adults who live alone may very well form committed relationships with partners who live separately. Such people might be said to be “living alone together” and some would describe such relationships as families.

Definitions of Families and Family Diversity [Some of the points in this section can be considered in more detail once students have studied other elements of the specification]

In the 1950s and early 1960s the dominant perspective within Sociology was Functionalism and the Functionalist-inspired anthropologist G. P. Murdock claimed on the basis of a study of 250 disparate societies that the nuclear family [an adult heterosexual couple and their children, natural or adopted]  which existed either in isolation or as part of a wider kinship network was “a universal social institution” which fulfilled effectively the sexual, reproductive, educational and economic functions essential for the continued existence of societies. Also, slightly later, the Functionalist sociologist Talcott Parsons argued that , for a variety of reasons, the nuclear family fitted especially well with the demands of industr1al societies and that it fulfilled the vital functions of the socialisation of the young and the stabilisation of adult personalities.

Functionalist sociologists focussed increasingly on the nuclear family as the dominant and most effective family form [although they did also recognise the importance of extended kin] and, in terms of Murdock’s definition of the family heterosexual but childless couples, gay and lesbian couples with or without children, lone parent families and unrelated friendships groups would not have been defined as families.

In industrial societies such as the UK in the 1950s the nuclear family was the most prevalent family form although strong links to extended kin remained especially in working class areas and also among aristocratic and wealthy upper class families.. However it was also the case that  a particular type of nuclear family was presented in popular culture and in advertisements in the mass media as in some sense as the ideal nuclear family . In this idealised nuclear family parents would be married rather than cohabiting; their personal relationships were based upon a combination of romantic love and great friendship; they would produce  about two of their own natural children although a limited number of nuclear families would also adopt children ; males were assumed to have physical and psychological characteristics suitable for employment roles while women were assumed to have very powerful maternal instincts  so that it was entirely appropriate that husbands would be the sole family income earner while wives would stay at home and take the primary responsibilities for housework and childcare. Nuclear family life would be harmonious, increasingly symmetrical and definitely non-violent; divorce, consequently , would be rare  and both divorcees lone single parents would be socially stigmatised.

As mentioned this particularly optimistic view of the nuclear family was promoted strongly in the mass media but also via the socialisation process as it operated in the family, the education system and the church so that it could be seen as the dominant family ideology of the time . Consequently many young people were socialised to accept that marriage and procreation within the nuclear family were simply the natural things to do and that they were the routes to happiness and fulfilment which, of course, in many cases, they were and remain. Meanwhile the negative stigmatisation of gays and lesbians, single parents, divorcees and even single people above a certain age discouraged support for personal life styles outside of the nuclear family.

For many  this idealised nuclear family [with some extended kin connections] was the preferred family form and  other types of personal living arrangements were seen either as inferior family forms or as undesirable to such an extent that they should not be defined as families at all. These views have persisted among some people with a traditionalist frame of mind and have been  supported by sociologists and practising politicians influenced by New Right theories which were especially popular in the Conservative Party in the Thatcher/Major  era of 1979-1997 although it should be noted that leader David Cameron  has attempted to moderate Conservative Party attitudes to the family and to questions of family diversity. Be that as it may it remains true that for some people the idealised nuclear family is by far the preferred family form: marriage is preferable to cohabitation; lone parenthood is linked to delinquency, crime and welfare dependency and gay and lesbian relationships are undesirable and cannot be seen as families because in this traditionalist view the main purpose of the family is the procreation and rearing of children . Consequently by traditionalists a relatively narrow definition of the family is adopted excluding some or all non-nuclear, unmarried options.

However it has also been argued [most notably by Feminists but also be Marxists and Postmodernists…of which more later] that the idealised nuclear never conformed to the reality and that women in nuclear families were likely to be frustrated, exploited and subject to random physical attacks from their male partners. It has been claimed that it is for these reasons that increasing numbers of individuals have opted for singlehood, for cohabitation rather than marriage and for  childlessness rather than for life in the nuclear family based upon marriage. Others , having opted initially for  marriage and the nuclear family , have divorced; more parents have opted to raise their children as single parents  rather than to enter marital or cohabiting relationships which they think are likely to fail and due to changes in the law and in social attitudes more gay and lesbian people have become more open about their sexuality and opted for cohabitation or single sex partnerships. Divorce and remarriage have led to the growth of reconstituted families and the use of new reproductive technology and the growth of households containing friendship groups have all led to the further household diversity.

For New Right theorists this growth of household diversity amounts to a crisis of family life but others argue that increasing household diversity derives broadly from the increasing capacities  of individuals to use their increased freedom [brought about for example by greater employment opportunities for women and more generally relaxed attitudes to cohabitation, lone parenthood and single sex relationships ] to reject the traditional nuclear family in favour of alternative personal relationships which are likely to be more personally fulfilling and socially effective and that , crucially, there is absolutely no reason why theses different types of personal relationships should not be defined as families .

In the non -traditionalist view families may be based on marriage or cohabitation; they may contain heterosexual or single sex couples; they may or may not contain children; the children may have been borne into previous relationships and now combined into a reconstituted family or they may be adopted or they may be produced via new reproductive technologies; and some  families are lone parent families. All of these varieties are defined as “families” in Social Trends and other ONS publications. [Thus for example an ONS publication for January 2012 states ” A family is a married, civil partnered or cohabiting couple with or without children or a lone parent with at least one child. Children may be dependent or independent.”] We may add that many families can be seen as extended families having links with wider kin and that some sociologists see friendship groups as primary groups having many of the characteristics of families.

It is clear that there can be no one single correct definition of what is and what is not a family because all definitions of the family involve value judgements which cannot be proved factually correct or incorrect. There are disputes between Functionalist and New Right theorists on the one hand and Feminists, Marxists and Postmodernists on the other with the former arguing in support of the nuclear family as the preferred family form and that some other personal living arrangements cannot strictly speaking be regarded as families and the latter being much more prepared to recognise a diversity of family forms.

These differences of opinion  within Sociology are mirrored within society more generally and it is important to note that these differences of definition and perception may have  major implications for peoples’ actual lives. It is possible that in the past individuals in non-nuclear family relationships may have defined themselves as families but encountered difficulties from individuals who were not prepared to accept their definition of themselves as families because they favoured a more restrictive definition of the family although it seems possible that many more people would accept nowadays that families exist in a diverse variety of forms than would have done so in the 1950s.

One recent survey in the USA suggested that Americans were much more likely to define a relationship as a family if the relationship contained children Would you agree?  For a BBC  report of recent UK poll data on attitudes to the family and families – Click Here.

Family diversity: A Summary

Statistical Appendix

The following statistics illustrate trends in Family and Household Diversity. Such  statistics usually appear later in textbooks when Household and Family Diversity is analysed in more detail. and teachers and students may prefer to use them later in the AS Sociology course.

The broad relationships between “families” and households can be clarified by consideration of the different kinds of households and the different types of family forms which exist in the UK. Such data are used most often to assess possible  historical changes in the relative numerical importance of the nuclear family within UK society.

It is important to note that the exact conclusions on this issue vary depending upon whether we consider data on nuclear families as a percentage of all households or data on the proportion of individuals living in households of different types. The following data are taken from several recent editions of  Social Trends..

Some Further Links  [Several of these links appeared also at the beginning of this document.]


For King’s Fund information on Demography – Click Here



Table 1

Households: by type of household and family [Families are defined here by marriage, cohabitation or civil partnership and where there are children in the household child/parent relationships. Thus married and cohabiting heterosexual couples with or without children and single sex cohabiting couples and those in civil partnerships with or without children are all defined as families for purposes of this statistical exercise.]

The data are the percentages of all households occupied by differing categories of occupants.


For  recent survey data on Living Apart Together  August 2020 – Click Here

The statistics in table 1 may be used to suggest that the relative significance of the nuclear family [defined as a family of two generations i.e. parents and children living in the same household] is declining. Thus in  1961 48 percent of households were lived in by nuclear families but by 2019  28.3 percent of households were lived in by nuclear families and the percentage of households lived by single people living alone, childless couples and single parent families had increased markedly.

Also, although the data are not presented here you will find that an increasing number of couples are cohabiting rather than married although for many couples cohabitation is a prelude to marriage.


Table 2

People in Households: by type of household in which they live.

Data  on Families and Households must be interpreted with care and we get a different picture from table (2) which shows that in 1961,64% of people were living in nuclear families and this declined to 46.2%  in 2019 Again the figure declines but the numerical importance of the nuclear family is smaller when we consider number of nuclear family households than when we consider number of individuals living in nuclear families.

The data are the percentages of individuals living different types of household

I have updated these data to 2019 but whereas the earlier data refer to Great Britain the  2019 data refer to the UK.

A simplified numerical example can illustrate the significance of the differing approaches to the measurement of the relative importance of the nuclear family.  Assume that in 1981 the only households in existence are 4 nuclear families each with two children and 2 people living alone and that by 2011 we have 5 nuclear families each with 4 people and 5 people living alone. I have partly constructed a table based upon the above numbers and the student should complete the table  and analyse the conclusions .

We may also look again at the 2019 data to clarify the above statistical point. As already mentioned these data appear in supplementary tables accompanying the 2019 ONS Families and Households Publication but refer to the UK rather than Great Britain and appear in terms of actual numbers rather than percentages. However I have also converted the ONS data to percentages terms.

Whether we analyse the data in Household or Individual terms we are in both cases dealing with so-called snap shot figures which may be seen as underestimating the continued importance of the nuclear family because although at any particular time, only about 50% of people are living in nuclear families, many more will have done so at earlier stages of their lives and/or may do so in the future. Thus, many people who are currently living alone may have been married /cohabiting with children in the past or may marry/ cohabit and have children in the future; lone parents may subsequently marry or cohabit and so on.

Concentrating on the percentages of individuals living in different types of households , the sociologist Robert Chester  argued in the mid 1980s that the nuclear family remained the dominant family form and that the only key difference in family life for most people was the increasing involvement of women in the labour force. Chester called this new family form the neo- conventional family. “It is little different from the conventional family form apart from the increasing number of wives working for at least part of their married lives.”

It has been argued, however, that Robert Chester  overstated his case even in the mid 1980s and that there has since the 1980s also  been a continuing reduction in the proportion of people living in nuclear family households from 64% in 1961 to 57% in1981 to 47% in 2003 to 45% in 2009 while the  percentages of people living in lone parent households or simply living alone have increased.  {See Table 2.3 above]  .

On the basis of the data in Table 2.3 we may conclude that in 2009 the numerically largest household types are couples without children [representing 29% of all households ] followed by nuclear families [ representing 27% of all households]. Also in 2009 45% of individuals were living in nuclear family households making nuclear family households even more significant when measured on an individual basis rather than a household type basis.

However it is clear also that increasing proportions of individuals are now likely to live in non -nuclear family households at least for part of their lives. Whereas in the 1950s larger proportions  of children would have been raised in nuclear family households, would have left home in their early 20s to marry rather than to set up house as single individuals, would have produced their own children in their mid 20s-early 30s and remained married for the rest of their lives, more children nowadays are raised in single parent households, are more likely to live alone in their early 20s, more likely to become lone single parents and more likely to end a cohabiting relationship, to separate  or to divorce although they may of course enter into new relationships subsequently. All of these factors have clearly reduced the numerical significance of the nuclear family over time.

You may consult your textbooks for various studies which confirm these general conclusions and notes on such studies are obviously useful for essay  writing and examination purposes [In any case we shall see later  that there are other aspects to the question of family diversity such as  diversity according to social class, ethnicity, religion, stage of the life cycle of families, and between different family cohorts. These aspects of family diversity are considered in detail later in the course.


In the following document I shall outline in more detail the Functionalist Perspective on the Family.