The family is a social institution that unites individuals into cooperative groups that oversees the bearing and rearing of children. Marriage may be one of the important rituals that are instrumental in uniting individuals. Whereas the marriage and family appear to be universal there is a global variety in this institution. Let us look at some of the basic concepts related to family and marriage and see some global diversity in each.

Family: A social group of two or more people, related by blood, marriage, or adoption who usually live together. In other words it is a group of persons directly linked by kin connections, the adult members of which assume the responsibility for caring for children.

This is a conventional definition of family. In the technologically advanced societies, today, some people object to defining only married couples and children as “families” because it implies that everyone should accept a single standard of moral conduct. More and more organizations are coming to recognize families of affinity, that is people with or without legal or blood ties who feel they belong together and wish to define themselves as a family.

Household: It consists of all people who occupy the same housing unit - a house, an apartment, or other living arrangement.

Kinship: A social bond, based on blood, marriage, or adoption that joins individuals into families. Connections between individuals established either through marriage or through lines of descent that connect blood relatives (parents, siblings, children, cousins, in-laws).

Nuclear family: Two married adults living together in a household without their children. This is also called a conjugal family.

Extended family: When close relatives other than a married couple and children live either in the same household or in a close and continuous relationship with one another. It may include grandparents, brothers and their wives, unmarried sisters, aunts, uncles, nephews, and cousins. It is also called a consanguine family.

Family of orientation: A family in which an individual grows up, usually born in it as well. This family is central to a child's socialization and orientation.

Family of procreation: Family formation by the individuals themselves. It is the family that you create through marriage or remarriage and then procreate as well. This family is formed when a couple has their first child.

Marriage Patterns

Marriage: A legally sanctioned relationship of two or more people, usually involving economic cooperation as well as normative sexual activity and child-bearing that people expect to be enduring. Marriage is the appropriate context for procreation that is how the concept of illegitimacy comes in. It is a socially approved mating arrangement - usually marked out by a ritual of some sort (wedding) indicating the couple's new public status.

Cultural norms, as well as laws, identify people as suitable or unsuitable marriage partners. Incest taboos prohibit marriage between certain close relatives. Who is a close relative may vary from society to society. For example in Kenya the marriage between first cousins is allowed but in most of the industrialized societies it has prohibited by law.

Endogamy: The practice of mate selection from the same social category. It limits marriage prospects to others of the same age, race, religion, or social class.

Exogamy: The practice that mandates marriage between different social categories. It could imply an incest taboo, which could also be transformed into written law.

Monogamy: A form of marriage joining two partners. At a time the two partners are only in “one union”. The two partners may divorce and enter into a new union at a time, which may be referred to as serial monogamy. This practice is mostly followed in technologically advanced societies.

Polygamy: A form of marriage uniting three or more people. It could take different forms of many unions. Polygamy exist in three specific forms, including

Polygyny: A form of marriage uniting one male and two or more females. Islamic nations permit men up to four wives, though they have to fulfill certain conditions.

Polyandry: A form of marriage uniting one female with two or more males. This pattern appears only rarely (often quoted example of Tibet).

Group marriage: A group of men marrying a group of women. It is an odd situation.

Residential Patterns

Just as societies regulate mate selection, so they designate where a couple resides after marriage. In pre-industrial societies, most newlyweds live with one set of parents, gaining economic assistance and economic security in the process.

Patrilocal: A residential pattern in which a married couple lives with or near the husband's family. Matrilocal: A residential pattern in which a married couple lives with or near the wife's family.

Neolocal: A residential pattern in which a married couple lives apart from the parents of both the spouses.

Patterns of Descent

Descent refers to the system by which the members of a society trace kinship over generations. Most pre-industrial societies trace kinship through only one side of the family - the father or the mother. It is also an orderly way of passing property and other rights to the next generation.

Patrilineal: A system tracing kinship through males. Children are related to one another only through their fathers and fathers typically pass their property on to their sons. It is mostly found in agrarian societies. Matrilineal: A system tracing kinship through women. Bilateral: (two sided descent) A system tracing descent through both men and women. One may come across this system in industrial societies portraying gender equality.

Patterns of Authority

Patriarchy: A system in which authority is vested in males; male control of a society or a group. This is the most prevalent system all over the world.

Matriarchy: Authority vested in females; female control of a society or group. True matriarchy rarely found in history.

Egalitarian: Authority more or less equally divided between people or groups (husband and wife). In reality patriarchy continues - typical bride takes the groom's last name; children are given the father's last name.

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