What Is Family? Definition, Features, Types, and Functions

What is Family?

An intimate and relatively permanent domestic group connected by blood, marriage, or adoption that lives together and shares social and economic responsibilities is called a family.

It is the smallest and most basic social unit and also the most important primary group found in any society. It is the most immediate group a child is exposed to. In fact, it is the most enduring group, which has a tremendous influence on an individual life from birth until death.

It is a basic social institution of social structure. Its evolution was thought to be in ancient times, while family and kinship relationships were developed through marriage. It is the most basic of all social groupings. It is the first and the most immediate social environment to which a child is exposed.

It is an outstanding primary group because it is that the child develops its basic attitude. Every one of us grows up in a house and every one of us too will be a member of a family. We join other groups for longer or shorter periods of time for the satisfaction of different interests but family is with us always.

The family, in general, is a small group consisting ordinarily of a father, mother, one or more children, and sometimes near or distant relatives.

a happy family
A Happy Family

Also Read: Social Institution – Definition, Types, Features, & Functions

Literally, the English word family is made up of ‘famulus’ which means servant. Extending this word, what we understand is that when people act as servants to each other such relationship is defined as family, each of the members in the house has distinct status and roles, under which familial tasks are performed. Reproduction, nourishment, education, and socialization process happened through the family. It is an institution of interconnection between two or more people through which social behavior, customs, and beliefs pass from generation to generation.

It is a primary social group, universally recognized to be the basis of all human endeavors and activities. Anthropologists and other social scientists have debated over its origin, functions, and other important aspects of this important social institution. It has been, however, believed that it would be impossible to conceive the progress of man without family organizations.


It has been defined by different social scientists. Some effective definitions are:

  • To Maclver, “Family is a group defined by the sexual relationship, sufficiently precise and enduring to provide for a procreation and upbringing of children.”
  • To M.F. Nimkoff, “Family is a more or less durable association of husband and wife, with or without a child, or of a man and woman alone, with children.”

Characteristics/Features of Family

  • It is a universal group: It is found in one form or another, in all types of societies whether primitive or modern.
  • Marriage as the basis: A family is based on marriage, which results in a mating relationship between two adults of the opposite sex.
  • Source of nomenclature: Every house provides an individual with a name, and hence, it is a source of nomenclature.
  • Trace of ancestry: It is the group through which descent or ancestry can be traced.
  • The primary agent of socialization: It is the most basic group as it is the primary agent of socialization of an individual.
  • Various forms: It is generally limited in size such as nuclear, even large, joint, and extended families.
  • The nucleus of all institutions: It is the most important group in society; it is the nucleus of all institutions, organizations, and groups.
  • Emotional attachment: It is based on emotions and sentiments. Mating, procreation, love, and affection are the basis of family ties.
  • Unit of cooperation: It is a unit of emotional and economic cooperation.
  • Division of labor: Each member of the house has duties and responsibilities.
  • Social roles: Each family is made up of different social roles, like those of husband, wife, mother, father, children, brothers, or sisters.

Types of Family

On the basis of Structure and Size

  • Nuclear FamilyIt is a small group consisting of a husband, a wife, and children, natural or adopted. It is more or less an autonomous unit that is not under the control of adults or elders of the house.
  • Joint FamilyIt consists of three or more generations, living together under the same roof, sharing the same kitchen, and economic expenses. It is a house consisting of three or more nuclear families living together.

On the basis of Birth

  • Family of Orientation: It is in which an individual is born in his family of orientation.
  • Family of Procreation: It is where an individual sets up after his/her marriage his/her family of procreation.

On the Basis of Marriage:

Monogamous Family: It consists of one husband and wife including children based on monogamous marriages.

Polygamous Families: It is also of two types,

  • Polygynous– It consists of one husband, more than one wife, and all the children born to all the wives or adopted by each of them. This type of family is based on polygynous marriage (polygyny).
  • Polyandrous– It consists of one wife and more than one husband, and the children, either born or adopted with each one of them. This type of family is based on polyandrous marriage (polyandry).

Also Read: What Is Marriage? Definition, Features, Functions, And Types

On the basis of Residential Patterns

  • Patrilocal– in which the married couple lives with or near the husband’s house.
  • Matrilocal– in which the married couple lives with or near the wife’s house.
  • Teo-local– in which the married couple lives apart from the parents of both spouses.

On the basis of Ancestry or Descent

  • Patrilineal – It is a family where ancestry or descent is traced through the male line, or through the father’s side.
  • Matrilineal– It is where ancestry or descent is traced through the female line, or through the mother’s side house.
  • Bilateral- tracing kinship through both males and females.

On the basis of the nature of relations

  • Conjugal Family– It is made up of adults among whom there is a sexual relationship and they may also have dependents with them. It also refers to partners, vibe have a long-term sexual relationship, but are not actually married.
  • Consanguine Family– It is made up of members among whom a blood relation exists, i.e., a family consisting of parent(s) and children, or siblings (brothers and sisters).

On the basis of Patterns of Authority

On the basis of patterns of authority, there are three types of families patriarchal, matriarchal, and egalitarian family.

  • Patriarchal – It is in which man is the head of the house and authority is vested in him.
  • Matriarchal – It is in which a woman is the head of the house and authority is vested in her.
  • Egalitarian – It is in which men and women share authority.

Functions of Family

As a social group and important social institution family performs various functions in human society. Different sociologists have viewed or classified the functions of the family into different forms but still, all of them emphasize the same aspects in a different manner. However, these different functions are described below:

Essential Functions

Maclver has divided the functions of the families into essential (primary functions) and nonessential (secondary functions) functions. Essential functions are those functions that are basic or fundamental in nature and no other institution can perform these functions as successfully as a family can.

MacIvor includes three functions; stable satisfaction of sex needs, production, and rearing of children, and a provision of the home under essential functions. But it may also perform some other functions as follows;

Stable satisfaction of Sexual needs

It is a well-known fact that sexual desire is the most important and powerful instinct and natural urge of human beings. It is the primary duty of the family to satisfy the sexual desire of its members in a stable and desirable way. Through the mechanism of marriage, it regulates the sexual behavior of its members. Because the satisfaction of sex instinct brings the desire for life lifelong partnership between husband and wife.

Procreation (reproduction) and Rearing of Children

It legitimizes the act of reproduction. It institutionalizes the process of procreation. By performing this function of procreation family contributes to the continuity of families and ultimately the human race. Not only is the production of children but also child-rearing is done by the family. It takes care of the child at the time of need.

Provision of Home

It provides an individual with a home and establishes enduring social relationships. It is only in a home that children are born and brought up under the strict vigilance of all its members. It is the home where all the members live happily with comfort, peace, and protection. A home provides emotional and psychological support to all its members.

Socialization function

Also Read: Socialization – Definition, Features, Functions, Stages, & Importance

It is one of the primary agents of socialization The primary socialization of any individual takes place within the family. The immediate house members teach all the basic norms, values, morals, and ideals of society to a child. He learns the culture and acquires character through the process of socialization. His personality develops in the course of his living in a family. It is said that man is not born human but made human. The newborn human baby becomes a human being after they are socialized.

Non-essential or Secondary Functions

Under non-essential functions, Maclver includes economic, religious, educational, health, and recreational functions. These functions are non-essential in the sense that these are also performed simultaneously by other social institutions in the family. These functions are as follows:

Economic functions

In ancient times the house was both a production and consumption unit. It fulfills the economic needs of its members. This function has undergone a transformation, with families moving from being production and consumption units in ancient times to becoming more consuming units rather than producing ones. Nowadays, members of a family no longer produce things themselves; rather, they go out and work for some monetary remuneration or wages.

Educational functions

As a primary educational institution, the family used to teach letters, knowledge, skill, and trade secret to all its members. It looks after the primary education of its members and molds their careers and character. Mothers act as the first and best teachers of a child. Besides, he learns all sorts of informal education such as discipline, obedience, manners, etc. from home.

Religious functions

All the members believe in a particular religion and observe religious ceremonies, rites, rituals, and practices at home. Children learn different religious values from their parents. It transmits religious beliefs and practices from one generation to another.

Health-related functions

It is a primary social group that performs several health-related functions for its members. It looks after the health and vigor of its members. It takes care of the sick, old-aged persons of the family. By providing necessary nutritive food to its Members it takes care of the health of all.

Recreational function

It also has a recreational function. In ancient times, the home was the only center of recreation. Gatherings during festivals, functions, family reunions, and marriages, brought entire families together. Nowadays taking family members out on holidays or for movies plays, dinners, parties, etc. performs the same function.

Cultural functions

It is an important agent of cultural transmission. Culture is transmitted from one generation to another through the house members. It preserves different cultural traits. All the aspects of culture are learned within the family structure.

Social functions

It performs a number of social functions. It teaches about social customs, mores, traditions, norms, and etiquette to the new generations. It exercises social control over its members and brings them into conformity with accepted social standards. Senior members of the house directly control the behavior of children and thereby they become good citizens.

Labor division

It is the basis of the division of labor, where all members have their duties and obligations towards each other.

1 thought on “What Is Family? Definition, Features, Types, and Functions”

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: