What constitutes a family varies across the globe depending on a variety of factors including subsistence practices and economic behaviors. Family defines obligations that group members have to one another, both economically and socially. Generally, family members live together, but that is not always the case.
Nuclear family: This is also known as the conjugal family or family of procreation. Nuclear families are comprised of married partners and their offspring. This is common in industrial societies, but it is not the most common type of family in the world, although the practice is spreading through modern development. Some anthropologists identify a second type of nuclear family, the non-conjugal family. In this type of nuclear family, there is one parent with dependent children. Additionally, there is the polygymous family, which is comprised of multiple spouses and dependent children (Lavenda and Schultz 2010; note that Lavenda and Schultz refer to a polygynous family, not a polygymous family, but that term does not encompass a married woman living with multiple husbands and dependent children).
Extended family: The extended family is the most common type of family in the world. Extended families include at least three generations: grandparents, married offspring, and grandchildren.
Joint family: Joint families are composed of sets of siblings, theirs spouses, and their dependent children.
Blended family: Blended families are becoming more common, especially in industrial societies like the United States. A blended family is formed when divorced or widowed parents who have children marry.
Family by Choice: A relatively newly recognized type of family, again especially in industrial countries like the United States, is the family by choice. The term was popularized by the LGBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) community to describe a family not recognized by the legal system. Family by choice can include adopted children, live-in partners, kin of each member of the household, and close friends. Increasingly family by choice is being practiced by unmarried people and families who move away from the consanguine family.
Ahern, Susan and Kent G. Bailey. 1996. Family By Choice, Creating Family in a World of Stranger. Minneapolis: Fairview Press.
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