Complete information on family, its characteristics and features



Family is the important social institution of society. The word 'Family' has been taken over from Latin word 'Famulus' which means the servant. Thus originally family consisted of a man and woman with a child or children and servants.

According to Burgess and Locke, "Family is a group of persons united by ties of marriage, blood, or adoption, constituting a single household, interacting and inter-communicating with each other in their respective social roles of husband and wife, father and mother, son and daughter, brother and sister, and creating a common culture."

General characteristics of family:

(1) A mating relationship

A family comes into existence when a man and woman establish mating relation between them.

(2) Selection of mates

Wife or husband may be selected by parents or by the elders or the choice may be left to the wishes of the individual concerns. Various rules govern this selection.

(3) A form of marriage

A mating relationship is established through the institution of marriage. Marriage is an institutional arrangement made by society according to which the individuals establish marital relationships among themselves. Marriage may assume any one of the forms - monogamy, polygyny, polyandry or group marriage.

(4) A system of nomenclature

Every family is known or recognized by a distinctive name.

(5) A way of tracing the descent

Every family has its own mode of tracing the descent. Descent refers to the social recognition of biological relationship between individuals. Descent may be traced through the male line or through the female line or through the both lines.

(6) A common residence

Family requires a home or a household to live in. After the marriage the wife may reside in husband's parental home or she may stay in her parental home to which the husband pays occasional visits or both of them may establish a separate home of their own.

(7) An economic provision-

Family provides for the satisfaction of the economic needs of its members.

Distinctive features of the family:

The family, unlike other institutions, enjoys a unique position in society. Its distinctive features may be noted here.

(1) Universality

Family is a universal social institution. There is no human society in which some form of the family does not appear nor has there ever been such a society.

(2) Emotional basis

The family is grounded in emotions and sentiments. It is based on our impulses of mating, procreation, maternal devotion, fraternal love and paternal care. It is built upon sentiments of love, affection, sympathy, co-operation and friendship.

(3) Limited size

The family is smaller in size. As a primary group its size is necessarily limited. It seems to be the smallest social unit. The biological conditions have also contributed to its small size.

(4) Formative influence

The family is the earliest social environment which surrounds trains and educates the child. It shapes the personality and moulds the character of its members. It emotionally conditions the child. It is the 'nursery of human nature' and the breeding ground of our mores and the nurse of our loyalties.

(5) Nuclear position in the social structure

The family is the nucleus of all other social organizations. The whole social structure is built of family units. It influences the whole life of society.

(6) Responsibility of the members

The member of the family has certain responsibilities, duties and obligations. The smooth running of family depends on how best the members discharge their responsibilities in co-ordination with the other individuals of the family. As Maclver points out, "In times of crisis men may work and fight and die for their country, but they toil for their families all their lives."

(7) Social regulation

The family is peculiarly guarded both by social taboos and by legal regulations. The society takes precaution of safeguard this organization from any possible breakdown, by divorce, desertion or separation.

(8) The permanent and temporary nature of the family

The family as an institution is permanent. Since it is based on the organic and emotional nature of man, it continues to exist. But family as an association may be temporary in character. These characteristics indeed reveal the sociological significance of the family.