Family is the smallest social group in the human societies. It is both an association and institution. In general, it consists of a man and women with a child or children. It is the most universal of all groups, associations and institutions of human society based on emotional ties. It occupies a nuclear position in the social organisation with unlimited responsibilities of its members. Its structure and functions change with time. A variation in culture, social system and social value brings variations in family types. We come across various types’ family in human society. On the basis of size and structure it may be nuclear, conjugal and extended family. On the basis of descent or ancestry it may be patrilineal, matrilined and bilineal. On the basis of authority, it may be patriarchal, matriarchal and equalitarian. On the basis of residence, it is divided as patrilocal, matrilocal, bilocal and avuncu-local.
As one of the fundamental social institutions it performs several functions to charter the needs of human beings. Sociologist like Goode, K.Davis, Ougburn and Nimkoff, MacIver and Page etc. classify the functions of family. The best categorizations of functions of family have been made by MacIver and Page. They grouped the functions of family into two broad categories i.e. essential and non-essential functions. Under essential functions they include (1) stable satisfaction of sex need (2) Reproduction (3) Protection and care of the young (4) socializing functions and (5) provision of a home. Similarly, under non-essential functions they include economic, educational, religious, and recreational and functions related to health.
With the change of time and necessity, the functions of family have undergone a sea change. The functions which were traditionally performed by the family are now being shifted to some secondary institutions because the modern family fails to give traditional protection for the aged, diseased, mentally retarded, physically handicapped etc. Family is no longer a self sufficient unit. It is more a consumer unit than a producing center. In spite of the changes in the functions of family in modern time, the family is still persisting as one of the most important institutions because the traditional functions of family have been modified than lost.
Indian family system is generally of the joint type. Along with the caste system, it constitutes the very bedrock of the Hindu society. The Joint family is large groups in which the kins of several generations live together under one roof, take food in a common kitchen, share common property and participate in common worship.
The joint family is characterised by common habitation, joint kitchen, joint property, kindred relationship, common habitation, ritual bonds, mutual obligations, rule of the head, etc.
Kin relationship among the members, the members of generations in one unit and the joint ownership of property are considered the criteria of joint ness in the present Scenario.
The joint family has got several advantages. It provides social security, broader sphere of socialization, joint responsibility, division of labour and economy in expenditure. The joint family preserves the family tradition and acts as an informal agency of social control and an antidote to distress and unemployment.
The joint family also its own disadvantages. It becomes a center of quarrel. People in a joint family become lazy and the standard of living becomes poor due to unrestricted reproduction. The condition of women worsens and the development of personality is hampered in the joint family. The practice of child marriage, lack of privacy and hindrance social mobility are some other disadvantages of the joint family.
The joint family has started disintegrating now due to several causative factors, such as the impact of the West, Industrialisation, Urabnisation, over-population and improvement, accommodation problems, developed means of transport and communication, decline of agriculture and village industries, role of new social legislation, etc.