As stated earlier, the family is the most permanent and pervasive of all social institutions. There is no human society without any family system. All the societies’ large and small, primitive and civilised, ancient and modern have institutionalised the process of procreation of the species and the rearing of the young.
The same type of family is not found everywhere. There are several types of family. In the west nuclear family is found. This comprises the husband and wife together with their children. In Indian villages and in small towns the extended or joint family is found. This has people in it of two to three or more generations under the same roof.
Social Functions of the Family:
The reasons for the endurance and universality of the family are largely grounded in the functions that it performs for individuals and for society.
(i) Member replacement and physical maintenance. In order to survive, every society must replace members who die and keep the survivors alive. The regulations of reproduction are centered in the family as are cooking and eating and caring of the sick.
Once children are born, they will nurture and protected within the family. It is the family that feeds clothes and shelters them.
(ii) Regulation of sexual behaviour. Each and every member’s sexual behaviour is influenced some extent by what is learned in the family setting. The sexual attitudes and patterns of behaviours learn in the family reflect societal norms and regulate our sexual behaviour.
The sociological notion sexual regulation should not be confused with repression. The norms, on the other hand, specify and (what conditions and with what partners sexual needs may be satisfied.
(iii) Socialisation of children. The family carries out the serious responsibility of socializing each child. Children are taught largely by their families to conform to socially approved patterns behaviour if the family serves society as an instrument for the transmission of culture, it serves individual as an instrument of socialisation.
A family prepares its children for participation in the large world and acquaints them with the larger culture.
(iv) Status transmission. Individual’s social identity is fixed by family membership – by being born to parents of a given status and characteristics. Children taken on the socio-economic class standing of their parents and the culture of the class into which they are born, including its values, behaviour patterns and definitions of reality.
In addition to internalizing family attitudes and beliefs, children are treated and defined by others as extensions of the social identity of their parents. In other words family is a vehicle of culture transmission from generation to generation.
(v) Economic activity. Until recent times, the family was an important unit of both production and consumption. The family produced most of the goods it consumed and consumed most of the goods it produced. But today, modern families mainly earn incomes.
Thus, their principal function is that of- consumption of goods and services which they purchase. Because of the production of income the provision of economic support for family members is a major function of the modern family.
(vi) Social emotional support. The family as a primary group is an important source of affection, love and social interaction.
Caring for family members does not end with infancy and childhood. It is seemingly the nature of human beings to establish social interdependence, not only to meet physical needs, but also to gratify psychological needs for response and affection as well.
(vii) Inter-institutional linkage. Each baby is a potential participant in the group life of the society. Family membership in religious, political, economic, recreational and other kinds of organisations typically gives individuals an opportunity to participate in activities that might otherwise be closed to them.
The family, then, not only prepares the individual to fill social roles and occupy a status in the community, but also provides the opportunities for such activity. Some institutions depend also on the way the family functions in this regard to insure their own continuity and survival.