The characteristics of the family may be considered from the general point of view and specific point of view, From the general point of view the characteristics of the family are as follows :-
1) A mating relationship:
A mating relationship is the precondition to establish the family, without it family cannot be formed. The mating relationship or marital relationship may be permanent or temporary, it is immaterial but family cannot be thought of without it.
2) A form of marriage:
Marriage is the base of family. Marriage may be monogamous or polygamous or polyandrous and in any form. It is the social institution which helps to establish mating relationship and thereby family is formed.
3) A system of nomenclature and reckoning descent:
Each family is identified by a distinct nomenclature of its own. The members of the family are known by the nomenclature or by a distinctive name. The system of nomenclature involves a mode of reckoning descent. In different societies the descent is traced differently. In matrilineal society it is traced from mother and in patrilineal society it is from father. In some societies it may be traced from both father and mother.
4) An Economic Provision:
Every family has an economic provision to satisfy the economic needs of its members. All the members of the family more or less share with each other. Usually, it is the look out of the head of the family who tries to make all possible arrangement to provide economic comfort to his family members.
5) A common habitation:
Each family has a common home in which all the members can live together. A living or dwelling place is necessary to bear child and care child. Otherwise, child bearing and child rearing cannot be adequately performed in its absence.
Besides the general characteristics, a family possesses the following distinctive features which distinguish it from all other groups or association.
Family is the most universal of all the groups, associations and institutions in the human society. It has existed in every society ancient, medieval and modern and is found in all parts of the world. Even the animal society is not free from it. In this connection, MacIver has rightly pointed out that, “It is found in all societies, at all stages of social development, and exists far below the human level among a myriad species of animals. Almost every human being is or has been a member of some family”.
7) Emotional basis:
Family is based on emotional ties. All the members of the family are emotionally interwoven with one another. The emotions and sentiments of love, affection, sympathy, cooperation, friendship etc. find their expressions in the family particularly in mating, procreation and parental care.
8) Formative influence:
Each family has distinctive customs, traditions, mores, norms and culture. This family culture has a great influence on its members. All the members of the family are bound to observe the family rules and regulations. Family also teaches the social qualities like obedience, tolerance, sympathy, love, affection, and sacrifice. Above all, the family socializes the child, which helps in the development of human personality. Thus, family exercises most profound influence on its members.
9) Limited size:
Family is a primary group; as such its size is quite limited. Generally, family includes only those persons who are born in it and are closely related by blood relationship and adoption. In this way it includes father, mother and their children, so its size is small. Although there are groups smaller than family, but they are not so because of the biological conditions. Hence, biological conditions demand that the family should be limited in size.
10) Nuclear Position:
Family occupies a nuclear position in the social organisation. Different parts of the social organisation find its origin from the family. It is the center of all human activities. The social structure is built around it.
11) Responsibilities of the members:
In the family each members has unlimited responsibility. In other words, they have a deep sense of obligation to the family as a whole. They share the pleasure and pain, burdens and difficulties together and discharge their duties and responsibilities with a united spirit. MacIver has rightly pointed out that, ‘In times of crisis men may work and fight and die for the country, but they toil for their families all their lives”. In fact the members of a family have unlimited responsibilities and they make sacrifices for their families throughout their lives.
12) Social regulations:
Every family has its own customs, traditions rules and regulations. As an important agent of socialization the family teaches the norms and family culture to its members. The members are socialized in such a manner that they never dare to violate the family rules and regulations. That is why it is said that it is easy to establish a family but it is difficult to break or dissolve it.
13) Permanent and Temporary in Nature:
Family is both an institution and an association. As an institution family is permanent. In the family after marriage some members say son or daughter may leave the family of origin, with this the family never totally dissolves rather it continues to exist in some form or other as an institution On the other hand, as an association it is temporary. It is because family is the most changeable of all important organisaions. The family undergoes variations in its structures and functions from time to time.