Sociologists define a family as a basic unit of society. A family, in a human context, is a group of people brought together by consanguinity, co-residence or affinity. A family forms the basic principal institution for socialization of children. One of the primary obligations of a family as a basic unit of society includes production and reproduction of persons, both biologically and / or socially. This happens through sharing of material substances, giving and receiving of care and nurture, rights and obligation ties as well as moral and sentimental ties. Over time, someone’s experience of family shifts. As a child, the family plays the role of locating the children socially, which is a vital function in impacting culture and the way of socialization. From a parental viewpoint, a family is a unit for procreation, enculturation and socialization of children.
There are usually two old types of family, nuclear family and extended family. Typically a nuclear family (also called a conjugal family) is a unit that consists of father, mother and at least one child who has not attained an age to get married. This family structure is found in almost all societies even though the period that a child remains in the family varies. Nuclear families are common in higher socioeconomic groups (Anonymous, 2002). The parents are usually employed in managerial positions, professional and administrative jobs. Such families usually relocate from their relatives in pursuit of better jobs and higher salary prospects. An extended family, also called consanguineal family, comprises of wider grouping of relatives spanning three or more generations and not necessarily living under one roof (Poole, 2005). A characteristic extended family might consist of aunts, uncles, grandparents, grandchildren, cousins, in laws among others. Research reveals that families in low socioeconomic groups are usually concerned with semiskilled or manual jobs and are less likely to go and search for jobs elsewhere. As a result, this group of individuals mainly make up extended families.
There exist rising cases of new types of family structures as people advance with modernization. One of the fastest growing new types of the family is the single parent family. This family comprises of one parent, either the father or mother with his or her children or child. In most cases, this form of the family is short lived as the parent tries to remarry or marry for the first time. Most cases of single parent families mainly comprise of the female parent. As such, the parent has the duty to work so as to feed as well as bring up the children in an acceptable manner. Statistics show that developed nations are taking a lead with single-parent families. The US, for instance, has about 20% of functional families as single parent families.
Consensual family, also called cohabiting family, is made up of the father, mother and their children living together in legally unrecognized companionship. Such family type serves any function it wants to pursue. Consensual family obligations are similar to monogamy only that it lacks a legally recognized reproductive function. Urban centres are most affected with this kind of families. Developing countries also share the same concerns for consensual families, with about 13% of urban families being of this type (Poole, 2005).
The concubine type of family has an extra female sex partner known as a household member even though she lacks complete status. Sex and reproduction are the limited functions of this family type. The blended family is a family structure made up of a husband and wife, at least one has been previously married plus one or more children from previous marriages. This family type can serve any purpose. Canada has increased cases of such marriages standing at about 18% of the total marriages.
Feminist theory was advanced with the view of illustrating and understanding the nature of gender inequality (Keel, 2013). This theory focuses on women’s social roles, their interests, experience, and feminine political participation in various areas like communication, economics, and education, among others. Much of this theory mainly looks at the analysis of gender biases and promotion of interests of women. Functionalism theory, on the other hand, views the interest of society to be more important than individual’s interest. This is a top down theory, which views that individuals are born in a society and become the products of social forces surrounding them. Social consensus, order and integration form cornerstone beliefs for functionalism thus allowing society progression as there are shared norms and values (Bryant, 2010). German philosophers Karl Max and Friedrich Engels pioneered Marxism. Marxism serves as an economic and socio-political worldview and an inquiry into the socioeconomic aspects. Marxism bases on materialistic interpretation of social development and class relations within various strata of society, as well as their interaction in terms of analysis and critique in growth of capitalism (Trainer, 2010).
In conclusion, it is clear that the family forms the fundamental unit of society. It then follows the manner in which people within a family are brought up and relate, which has a lot of influence on the overall behaviour of society. As a unit of society, a family may assume varied structures such as nuclear, extended, single parent, consensual or concubine type. Various theories have been advanced to try to illustrate how individuals relate in society. Feminism theory tries to stress on the aspect of gender inequality within society. Functionalism theory, on the other hand, tries to urge individuals to put aside their individual interests and give priority to society. Marxism theory, on the other hand, tries to provide a basis for criticism of capitalism.