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A family is a group of persons united by the ties of marriage, blood, or adoption. More broadly it can be defined as those who have common ancestry. In normal usage the term refers to the typical nuclear family, that consists of a mother, a father, and children. An extended family includes grandparents, aunts, uncles nephew, nieces and grandchildren. A single-parent family is one in which only one parent raises the children, often less effectively than in a nuclear family.[1]

Children without families are known as orphans. They reside in orphanages, and they generally want to be adopted by loving parents.

The family group should be distinguished from a household, which may include boarders and roomers sharing a common residence.

Destroying the family "is the active social policy of liberals," says conservative author Ann Coulter. [2]


Family Values

Family values refers to a set of common beliefs held by most of those who believe that the family is the cornerstone of society. It is a phrase most often associated with American conservatives.

Family values often overlap with conservative or small town values and include:

  • Belief that parents, and not government or public schools, know what is best for their children
  • Strong emphasis on the sanctity of marriage
  • An emphasis on hard-work and strong personal character
  • An emphasis on truth and humility
  • An emphasis on personal responsibility
  • Opposition to homosexual indoctrination and propaganda
  • Opposition to Hollywood indoctrination and propaganda.
  • Pro-life (anti-abortion) beliefs
  • Belief in the importance of religion and prayer in everyday life
  • Emphasis on self-reliance, as opposed to government handouts
  • Respect for historical precedence and longstanding values including those of the Founding Fathers

Those who do not agree with these family values sometimes mock those who hold them, even going so far as to call values-holders racist, rednecks or extremist.

Nuclear Family

A nuclear family is a family comprising father, mother and children living together, but no other relatives or borders. By contrast an extended family includes other relatives living in the household.

During the past four decades, historians and historical demographers have argued that historical Northwest Europe and North America had a unique family system characterized by neolocal marriage and nuclear family structure. In other societies--such as Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa -- powerful clans, senior patriarchs, and duties to and extended kinship networks were dominant factors in shaping extended families.

For both nuclear and extended families, marriages were usually arranged by parents before the 19th century. Starting in the 19th century the nuclear family was increasingly based on romantic love, allowing young people to choose their mates with less parental control.

African American families

Nuclear family structures are much less common among African-Americans, who have typically have families that are matriarchal (controlled by the mothers and grandmothers), with a passive role for the often-absent father. Among all Americans, African-Americans are the least likely to marry, when they marry, they do so later and spend less time married than other Americans, and they are the least likely to stay married. Causal factors include structural factors such as the disparity in sex ratios between African American males and females and employment instability among African American males. Cultural factors include changing cultural trends such as marriage not being a perquisite for sex, the independence of women, the shift from familism to individualism, cohabitation as an increasing option, and the promotion of the values of materialism through popular culture. Individual factors stem from an internalization of cultural values that affects people’s perceptions of marriage and their expectations of potential mates, their willingness to commit to a relationship that can lead to marriage, and, once they marry, their willingness to sustain the marriage through the challenges it will face. Added to this is the fact that, until recent federal funding in 2006, there was little or no education to help couples sustain relationships to marriage or sustain the marriage after they are married.[3]

Single Mothers

A single mother is a woman who is bringing up her children in the absence of a father. There are several scenarios that could be considered single motherhood:

  • The woman lives alone and does not know who the father of her children is
  • The children's father has been killed, leaving the woman alone (also known as a "war widow" in the case that the father dies in military service)
  • The mother and father are separated. In this case they may or may not share custody

Single mothers often commit paternity fraud, whereby they seek paternity payments from a man who they falsely claim to be the father. Some studies and estimates put the incidence of paternity fraud as high as 10%, although there are also much lower estimates. The most likely rate is probably 5%.

A 2008 study led by Georgia State University economist Benjamin Scafidi conservatively estimated that single mothers cost the U.S. taxpayer $112 billion every year. [2]


Some radical feminists have attacked and ridiculed the nuclear family claiming it creates sharply bounded roles for women that are too narrow and powerless.

Feminist Alison Jaggar notes that "some feminists also criticized [nuclear] traditional family values because of their broader social implications. Radical feminists charged that the nuclear family promoted a norm of heterosexuality, regarded as indispensable for maintaining male dominance, whereas Marxist and socialist feminists argued that the nuclear family fulfilled a variety of vital economic functions for capitalist society."[4]

The line of attack caused a backlash among women, and is heard less often since the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1980s.

See Also


  1. Mackay, Ross (2005) "The impact of family structure and family change on child outcomes: a personal reading of the research literature" (Social Policy Journal of New Zealand)
  2. [1]
  3. Patricia Dixon, "Marriage Among African Americans: What Does the Research Reveal?" Journal of African American Studies, (March 2009), Vol. 13 Issue 1, pp 29-46,
  4. Alison M. Jaggar, ed. Living with Contradictions: Controversies in Feminist Social Ethics. (1994) p 382.

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External Links

Further reading

  • Bleser, Carol, ed. In Joy and in Sorrow: Women, Family, and Marriage in the Victorian South. (1991). 330 pp.
  • Bradbury, Bettina, ed. Canadian Family History: Selected Readings. (1992).
  • Campbell, D'Ann. Women at War with America: Private Lives in a Public Era, (1984), World War II; covers housewives, nurses, Wacs, war-workers
  • Degler, Carl. At Odds: Women and the Family in America from the Revolution to the Present (1980).
  • Demos, John. A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony (1970) influential pioneering study
  • Elder, Jr., Glen H. "History and the Family: The Discovery of Complexity." Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 43, No. 3 (Aug., 1981), pp. 489-519 in JSTOR
  • Gillis, John. For Better, For Worse: British Marriages, 1600 to the Present (1985).
  • Gordon. Michael, ed. The American Family in Social-Historical Perspective (2nd ed. 1978), essays by scholars
  • Griswold, Robert L. Fatherhood in America: A History. (1993). 382 pp.
  • Hartog, Hendrik. Man and Wife in America: A History. (2000) 408 pp. , legal history.
  • Hawes, Joseph M,. and Elizabeth I Nybakken, eds. Family and Society in American History (2001), essays by scholars excerpt and text search
  • Hareven, Tamara K. "The Home and the Family in Historical Perspective." Social Research 1991 58(1): 253-285. Issn: 0037-783x in EBSCO
  • Hareven, Tamara K. "The History of the Family and the Complexity of Social Change. American Historical Review 1991 96(1): 95-124. Issn: 0002-8762 in Jstor
  • Hunter, Jean E. and Mason, Paul T., eds. The American Family: Historical Perspectives. (1991). 211 pp.
  • Laslett, Peter and Wall, Richard, eds. Household and Family in Past Time. (1972).
  • Mintz, Steven, and Susan Kellogg. Domestic Revolutions: A Social History of American Family Life (1988), 316pp; the standard scholarly history excerpt and text search
  • Riley, Glenda. Building and Breaking Families in the American West. (1996). 204 pp.
  • Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 (1977).
  • Sussman, Marvin B. "The Isolated Nuclear Family: Fact or Fiction," Social Problems, Vol. 6, No. 4 (Spring, 1959), pp. 333-340 in JSTOR, good starting point for 1950s
  • Watts, Jim and Davis, Allen F. Generations: Your Family in Modern American History. (1974). 210 pp.
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