Practice Question:  Distinguish between family and household with reference to the concept of development of the household. (20 Marks) (UPSC 2018)

Approach: Introduction; Give definitions for family and household, Delineate the differences between the two in context of the process of development of the household; Conclusion.



The concept, family, broadly refers to the primary group comprising husband-wife unit (parents) and their children. This definition keeps three types of ties in mind. The ties are: of marriage between the spouses, (i.e. the parents) and of siblingship between children. The two ties are connected through the genealogical one between parents and their children.

A family may be large or small depending on the prevailing principles of organisation of descent relations between the dependents of married persons. Thus, the family is based on
the principles of kinship whose members usually share a common residence. They reside in a house/homestead. This residential unit is called the household. The members of a household have a set of relational ties amongst them. These ties are linked with the statuses held and the corroborating role complexes members of the family are expected to constitute. The household (ghar) is a residential and domestic unit composed of one or more persons living under the same roof and eating food cooked in the same kitchen (hearth/chulah). It may so happen that not all the members of a family live in the same household all the time.



As research on the institution of family unfolded, the existence of various forms of family and family dynamics the necessity to distinguish between ‘family’ and ‘household’ was felt. It was realized that a family does not necessarily consist of only one household. Often family is an extension of two or more households, members of which though may have separate residence yet may belong to same family and have familial bonding and responsibilities. Thus, scholars argued that family along with being a functional unit is more of an ideological and emotional unit, whereas household may be described as more of a functional unit.

Family studies also pointed that the types of households based on the composition of family are not discrete and haphazard but are interrelated in a developmental process. This process may be in progression or in regression. Progressive development of a household takes place due to increase in membership, mainly by birth and marriage, while regressive development takes place due to decrease in membership, mainly by marriage, death and partition. Whatever be the maximum extent to which the principle goes in progression in a particular section of the society, it is important to note that the processes of progressive and regressive developments go on simultaneously in the society taken as a whole. One household may be undergoing progression, another may be undergoing regression. As a result, there are always households in the society which are small and simple in composition, along with households which are large and complex in composition.



The two kinship links between i) parent-child and ii) siblings are found to exist in reality in various permutations and combinations. In the manner of their organisation, these links enable the separation between nuclear/ elementary and joint/extended families. A nuclear family is defined as a group consisting of a man, his wife and their unmarried children. When
there are additional relatives to any of the relations in the nuclear family it turns into a joint one. Thus a joint family is a nuclear family plus all kin belonging to the side of husband and /or wife living in one homestead. The term joint and extended are used interchangeably in Sociology/Social Anthropology. Such a family is a combination of more than one nuclear family based on an extension of the parent-child relationship. By implication it may also include an expansion of the number of siblings of a certain sex and their spouses and children. When descent is traced through the male line, the extended/joint family is based on the extension between father-son relationship. On the other hand, an extension based on mother-daughter relationship forms a matrilineal extended/joint family. A horizontally extended family between brothers, their wives and children is called fraternal or collateral family.

  • While discussing the nature of nuclear family in India, Pauline Kolenda (1987) has discussed additions/modifications in nuclear family structure. She gives the following compositional categories.
    i) Nuclear family refers to a couple with or without children.
    ii) Supplemented nuclear family indicates a nuclear family plus one or more unmarried, separated, or widowed relatives of the parents, other than their unmarried children.
    iii) Subnuclear family is identified as a fragment of a former nuclear family for instance a widow/widower with her/his unmarried children or siblings (unmarried or widowed or separated or divorced) living together.
    iv) Single person household
    v) Supplemented subnuclear family refers to a group of relatives, members of a formerly complete nuclear family along with some other unmarried, divorced or widowed relative who was not a member of the nuclear family. For instance, a widow and her unmarried children may be living together with her widowed mother-in-law. In the Indian context, it is easy to find all these types of family. However, in terms of societal norms and values, these types relate to the joint family system.



The Patrilineal Family
The genealogical and siblingship links of kinship among a group of relatives in a family signals its structural formation. When the central kinship link in the organisation of a family is between father and son/s, the family is patrilineal.

The Matrilineal Family

A family composed of genealogical and sibling relations of kinship with primary focus on the mother-daughter bond and descent principle, is a matrilineal family. A matrilineal family too could be nuclear or joint and have varying household forms over its members’ life-cycle. The joint family in South India, particularly among the matrilineal Nayars, did not resemble the textual and scriptural family of the Indian liturgical texts.  Not the whole of South India is matrilineal. Unlike the village, gotra, and sapinda exogamy in North India, the south Indian family formation is influenced by cross-cousin and uncle-niece marriages.



One-parent families

One recent trend illustrating the changing nature of families is the rise in prevalence of single-parent families. n the 1960s and 1970s, the change in the economic structure of the United States –-the inability to support a nuclear family on a single wage–-had significant ramifications on family life. Women and men began delaying the age of first marriage in order to invest in their earning power before marriage by spending more time in school. The increased levels of education among women, with women now earn more than 50% of bachelor’s degrees, positioned women to survive economically without the support of a husband. By 1997, 40% of births to unmarried American women were intentional and, despite a still prominent gender gap in pay, women were able to survive as single mothers.


Cohabitation is an intimate relationship that includes a common living place and which exists without the benefit of legal, cultural, or religious sanction. It can be seen as an alternative form of marriage, in that, in practice, it is similar to marriage, but it does not receive the same formal recognition by religions, governments, or cultures. The cohabiting population, although inclusive of all ages, is mainly made up of those between the ages of 25 and 34. 

Same-sex unions

While homosexuality has existed for thousands of years among human beings, formal marriages between homosexual partners is a relatively recent phenomenon. Same sex couples, while becoming increasingly more common, still only account for about 1 percent of American households, according to 2010 Census data. About 0.5 percent of American households were same-sex couples in 2000, so this number has doubled, and it is expected to continuing increasing by the next Census data.

Child-free couples

Voluntary childlessness in women is defined as women of childbearing age who are fertile and do not intend to have children, women who have chosen sterilization, or women past childbearing age who were fertile but chose not to have children. Individuals can also be “temporarily childless” or do not currently have children but want children in the future. The availability of reliable contraception along with support provided in old age by systems other than traditional familial ones has made childlessness an option for some people in developed countries. 



The family forms the basic unit of social organization and it is difficult to imagine how human society could function without it. The family has been seen as a universal social institution an inevitable part of human society. Nimkoff says that family is a more or less durable association of husband and wife with or without child or of a man or woman alone with children. According to Maclver family is a group defined by sex relationships sufficiently precise and enduring to provide for the procreation and upbringing of children.Kingsley Davis describes family as a group of persons whose relations to one another are based upon consanguinity and who are therefore kin to one another. Malinowski opined that the family is the institution within which the cultural traditions of a society is handed over to a newer generation. This indispensable function could not be filled unless the relations to parents and children were relations reciprocally of authority and respect. According to Talcott Parsons families are factories which produce human personalities.


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