Practice Question –  Give some of the important studies relating to the structural changes in the Indian family system. [UPSC 2015]

Approach – Introduction, Explain the changes in the Indian family system, Support it with the contributions of thinkers to the study of the Indian family system, Criticism, Conclusion. 



The family is the basic unit of society. Families exist in all sizes and configurations and are essential to the health and survival of the individual members and to society as a whole. As the primary group for the individual, the family serves as a buffer between the needs of the individual and the demands and expectations of society.

Ordinarily, a family, particularly an elementary family, can be defined as a social group consisting of father, mother and their children. But in view of the variety as found in the constituents of a family, this definition in rather inadequate. Bohannan (1963), in his definition of the family, emphasised the functional as well as the structural roles of family. According to him, “a family, contains people who are linked by sexual and affinal relationships as well as those linked by descent who are linked by secondary relationships, that is, by
chains of primary relationships”.



  • A “conjugal” family includes only the husband, the wife, and unmarried children who are not of age. The most common form of this family is regularly referred to in sociology as a nuclear family.
  • A “consanguinal” family consists of a parent and his or her children, and other people.
  • A “matrifocal” family consists of a mother and her children. Generally, the children are mother’s biological offspring. The different types of families occur in a wide variety of settings, and their specific functions and meanings depend largely on their relationship to other social institutions. The term “nuclear family” is commonly used, especially in North America and Europe, to refer to conjugal families.
  • Extended Family is a Hindu Joint Family or Joint Family is an extended family arrangement prevalent among Hindus of the Indian subcontinent, consisting of many generations living under the same roof. The joint family status being the result of birth, possession of joint cord that knits the members of the family together is not property but the relationship.
  • A nuclear family is defined as a family group consisting of a father and mother and their children, all exclusively sharing living quarters.



Talcott Parsons, theoretical insights on the family have attracted widest attention and deliberation. Parsons argues that modern industrial society has led to the growth of what he calls “isolated nuclear family”. This family is structurally isolated as it does not form an integral part of the wider kinship group.

Like Functionalists, the New Right hold the view that there is only one correct or normal family type. This is the traditional or conventional nuclear family. Again like Functionalists, The New Right sees this family as ‘natural’ and based on fundamental biological differences between men and women. In their view this family is the cornerstone of society; a place of contentment, refuge and harmony.

Dozelot  said that social policy is a form of state power over families. Social workers and government officials are seen as an alternate police force on the family keeping up constant pressure.

Duncombe & Marsden asserted that women today have had to undergo changes in their personal lives, this transition is called the triple shift. Women are expected to do the housework, the emotional work and have a career of their own.

Post Modernists like Giddens argue that there is no superior family structure meaning overtime family has developed due to changes in life course, feminism and changes in confluent and romantic love.




There are innumerable published accounts demonstrating that changes have taken place in the structure of the family due to exposures to the forces of industrialisation. Nuclearization of the family is considered as the outcome of its impact. Empirical evidence sometimes does not support this position. Further, industrial establishments have their own requirements
of human groups for their efficient functioning. As a result, people are migrating to industrial areas, and various kinds of family units have been formed adding extra-ordinary variety to the overall situation.


Due to the influence of urbanisation, the joint family structure is under severe stress, and in many cases it has developed a tendency toward nuclearisation. When there is no disagreement on the authenticity of such a tendency, the traditional ideal joint family was perhaps not the exclusive type before such influence came into existence. Nevertheless, various accounts demonstrate how both nuclear and joint structures have evolved innumerable varieties due to the influence of urbanisation.


In fact, modernisation as a social-psychological attribute can be in operation independent of industrialisation and urbanisation. With the passage of time, through exposures to the forces of modernisation, family structure underwent multiple changes almost leading to an endless variety. There are instances too, where family structure has become simpler due to its impact. There are also contrary instances indicating consequent complexity in family structure.

Land Reforms

Earlier, the members of the joint family normally lived together due to common ancestral property, which was vast in size. Land reforms imposed ceiling restriction on the landholdings. In many cases, the heads of the family resorted to theoretical partition of the family by dividing the land among the sons in order to avoid the law of the land ceiling. During their life-time the sons live under his tutelage, if he was powerful; otherwise, sons gradually began to live separately during their parents life-time.

Education and Gainful Employment
Education, industrialisation and urbanisation have opened the scope for gainful employment to the villagers outside the village. Initially, a few members of the joint family move to the city for education. After successful completion of education, most of them join service or opt for other avenues of employment in the urban areas. They get married and start living with their wives and children. Gradually, such separate units become the nuclear families.


A high sense of individualism is also growing among section of the villagers. Penetration of the mass media (viz., the newspapers, the T.V., the radio), formal education, consumerist culture and market forces have helped individualism grow at a faster rate than ever. The rural people and the members of the rural joint family have started believing more in their individuality. In the past, the size of the family was relatively big. The kinship network was large and obligations were more. It was imperative that relatives were given shelter.
Today, every individual strives to improve his/her standard of living and enhance his/her status in the community outside the purview of the family and the kingroup. This is possible if the individual has lesser commitments and fewer obligations.


The function of the family is not any more natural than its concept but are changing and shifting in relation to social and economic developments. The family is the foundational institution in societies- an institution which is a site of identity, emotion, cultural expression, care, despair, reproductive labour, systemic, and systematic violence, repression, and domination in ways that other institutions are not. It is also foundational in that contestations over life and culture begin here. In India its position has been central and critical. The family performs important task which contribute to society’s basic needs and helps to perpetuate social order. Family is also described as “a group of persons directly linked by kin connections, the adult members of assume responsibility for caring for children. The world of the family looks very different than it looks fifty years ago, while the institution of
family and marriage still exist and are important to our lives, though the character has changed dramatically.

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