In sociology, family and household structures are differentiated from each other on the basis of the different lifestyles, values and norms surrounding people’s relationships.
The following are examples of different household structures:(1)
- Nuclear families consist of two generations of family members (parents and children) living in the same household. Contacts with wider kin are usually infrequent.
- Extended families involve additional family members. This structure appears in three basic ways:
- Vertically extended families consist of three or more generations living in the same household.
- Horizontally extended families involve relations such as aunts, uncles, cousins and other relatives from the same generation as parents.
- Modified-extended families have wider family members that they keep in regular touch with. There are two types of modified-extended families:
- Local extended families are 2 or 3 nuclear families in separate households living close together and providing mutual help.
- Dispersed extended families have less frequent personal contacts.
- Attenuated extended families may consist of a young couple before they have children gradually separating from their original families.
- Single-parent families involve single adult and their dependent children.
- Reconstituted families result from a type of break-up of one family and its reconstitution as a unique family through remarriage or cohabitation. Also known as ‘step-family.’
- Homosexual families are usually nuclear in form but consists of adults of the same sex and their children.
- Single households consist of an adult living alone.
- Couple households consist of 2 people living without children.
Industrialisation and urbanisation are historically seen as the biggest motors for family change. Family structures changed from the predominantly extended family organization of pre-industrial society to the predominantly nuclear family organisation of industrial society.(1)
Pre-industrial extended family structure worked because they were multi-functional, kinship-based and economically productive for the time. The situation arose because of the labour intensive farm work that comes with agriculture, the limitations of moving away from family and a lack of social security and welfare systems.(1)
To accommodate the changes that came with industrialisation, the old extended families adapted to the need for geographic mobility and labour flexibility.(1)
Although sociology does not offer any predictive theory about the forms the family will take, it does highlight the role of social norms in determining categories of people suitable for forming families with.(1)