Extended Family Essay

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The extended family consists of two or more generations of the same family residing in the same household. Members of the extended family can consist of, but are not limited to, husband and wife, their children, maternal and paternal grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The extended family is also referred to as the “consanguine family” because most of its members include those of the same bloodline.

Sociologists once believed that the extended family was the norm in preindustrial societies, an economic unit that produced and distributed goods. In addition, extended families relied on one another for economic survival, support, and services, such as care for the sick and the elderly, services that society did not yet provide.

With industrialization, family members leave home to seek work that pays wages, leading to the end of the family as an economic unit and the breakdown of the extended family. This gives rise to the nuclear family, consisting of husband and wife and their children residing in a home of their own. The nuclear family is also known as the “conjugal family” because it centers on marriage.

The assumption that the extended family thrived prior to industrialization may be a myth. Records of households in Europe and America during the 17th century show that the nuclear family was actually the most common family form of the time. The idea of the extended family as dominant may have derived from the most common living arrangements of the time, in which the nuclear family may have had servants, slaves, boarders, lodgers, or apprentices living within the same household and contributing economically to the household.

The industrial revolution may have actually promoted the extended family, as members of nuclear families left home to seek work in urban areas and sought out relatives to live with, out of economic need. In addition, some working-class families in urban areas shared living spaces in order to share living expenses.

Today variations of the traditional extended family can be seen among different racial, ethnic, and social groups throughout U.S. society. Many extended families live within the same geographical location and rely on each other to provide financial and social support, child care, and protection. In poor urban and rural areas, extended families develop in response to economic needs and to provide support for one another. Among the elite, extended families provide a sense of community and maintain the family’s wealth.

As many extended families no longer live within the same household, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Internal Revenue Service do not recognize these families as extended but rather as separate family households. As a result, there are no public programs or policies in place to support the extended family.

Although not always the dominant form of family within society, the extended family has always existed in response to economic factors. With the increase in single-parent households, the high divorce rate, stagnating wages, and the high costs of housing and child care, extended family households have been on the rise.

Bibliography:

  1. Coontz, Stephanie. 2000. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. 2nd ed. New York: Basic Books.
  2. Hansen, Karen V. 2005. Not-So-Nuclear Families: Class,
  3. Gender, and Networks of Care.New Brunswick, NJ:
  4. Rutgers University Press. Hughes, Michael and Carolyn J. Kroehler. 2005. Sociology:
  5. The Core. 7th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill. Ojeda, Auriana. 2003. The Family. Farmington Hills, MI:
  6. Ruggles, Steven. 1987. Prolonged Connections: The Rise of the Extended Family in Nineteenth Century England and America. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

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