A nuclear family, elementary family or conjugal family is a family group consisting of two parents and their children (one or more). It is in contrast to a single-parent family, to the larger extended family, and to a family with more than two parents. Nuclear families typically center on a married couple; the nuclear family may have any number of children. There are differences in definition among observers; some definitions allow only biological children that are full-blood siblings, but others allow for a stepparent and any mix of dependent children including stepchildren and adopted children.
Family structures of a married couple and their children were present in Western Europe and New England in the 17th century, influenced by church and theocratic governments. With the emergence of proto-industrialization and early capitalism, the nuclear family became a financially viable social unit. The term nuclear family first appeared in the early twentieth century. Alternative definitions have evolved to include family units headed by same-sex parents and perhaps additional adult relatives who take on a cohabiting parental role; in the latter case, it also receives the name of conjugal family.
The concept that narrowly defines a nuclear family is; central to stability in modern society that has been promoted by familialists who are social conservatives in the United States, and has been challenged as historically and sociologically inadequate to describe the complexity of actual family relations. In "Freudian Theories of Identification and Their Derivatives" Urie Bronfenbrenner states, "Very little is known about the extent variation in the behavior of fathers and mothers towards sons and daughters, and even less about the possible effects on such differential treatment." Little is known about how parental behavior and identification processes work, and how children interpret sex role learning. In his theory he uses "identification" with the father in the sense that the son will follow the sex role provided by his father and then for the father to be able identify the difference of the "cross sex" parent for his daughter.
Historians Alan Macfarlane and Peter Laslett postulated that nuclear families have been a primary arrangement in England since the 13th century. This primary arrangement was different than the normal arrangements in Southern Europe, in parts of Asia, and the Middle East where it was common for young adults to remain in or marry into the family home. In England multi-generational households were uncommon because young adults would save enough money to move out, into their own household once they married. Sociologist Brigitte Berger argued, "the young nuclear family had to be flexible and mobile as it searched for opportunity and property. Forced to rely on their own ingenuity, its members also needed to plan for the future and develop bourgeois habits of work and saving." Berge also mentions that this could be one of the reasons why the Industrial Revolution began in England and other Northwest European countries. However, the historicity of the nuclear family in England has been challenged by Cord Oestmann.
As a fertility factor, single nuclear family households generally have a higher number of children than co-operative living arrangements according to studies from both the Western world and India.
There have been studies done that shows a difference in the number of children wanted per household according to where they live. Families that live in rural areas wanted to have more kids than families in urban areas. A study done in Japan between October 2011 and February 2012 further researched the effect of area of residence on mean desired number of children. Researchers of the study came to the conclusion that the women living in rural areas with larger families were more likely to want more children, compared to women that lived in urban areas in Japan.
Usage of the term
Merriam-Webster dates the term back to 1947, while the Oxford English Dictionary has a reference to the term from 1925; thus it is relatively new.
In its most common usage, the term nuclear family refers to a household consisting of a father, a mother and their children all in one household dwelling.George Murdock, an observer of families, offered an early description:
The family is a social group characterized by common residence, economic cooperation and reproduction. It contains adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, and one or more children, own or adopted, of the sexually cohabiting adults.
Many individuals are part of two nuclear families in their lives: the family of origin in which they are offspring, and the family of procreation in which they are a parent.
While the phrase dates approximately from the Atomic Age, the term "nuclear" is not used here in the context of nuclear warfare or nuclear power, but instead originates in the same way as nuclear fission, from the noun nucleus, itself originating in the Latinnux, meaning "nut", i.e. the core of something – thus, the nuclear family refers to all members of the family being part of the same core rather than directly to atomic weapons.
Compared with extended family
Main article: Extended family
An extended family group consists of non-nuclear (or "non-immediate") family members considered together with nuclear (or "immediate") family members.
Changes to family formation
In 2005, information from the United States Census Bureau showed that 70% of children in the US live in traditional two-parent families, with 66% of those living with parents who were married, and 60% living with their biological parents. The information also explained that "the figures suggest that the tumultuous shifts in family structure since the late 1960s have leveled off since 1990".
When considered separately from couples without children, single-parent families, and unmarried couples with children, the United States traditional nuclear families appear to constitute a minority of households – with a rising prevalence of other family arrangements. In 2000, nuclear families with the original biological parents constituted roughly 24.10% of American households, compared with 40.30% in 1970. Roughly two-thirds of all children in the United States will spend at least some time in a single-parent household. According to some sociologists, "[The nuclear family] no longer seems adequate to cover the wide diversity of household arrangements we see today." (Edwards 1991; Stacey 1996). A new term has been introduced[by whom?], postmodern family, intended to describe the great variability in family forms, including single-parent families and couples without children." Traditional nuclear family households are now less common compared to household with couples without children, single-parent families, and unmarried couples with children.
In the UK, the number of nuclear families fell from 39.0% of all households in 1968 to 28.0% in 1992. The decrease accompanied an equivalent increase in the number of single-parent households and in the number of adults living alone.
According to some sociologists, "[The nuclear family] no longer seems adequate to cover the wide diversity of household arrangements we see today." (Edwards 1991; Stacey 1996). A new term has been introduced[by whom?], postmodern family, intended to describe the great variability in family forms, including single-parent families and couples without children."
Professor Wolfgang Haak of Adelaide University, detects traces of the nuclear family in prehistoric Central Europe. A 2005 archeological dig in Elau in Germany, analyzed by Haak, revealed genetic evidence suggesting that the 13 individuals found in a grave were closely related. Haak said, "By establishing the genetic links between the two adults and two children buried together in one grave, we have established the presence of the classic nuclear family in a prehistoric context in Central Europe.... Their unity in death suggest[s] a unity in life." This paper does not regard the nuclear family as "natural" or as the only model for human family life. "This does not establish the elemental family to be a universal model or the most ancient institution of human communities. For example, polygamous unions are prevalent in ethnographic data and models of household communities have apparently been involving a high degree of complexity from their origins." In this study evidence suggests that the nuclear family was embedded with an extended family. The remains of three children (probably siblings based on DNA evidence) were found buried with a woman who was not their mother but may have been an "aunt or a step-mother".
North American conservatism
Main article: Familialism
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it.(June 2013)
For social conservatism in the United States and Canada, the idea that the nuclear family is traditional is an important aspect, where family is seen as the primary unit of society. These movements oppose alternative family forms and social institutions that are seen by them to undermine parental authority.
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- ^"Strictly, a nuclear or elementary or conjugal family consists merely of parents and children, though it often includes one or two other relatives as well, for example, a widowed parent or unmarried sibling of one or other spouse."
Sloan Work and Family Research Network, citing Parkin, R. (1997). Kinship: An introduction to basic concepts. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Retrieved April 18, 2012.
- ^Johnson, Miriam M. (1 January 1963). "Sex Role Learning in the Nuclear Family". Child Development. 34 (2): 319–333. doi:10.2307/1126730. JSTOR 1126730.
- ^"The Real Roots of the Nuclear Family". Institute for Family Studies. Retrieved 2017-03-28.
- ^Cord Oestmann (1994). Lordship and Community: The Lestrange Family and the Village of Hunstanton, Norfolk, in the First Half of the Sixteenth Century. Boydell Press. pp. 53–. ISBN 978-0-85115-351-3.
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- ^Matsumoto, Yasuyo; Yamabe, Shingo (2013-01-30). "Family size preference and factors affecting the fertility rate in Hyogo, Japan". Reproductive Health. 10: 6. doi:10.1186/1742-4755-10-6. ISSN 1742-4755. PMC 3563619. PMID 23363875.
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Nuclear families, which include a mother, father and children living in the household, are what many consider 'typical.' However, as the social landscape changes, so do ideas and perceptions of different family types. Every family structure has advantages and disadvantages.
Approximately 68 percent of children live in a nuclear family unit, according to 2016 U.S. Census data. In general, people view this family structure as an ideal arrangement to raise a family. Two married parents and their children living together provides a favorable image for many reasons.
Strength and Stability
Children born into a marriage tend to have more stability than children born into cohabitation. Pew Research Center found that 20 percent of kids born to married parents experience divorce, while nearly 50 percent of kids in cohabiting families experience divorce. Both of these groups of children have a better chance to one day live with a married couple than kids born to single moms. Committed spouses or partners model a loving, caring, and supportive relationship for their children. This translates into future success when children learn how to seek positive relationships and interact well with others. Children see partners work together to solve problems, delegate household responsibilities, and support one another through positive and negative issues.
Financial Stability Equals More Opportunity
Many nuclear families have enough economic stability to provide children with luxuries, opportunities, and a safe environment. Pew Research Center notes 57 percent of households with married parents were well above the poverty line while only 21 percent of single-parent households were. Children in nuclear families may be able to attend dance, gymnastics, music or other types of classes, especially when both partners work outside the home. Children with these opportunities are more likely to be successful academically and socially.
Consistency Means Behavior Successes
The successful nuclear family provides children with consistency in caretaking. Children who have both stability and consistency in their lives are more likely to exhibit positive behavior, earn good grades in school and become more involved in community and extracurricular activities. The nuclear family may eat dinner together regularly basis, go to church, and take family vacations which strengthens relationships and builds a solid foundation for future life goals.
Children born to parents with college degrees are more likely to attend and complete college themselves. An analysis by the Council on Contemporary Families indicates educated parents are less likely to divorce and have more resources to provide for children. Pew Research Center adds that parents with degrees are more likely to be in the labor force, which increases family income level in educated, nuclear families. The placement of value on education combined with a higher income level improves the academic future of children.
Overall, research suggests children in families with married, biological parents have better social, emotional and physical health than other children. One reason for this is because married parents are less likely to abuse children. Nuclear families are also more likely to use emergency rooms and have the means to provide good healthcare for children. The emotional strain on children living in a non-violent household with two parents is significantly less than children living with one parent or other caregivers.
Communication between family members in a nuclear household features fewer obstacles and distractions. With technological advances, these families increase communication from outside the home. According to an analysis by Pew Internet & American Life Project, nuclear families are the most likely of all family types to use internet and cell phones. This allows parents to better monitor child internet use and participate in online activities with children. Kids with cell phones have the means to keep in contact with parents about schedule changes and emergencies.
Every type of family experiences problems and emergencies throughout life. The nuclear family format is not always a viable option for several reasons.
Extended Family Exclusion
The nuclear family unit provides a strong bonding experience for immediate family members. The smaller family size allows individualized attention towards partners and children which creates lifelong bonds. However, one analysis published at Preserve Articles points out that the nuclear family unit can isolate people from other relatives and relationships. This breakdown of the extended family unit, won't be beneficial in hard times. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins have a place within a family structure, but the nuclear family doesn't always foster these relationships.
Acts International suggests family members, particularly mothers, have a tendency to burn out from attempts to meet every person's needs. The focus on children can be overwhelming and leave little room for parents to take care of themselves. Without help from extended family, parents may need to take off work to care for sick children. The struggle to balance the demands of work, family and friendships without outside assistance leads to stress, depression, anxiety or other problems.
Conflict Resolution Skills
While less conflict and family stress is an advantage of the nuclear family, it also puts the family at a disadvantage. Conflict is a part of life, and conflict resolution skills are beneficial in school, the community and the workplace. Nuclear families can develop like-minded thinking, leading to fewer arguments within the family unit. However, it can increase the disagreements with extended family members. Extended family with differing opinions and ideas can help families see alternate viewpoints and learn to deal with outside opinion and conflicts.
Small Support System
Emergency situations, such as an accident or even a time of illness, can leave small nuclear families in crisis. The Preserve Articles analysis points out how extended family structures offer built-in help for these scenarios. In a nuclear family where both parents work and have young children, the ability to meet all expectations and needs solely within the family unit is not always feasible. Multi-generational households offer assistance as needed.
The emphasis on the nuclear family as best practice exacerbates stereotypes of single mothers, family structures based on religion, and cultural family structures around the world. The International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family suggests nuclear families are not as historically prevalent as originally believed. The symbolism this idea represents is an ideal for all to seek while those in other scenarios earn criticism. This normalized ideal influences public policy and government programs, which can exclude different family types.
According to the Concordia University - St. Paul, the traditional nuclear family is child-centered. This means the focus is on the immediate family, children in particular, for all facets of life. The family unit strives to meet its own needs and places secondary emphasis on others. This viewpoint can lead children to selfish tendencies and thinking. It can also create a narrow worldview where the greater good of society gets little consideration.
Preferred Family Structure
The nuclear family is preferred by many to raise children, although the incidence of single parent, divorced and multigenerational households are on the rise. The choice to raise a family by the nuclear model does not guarantee success or happiness but can provide a basis for obtaining those ideals. Awareness of the possible advantages and disadvantages allows a big-picture view of this family structure. No family is perfect, but when you work together with family members, you ensure the best possible outcomes for everyone involved.