9 Things You Should Know About Family Structure

9 Things You Should Know About Family Structure by JOE CARTER for The Gospel Coalition

In a new article for The Atlantic, David Brooks argues that “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake.” Brooks claims, “The family structure we’ve held up as the cultural ideal for the past half century has been a catastrophe for many. It’s time to figure out better ways to live together.” The article has provoked a wide range of responses (see, for example, this symposium at the Institute for Family Studies) about the best arrangement for families.

Here are nine things you should know about family structure.

1. A family is commonly defined as the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of either two parents rearing their children, or various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family. The three primary types of family structure are nuclear families (two parents and their child or children), extended families (a family that extends beyond the nuclear family, consisting of parents like father, mother, and their children, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins, all living in the same household or in close proximity), and single-parent families (a parent or guardian who lives with a child or children and who does not have a spouse or live-in partner).

2. The term “nuclear family” originated in the 1920s, and was originally used in academic fields such as anthropology and sociology The Oxford English Dictionary claims the term was coined by Bronisław Malinowski, considered a founder of social anthropology. At the time, the word nuclear was associated more with the Latin nucleus, meaning “kernel,” than with atomic energy. Thus, when applied to the family, it refers to the core members, usually parents and children.

3. Despite a common assumption, the nuclear family wasn’t created after the Industrial Revolution. Using English parish records and other demographic sources, some historians discovered that the nuclear family was the dominant arrangement in England stretching back to the 13th century. By the time a couple was ready to wed, their own parents were often deceased, making multi-generational households a relative rarity. (Because of early childhood death, for most of human history, the average lifespan was considerably less than 50 years.)

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