Family, Definitions and Universality

  • Created by: Wild.Ivy
  • Created on: 02-10-19 14:59

Murdock (1949)  

  • Functionalists see a traditional family structure as essential for the maintenance of a stable society.  

  • This is reflected in Murdock’s definitions -  
    “The family is a social group characterised by common residence, economic cooperation and reproduction. It includes 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 co-habiting adults.” 

Other Definitions  

  • Giddens (1993) - “a family is a group of persons directly linked by kin connections, the adult members of which assume responsibility for caring for children.”  

  • Jorgenson (1996) suggests that the ‘family’ is no longer a useful term, it does not reflect the reality of our lives. He suggests ‘households’ as an alternative.  

  • Scanzoni et al (1989) argue that we should stop using the term family and replace it with a concept such as primary relationships (close, long-lasting and special ties between people).  


  • Murdock (1949) found a variety of family forms in his sample of 250 societies (ranging from hunting and gathering bands to small-scale farming societies to large-scale industrial societies). However, he concluded that each family form contained a basic nucleus – the nuclear family.  

  • There may be extensions to this e.g. horizontally extended, vertically extended, polygamy, but he argued that the nuclear family was universal.  

  • We can examine cross-cultural evidence which demonstrates that the basic nucleus of husband, wife and children does not exist in all societies.  


Evidence against Murdock  

  • Matrifocal/matriarchal family – households


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