87: Family

A Thousand Things to Talk About
A Thousand Things to Talk About
87: Family


How do you define family?

Show notes and links:
The History of the Family and the Complexity of Social Change (The American Historical Review)
A ‘Normal’ Family (New York Times)
How Do We Define a Family? (Sociological Images)
History of the family (Wikipedia)
History of the Wife (Amazon)

Full episode text

It’s something that many newlyweds – or long-established couples – are used to hearing. “So, when are you going to start a family?”

And I can practically hear some of you grinding your teeth at that question.

It’s a thinly veiled question that really means, “So, when are you going to procreate?” – an allusion to the fact that, as author Marilyn Yalom outlines in her excellent book “A History of the Wife”, marriage in the middle ages was considered a religious and social duty intended for the creation of children and the commingling of property.

Yet family has grown to mean much, much more than those that you share genetic or legal bonds to. An entire branch of social and historical interdisciplinary study called “history of the family” examines the evolution of kinship groups. And quoting from Wikipedia, family systems are flexible, culturally diverse, and adaptive.

Which explains part of why the definition “accepted” by society seems to be constantly changing – and yet may also be the very power of that definition.

In the United States, 10 years ago, the “husband and wife with kids” definition was held as the “gold standard” – something that everyone could agree probably constituted a family. Yet even then, overwhelming majorities also considered unmarried couples, those without children, and single parents as “families.”

And for quite a while, that gold standard of nuclear family just has not been the statistical norm. What we all consider family is much more flexible and diverse than that which statisticians may call a family.