The official definition of family, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, is “two or more persons, including the householder, who are related by birth, marriage, or adoption, and who live together as one household” (Newman, 244). Although this is the official definition of family, it is actually quite difficult to determine because of the various types of families that make up our society. Every individual, no matter what cultural background they come from, has their own perception of what a family is. The definition of a family is constantly changing, due to the rapidly changing times.
Traditionally, there are two types of family structure, but more recently, a third has been added. These include the nuclear family, extended family, and the newest category, alternative lifestyles. A nuclear family is based on marriage, and usually consists of parents and their children. The extended family is based on blood ties. It is two or more adult generations from the same family sharing a common household and economic resources. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins can be included in the extended family. The third and final type, alternative lifestyles, consists of various situations. It includes the single population, which has significantly increased over the past couple of decades because more women are getting a higher education and going into the workplace. Single-parent families, also included in this category, are on the increase due to high divorce rates and births outside of marriage. Cohabitating couples, which are unmarried couples living together, and homosexual couples are the last sector of alternative lifestyles. These lifestyles are becoming more visible and more accepted as times move on, contributing to the changing definition of what a family is, which justifies why the definition of the family is so ambiguous and without boundaries.
There are many factors influencing the way a family is viewed, including longer life spans, increasing divorce rates, and remarriages. Alternative lifestyles are not the only factors affecting our definition of family. Because of increasing life spans, Americans have more grandparents alive today than in previous generations, making family bonds farther reaching. They may not live together, but are there for advice, emotional support, and to help out in times of financial difficulty. The idea of divorce, though being around for centuries, has not always been practiced because of strong religious beliefs and financial reasons. More recently, however, the current divorce rate is rising, causing discrepancy in the family definition. This contributes to the growing number of single-parent families and such. Divorce often leads to remarriage, as four out of five divorced couples remarry. This causes the blending of families who are not related by blood.
Our project was to determine how people of different gender, religion, race, and age define family. We had to examine the differences in their definitions and try to find the causes for the discrepancies. In order to gather this information, we created surveys and had people from these demographic categories fill them out. The people surveyed consisted of approximately fifty individuals. The questions we asked them were how many siblings they had, where they lived, how often they saw their grandparents, who specifically lived in the household with them, and their definition of a family. After all the surveys were returned, we read over their responses looking for trends amongst the demographic categories. We grouped the similarities into categories to determine the reasons behind the trends.
We found many distinctions amongst the various demographic categories in our results. In the category of gender, we found women to focus more on the emotional aspect of the family. For example, one woman defined the family as “a group of people who unconditionally love and support each other.” They also found family to be more of a burden to them because they have the primary responsibility as the caretaker of the household. This contrasts with the way that males view the family. Men tend to focus more on blood relations, rather than the emotional aspects. A sample definition from a male was “a group of people related by blood who are obligated to support each other financially.” Men also have the luxury of being cared for by their wife, therefore, deriving more satisfaction from the family institution than females.
Looked at sociologically, these differences are the main result