A nuclear family
is a family
group consisting of only a father
and their children, who share living
quarters. This can be contrasted with an extended family
. Nuclear families can be of
any size, as long as the family can support itself and there are
only children and two parents. Nuclear families meet their
individual members’ basic needs because available resources are
divided among only a few individuals or the family would be known
as an extended family.
China, the most populous nation in the world, the nuclear
family has become the most common family arrangement.
more urban parts of India, the second
most populous nation, the number of nuclear families is overtaking
other forms of family arrangements, although unpopular among Hindu
orthodoxy who advocate a form of extended family structure called
the joint family.
States, the third most populous nation, 70% of children
live in traditional two-parent families..
Historical records indicate that it was not until the 17th and 18th
centuries that the nuclear family became prevalent in Western
Europe. With the emergence of Proto-industrialisation
capitalism, the nuclear family became a financially viable social
After the Second World War the United States experienced a renewed
interest in 'the home' and building family units. The family unit
became a symbol of security and a return to traditional gender
roles. Distinct from the wartime period in which women held jobs
conventional for men, the postwar era encouraged the notion that
men should be the primary wage earners and women should spend their
time cultivating the home and exerting their energy towards raising
At least one study suggests that the nuclear family is natural to
. A 2005 archeological dig in Elau, Germany
(analyzed by professor Wolfgang Haak of Adelaide University)
revealed genetic evidence suggesting that the 13 individuals found
in a grave were closely related. Said Haak, "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."
However, even here the 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
Usage of the term
dates the term back
, whilst the Oxford English Dictionary
reference to the term from 1924
, thus it is
relatively new, although nuclear family structures themselves date
back thousands of years. The term "nuclear" is used in its general
meaning referring to a central entity or "nucleus" around which
In its most common usage, the term "nuclear family" refers to a
household consisting of a father
, a mother
and their children
one household dwelling (siblings). George
also describes the term in this way:
- 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.
Some also use the term to describe single-parent households and
families in which the parents are a cohabiting, unmarried
Extended family compared to nuclear family
An extended family group is immediate family members living
together with extra-nuclear family members such as grandparents,
aunts and uncles, cousins, and nieces and nephews.
Changes to family formation
The popularity of the nuclear family in the West came about in the
early 20th century, prompted in part by business practices of
, such as the "8 hour day, $5
week", and later the New Deal
Franklin D. Roosevelt
. This enabled more and more
families to be economically independent, and thus to own their own
Family arrangements in the US have
become more diverse with no particular households arrangement being
prevalent enough to be identified as the average; however, 70% of
children in the US live in traditional two-parent families.
Current information from United States Census Bureau
shows that 70% of children in the US live in traditional two-parent
families, with 60% living with their biological parents, and that
"the figures suggest that the tumultuous shifts in family structure
since the late 1960s have leveled off since 1990.".
If considered separate from couples without children, single parent
families, or unmarried couples with children, in the United States
traditional nuclear families appear to constitute a minority of
households with rising prevalence of other family
Family arrangements such as blended families, binuclear families
(separated spouses marrying new spouses with children), and
single-parent families are typically referred to as postmodern
Today nuclear families with the original biological parents
constitute roughly 24.1% of households, compared to 40.3% in 1970.
Roughly 75% (or percent) 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, postmodern family
, which is meant to
describe the great variablity in family forms, including
single-parent families and child-free couples."
- Williams, Brian; Stacey C. Sawyer, Carl M. Wahlstrom (2005).
Marriages, Families & Intinamte Relationships. Boston, MA:
- Traditions and Encounters: A Brief Global History (New York:
McGraw Hill, 2008)
- Elaine Tyler May Pushing the Limits: American Women
1940-1961 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994): 54
- Balter, M. (2008) Prehistoric Family Values, ScienceNow
Daily News, Nov. 17.
- Grief, Avner (2005). "Family Structure, Institutions, and Growth: The
Origin and Implications of Western Corporatism"
- Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance (2006). "Types of marriages in the Bible, and today"
- Merriam-Webster Online. ../ "Definition of nuclear family"