How Do Sociological Theories Characterize Families? Kinship, family, and marriage are closely related terms of key significance for sociology and anthropology. Kinship comprises either genetic ties or ties initiated by marriage. A family is a group of kin having responsibility for the upbringing of children. Marriage is a union of two persons living together in a socially approved sexual relationship. A nuclear family is a household in which a single parent or married couple live with their children. Where kin in addition to parents and children live in the same household or are involved in close and continuous relationships, we speak of the existence of an extended family. Functionalists see society as a set of social institutions that perform specific functions to ensure continuity and stability. In contrast to functionalist approaches, symbolic interactionism emphasizes the contextual, and subjective nature of family relationships in which the behavior or identities of individual family members mutually shape one another over time. Feminist theories have challenged the vision of the family as harmonious and egalitarian, shining a light on it being a site of exploitation, loneliness, and inequality. How Have Families Changed over Time? Traditional family forms take on an air of nostalgia, but this often masks the unequal and stark reality—oppressed wives, child labor, high parent mortality rates, and so forth. In Western societies, marriage, and therefore families, are associated with monogamy (a culturally approved sexual relationship between one man and one woman). Many other cultures tolerate or encourage polygamy, in which an individual may be married to two or more spouses at the same time. Polygyny, in which a man may marry more than one wife, is far more common than polyandry, in which a woman may have more than one husband. There are many types of families in the world, but while there is a trend toward the Western norm of the nuclear family. Some reasons for this trend include the spread of the Western ideal of romantic love, the growth of urbanization and of centralized governments, and employment in organizations outside traditional family influence. What Do Marriage and Family in the United States Look like Today? There have been major changes in patterns of family life in the United States during the post–World War II period: A high percentage of women are in the paid labor force, there are rising rates of divorce and remarriage, and substantial proportions of the population are either in single-parent households or are living with stepfamilies. Family sociologists have detected considerable variations in family structure across racial and ethnic groups: The most striking differences are between the family lives of whites and Blacks; Asian American families resemble white families in many ways, and Latino and Native American family patterns are highly varied. Why Does Family Violence Happen? Family life is by no means always a picture of harmony and happiness. The “dark side” of family life is found in the patterns of abuse and family violence—child abuse, intimate partner violence—that often occur within it. Although no social class is immune to intimate partner violence, studies do indicate that it is more common among low-income couples. How Do New Family Forms Affect Your Life? Cohabitation (in which a couple lives together in a sexual relationship outside of marriage) has become increasingly common in many industrial countries, as has the acceptance of homosexual relationships. It seems certain that alternative forms of social and sexual relationships—including staying single and deciding to be child-free—to those prevalent in the past will flourish still further. Yet marriage and family remain firmly established institutions.