The family is a fundamental unit of society and plays a crucial role in the development and well-being of individuals. But what exactly is a family? And what are the different types of families that exist? In this article, we will explore the definition of family, and the various types of families, including nuclear, extended, and blended families. We will also examine how these families have evolved and how they may differ across different cultures and societies. This article will be particularly useful for students interested in understanding the role of the family in society and its impact on individual lives.

What is Family

In a human context, a family is a group of people affiliated by consanguinity, affinity, or co-ordinate. In most societies, it is the principal institution for the socialization of children. The word ‘Family’ has been taken over from the Latin word ‘Famulus,’ which means a servant. In Roman law, the word denoted a group of producers, enslaved people, and other servants and members connected by common descent or marriage. Thus, originally, the family consisted of a man and a woman with a child or children and servants. The following definitions can express the meaning of family:

Understanding What is Family and its Various Types
Understanding What is Family and its Various Types

M.F. Nimkoff says, “Family is a more or less durable association of husband and wife with or without child or a man or a woman alone, with children.”

According to Eliot and Merrill, “Family is a biological, social unit composed of husband, wife, and children.”

According to McIver and Page, “Family is a group defined by sex relationship sufficiently precise and enduring to provide for the procreation and upbringing of children.”

McIver says, “Family is the elementary school which teaches the civic virtue.”

Kingsley Devis states, “Family is a group of persons whose relations to one another are based upon kinship and who are therefore kin to another.”

Types of Family

From different types a few types of families are mentioned below:

  1. Based on marriage
  2. Based on the Number of Spouses
  3. Based on the Nature of the Residence
  4. Based on Ancestry or Descent
  5. Based on the Nature of the Authority
  6. Based on Size or Structure
  7. Based on Relationships between family members

Based on marriage

Based on marriage, a family has been classified into two major types:

  1. Endogamy: Endogamy is marriage inside a community. Based on religion, race, caste, or social class. People marry within their race, culture, or social class. This preserves cultural and social traditions and strengthens a community. It can also create social hierarchies and discrimination against outsiders who marry. Traditionally, people marry within their ethnic or religious group. In modern, diversified communities, it should be more widespread.
  2. Exogamy: Exogamy is marrying outside one’s community. Based on religion, race, caste, or social class. It means marrying beyond their ethnicity, culture, or socioeconomic class. Modern, diversified cultures are increasingly diverse and integrated due to this. It can also cause cultural and social disputes within families and communities and discrimination against people who marry outside their tribe. People marry outside their community in exogamy. Two subtypes exist.
          (a) Hypergamy: Hypergamy is marrying a higher-class person. It means a woman marries someone richer or more powerful. It’s more prevalent in traditional societies where social class and economic status affect marriage and family relations. It can help the lady and her family rise in society, but it can also reinforce gender stereotypes.
          (b) Hypogamy: Hypogamy is marrying a lower-class person. It indicates marrying a lower-class individual. It is rarer than hypergamy and can help integrate society. It can also cause family social and economic issues. It reinforces class preconceptions and social hierarchies.

Based on the Number of Spouses

Several types of families can be classified based on the type of spouse in the family unit. Some of the common types of families based on spouse include:

  1. Monogamous family: A family unit consisting of a married couple with only one spouse each.
  2. Polygynous family: A family unit in which a man has multiple wives.
  3. Polyandrous family: A family unit in which a woman has multiple husbands.

Based on the Nature of the Residence

Several types of families can be classified based on the nature of the residence:

  1. Family of Matrilocal: Matrilocal families live with the wife’s parents instead of the husband’s. “Matrilocality” families are widespread in civilizations where women have more property and resource control or a matrilineal inheritance system.
  2. Patrifocal family: Instead of the wife’s parents, a patrilocal family lives with the husband. “Patrilocality” families are widespread in patrilineal civilizations or communities where men have more influence over property and resources.
  3. Family of Changing Residence: A family of changing residency moves frequently due to job transfers, military duty, or a nomadic lifestyle. This family structure demands frequent adaptation and social networking.

Based on Ancestry or Descent

Based on ancestry or decent family can be classified into two main types:

  1. Matrilineal family: Matrilineal families trace descent, inheritance, and property rights through the mother. “Matrilineality” denotes this family. Matrilineal societies prioritize the mother’s family and give women more power over property and resources. The children belong to the mother’s family, not the father’s. Women inherit from their mothers or sisters, and men may have less say in family matters. African, Asian, and American indigenous tribes have matrilineal civilizations.
  2. Patrilineal Family: Patrilineal families trace descent, inheritance, and property rights through the father. “Patrilineality” represents this family. In patrilineal civilizations, men control property and resources, and the father’s family is the primary family unit. The children belong to the father’s family, not the mother’s. Fathers or brothers inherit, and women may have less familial power. Western societies and many others are patrilineal.

Based on the Nature of the Authority

Based on the nature of authority or degree of power, a family can be classified into two types:

  1. Matriarchal Family: In a matriarchal family, the mother, or the oldest female member, is the household leader and makes decisions. “Matriarchy” portrays this family. Women rule and provide in matriarchal communities. In some indigenous tribes in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, this family arrangement is rare.
  2. Patriarchal Family: In a patriarchal family’s father or oldest male member makes decisions and holds authority. “Patriarchy” denotes this family. Men rule and provide in patriarchal civilizations. Many cultures, including Western ones, have this family structure.

Based on Size or Structure

Based on size or structure and the depth of generations, families can be classified into three types:

  1. Nuclear family: A nuclear family is a married couple and their children living apart. Modern families often consist of parents and their children living apart from other relatives. Traditional nuclear families have autonomy, privacy, and self-sufficiency.
  2. Extended Family: An extended family is a group of relatives who reside in separate households but stay close. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relatives who reside in different households often help each other. Many cultures have this family structure, which emphasizes community and shared duties.
  3. Joint Family: Joint families are multigenerational households ruled by the oldest male member. Traditional families share living space, resources, and obligations. Some cultures still live with grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins, making it increasingly common. Community and shared duties define it.

Based on Relationships between family members

Based on the nature of relations among the family members, the family can be classified into two types:

  1. Conjugal Family: Married couples and their children live together as a conjugal family. Based on a legally recognized marriage, the nuclear family is the most frequent family structure in modern cultures. Its autonomy and seclusion make it the typical family unit. Patrilocal or matrilocal, patriarchal or matriarchal.
  2. Consanguine Family: Blood relatives—parents, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins—comprise a consanguine family. A “blood family” is founded on a biological connection. Consanguine families have deep emotional attachments, common genetic traits, and frequently a shared cultural or societal identity. They encourage and help each other whether they live together or not. Consanguine families can be separated into nuclear and extended based on generations and living situations.


1. What is the Blended Family in Sociology?

A Blended family is a family unit formed by the marriage of two individuals where at least one has children from previous relationships.