Family Structure Variations in the United States

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  • 0:03 The Traditional Family
  • 1:05 Single-Parent Families
  • 1:32 Step & Extended Families
  • 2:25 Same-Sex Families
  • 3:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk

Jason has a masters of education in educational psychology and a BA in history and a BA in philosophy. He's taught high school and middle school

The following lesson will cover the different types of family structures that occur in the United States in addition to the traditional nuclear family structure. A short quiz will follow the lesson to check your understanding.

The Traditional Family

If I were to ask you to define the word 'home,' you may be inclined to answer with 'the place where someone and their family live.' You also probably realize that people can live in any number of places. We might think of a house as the most typical type of home, but it's certainly not the only type of home. There are apartments, condos, dormitories, and even houseboats! If you didn't live in a house but instead lived in another type of dwelling, we would still say you had a home.

The same goes for families that live inside those homes. When we think of the word 'family,' we may think of the 'traditional' type of family that consists of a mother, father, and their children, or what is also referred to as a nuclear family. However, just as there are many different types of homes in which a family can live, the same is true for the structures of those families. Some of the more common variations in traditional family structure include single-parent families, step families, extended families, and same-sex families.

Single-Parent Families

The idea of everyone having both a mother and father to raise them is beginning to decline as the number of single-parent households are on the rise. We refer to someone being a single parent as someone who cares for one or more children without the assistance of the other biological parent. In those homes where children are being raised by a single parent, the majority of children live with their biological mothers as opposed to their fathers.

Step & Extended Families

There are also some additional variations to a family structure that may not have the benefit of two biological parents raising a child. There are many families that have been formed where one or both spouses have been previously married and who may have children from a previous marriage. We call this type of family a step family. Step families, in particular, can face complex issues that a nuclear family may not have to face, like child support, visitation rights, and holiday issues.

There are also some family structures where children aren't raised by either biological parent. These children may live with grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins. When a family is structured with people other than a biological mother and father, we call this an extended family structure. Oftentimes, children may have to rely on other relatives to raise them because of issues such as parental drug use, incarceration, or abandonment.

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