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What is Family? - Definition, Characteristics & Types

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  • 0:00 All In the Family
  • 0:56 Characteristics & Function
  • 2:46 Types of Families
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Family is something that influences each and every one of us. So, it's pretty important. Explore the definition and characteristics of family and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

All in the Family

Families. Can't live with 'em… yeah, I'll just leave it at that. Families can be difficult, they can be comforting, they can be frustrating, they can be wonderful. Love 'em or hate 'em, families are one of the biggest influences on our lives. So much of our personalities, our emotions, our dreams, our fears, all come from our families.

So, with something so important, naturally, social scientists need to define it. A family, by definition, is a group of people affiliated by a specific relationship. Basically, the family is the most fundamental unit of social organization that with which we most intimately identify. Your family influences your personal, emotional, intellectual, and social development, so if you really need to know who you are, look no further. It really is all in the family.

Characteristics & Function

So, the family is a group of people who share a very personal level of relationship. But there a few different ways that you can define these relationships and families generally contain a few different ones.

The consanguinity relationship means related by birth. So, siblings have a consanguinity relationship with their parents. But your parents are not biologically related to each other. At least, I'd hope not. But they're still considered family and that is a relationship by affinity, or marriage. Finally, there is the relationship by co-residence, which means living together. This last relationship illustrates one of the notable aspects of family; in almost all societies, families are defined by living together, sharing a same space.

So, we all have families, but why? What is the function of the family? Traditionally, the family is the primary way that we raise children. Your family introduces you to cultural norms, social behavior, education, group interactions, morals, and pretty much everything else you can think of. Your family also enforces cultural and social rules and morals by teaching you that your actions have consequences; break a rule, get grounded.

So, families are pretty important. But their significance actually goes beyond that. We are social creatures. This is pretty well accepted by all fields of science and philosophy. We are emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically healthier when we have at least some deep and personal relationships. We need this.

Types of Families

So, families are important. They raise you. They support you. They go onto prime time game shows with you and help you win your fortunes. But, look around you. Or if you're not in a public place right now, then just think about everyone you know. Does everyone's family look the same? Of course not! That would be way too simple! So, families are important, but there are several types of them.

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