A nuclear family refers to spouses (who are in a sexual relationship) living together with their children and have well set out gender roles. In a nuclear family, the children may be born to the family, maybe stepchildren or may be adapted. Also, a nuclear family is not limited to the number of children. Universal means something practiced by all societies without exception across the globe. For a nuclear family to stand out as universal, then it must be practiced across all cultures and countries. From this perspective, the nuclear family is not universal in all societies across the world as a whole as some aspects differ from one community to the other and from one culture to the other. Not all communities and countries adhere to the nuclear family structure. Some communities do not meet all requirements of a nuclear family such as living together; spouses having a social responsibility towards each other and in some, there are blood ties between the members. Despite the fact that majority of nations bringing up their children in their households, in some societies children are raised in age groups.
The idea of universality of this type of family was first supported by a sociologist known as George Murdock. Most cultures support nuclear family structure whereby spouses engage in sexual relationship and bear children while others adopt the children and bring them up. The above idea of nuclear family being universal is wrong as different communities, cultures, and individuals have different beliefs and practices on families due to the increased individualism (Xu & Xia, 2014). The nuclear family is not the only acceptable and fruitful family type in different societies, which disqualifies the said worldwide trend towards the nuclear family.
The Nuclear family has the following functions; economic cooperation (spouses supporting each other financially), reproduction (bearing children), and living together of the members. The above factors are practiced by some societies while others have different practices which disregard the trend of nuclear families across societies. Nayar community does not practice all the aspect of a nuclear family, as the spouses do not live together either committed to each other. Besides, in Nayar society, the husband has no responsibility of providing for the family and fathering the children (Mazzucato & Schans, 2011). Only particular customs associates with marriage among the Nayar communities, such as the tali-tying ceremony, and the lovers who were commonly known as sambandham husbands. The woman and the partners did hold a religious ceremony the union was bound sexually. The woman could have as many sexual partners as possible. The children still receive the primary socialization but not necessary from the parents, thereby making the family structure successful and functional. It is a clear indication that nuclear families aspect did not apply in the mentioned engagement thus disqualifying it as universal across communities.
Murdock argued that sexual relationships are foundations of a nuclear family as they create strong sex emotions that strengthen and unite the partners' thereby giving rise to a nuclear family. In most societies, nuclear families develop as a result of sexual relationships, but some are based on other aspects. Reproduction is a significant universal feature of a nuclear family as it is the backbone of any society. Sexual relationships are the basis of reproduction which results in formation marriages and official relationships (Forste & Fox, 2012). Economic cooperation is a significant aspect of a nuclear family which is also practiced in other types of families. Nuclear families, as well as other family structures in all societies, produce and consume.
According to the theory of the universal nuclear family, primary socialization begins in the family as children after they are born; they learn the values, norms, and values from their parents. Also, other family types cultivate primary socialization such as the Nayar societies. For Kibbutz communities, cultures are sustained by primary socialization as children learn how to behave from teachers and nurse the teachers as opposed to the Murdock view of primary socialization from a nuclear family, thereby disqualifying the aspect of nuclear families as being universal. The trained foster parents take responsibility of teaching children moral values and norms of the society which occurs in a children's home. In Kibbutz communities, the child upbringing is the responsibility of the society as parents stay in separate resides with the children. Children are only allowed to see their parents at a particular specified period. Primary socialization of the children is also the responsibility of the society which is contrary to the elements and requirements of a nuclear family where primary socialization of parents is the sole responsibility of the parents since children reside in a common residence with the parents. Also, some societies, members of the nuclear family live together especially during children upbringing, the spouses are fully committed to each other while the husband has a responsibility of providing for the family while the same is different in some communities and cultures across the globe (Mazzucato & Schans, 2011). Murdock believed that parents in a nuclear family must cohabit whether living together or not. In most societies, a nuclear family works together through sharing of responsibilities, pooling their resources together and support each other spiritually, morally and economically while in other communities the thinking and practice is different
According to Diane Gittens, nuclear families are not universal, but the relationships may be defined as global as they exist throughout the world. Some communities, such as those of Lakker, have a different view of a nuclear family as they believe that it is not a must for a blood tie to exist between the child and the mother. Therefore, according to the Lakker, societies children from same mother and different father can be sexual partners an aspect which is contrary of a nuclear family which considers it as incest and highly condemns the act (Xu, & Xia, 2014). It works perfectly the same as the nuclear family. Some governments have been trying to set up policies of avoiding nuclear family by referring it as unpaid domestic labor for the women. The government sought to clear meaning of husband and wife. The nuclear family is not dominant as in the case U.S it continues to diminish as other family types have been on the increase, which is attributed to the growing multi-culturalism. Murdock despite arguing that a nuclear family is universal due to the vital roles and functions it plays in the society, he fails to highlight to what extent cannot be fulfilled by other family structures or means. Therefore, Murdock argued conclusion that a nuclear family is inevitable is entirely untrue due to the success derived from other family types.
In a nuclear family, spouses live together but in some communities such as the Ashanti villages of Central Ghana the case is different as the father lives in a separate house from the children and the wife and the children may choose to take their food with the mother or the father. The above family practice is based on the Ashanti traditional social system which concentrates on other factors such as succession, land inheritance, and political status. Women often continue staying in their houses even after marriage due to their close ties with the daughter and brothers in which the children inherit (Mazzucato & Schans, 2011). The aspect tends to weaken the solidarity and unity of the nuclear family. The Ashanti husband and wife relationship is known as Matrifocal as since the marriage is female oriented. After family set up, the woman takes the central role as the man has little responsibility in the household. Elder Children upon completing school, they look for a job to provide for the rest of the family making the role of the father quite negligible. It is acceptable in the Ashanti communities as they are not convinced of the nuclear family unit. Therefore, the nuclear family is not universal due to this exception where the man does not necessarily assume the fatherly role and other gender roles.
According to the recent research, the nuclear family is losing momentum due to the increased divorces, and development of other family structures such which include; same-sex relationships, cohabitation, and reconstituted families. Also, the increased diversity among people has stimulated them into developing altitudes based on their priorities as opposed to social beliefs and expectations. Others have developed an altitude for single parenthood thereby reducing the nuclear family as a universal. Women have also become individualized and are striving into being economically independent thus avoiding a nuclear family (Hodkinson, 2013). The Nuclear family is not universal as in some societies women have several sex partners which are not an element of a nuclear family as it recognizes a husband, wife, and children. The society best defines a family, hence some family types fits best in the certain cultures.
According to Murdock studies, both the polygamous and extended family had a standard basis which is the nuclear family. Therefore from his studies, he came up to the conclusion that nuclear family is universal as is the common foundation of a family structure. Despite nuclear families being the basis of complex families, not all family types fit the nuclear family definition. Functions of a family can be performed either in a nuclear family or other family structure thereby there is no limitation as to why people should only practice nuclear family (Forste & Fox, 2012). Some societies mainly practice alternatives to nuclear families as evidenced by cross-cultural aspects. The exceptions to Murdock theory of nuclear family outlines clearly that nuclear families are not universal across communities. Some of the exceptions are the reconstituted families and lone families.
The gay family is another family structure that has been in existence. The fact is that this type of household structure does not meet the reproduction function of a family. The children in gay families are often from the previous heterosexual relationships of either or both partners. Lesbian has been on the rise as compared to gays as the law mostly requires children be brought up by women as opposed to men and have greater rights as opposed to men. The existence of gay relationships hinders the view that nuclear family is universal in all societies.
Development of nuclear family is going down due to the increased divorce rates, the death of spouses and development of a negative attitude towards marriage; therefore marriage rates are decreasing as time progresses. Majority of people from different societies across the world are opting to other types of family life and are no longer interested in a nuclear family which contributes far to non-dominance of a nuclear family. The nuclear family is traditional while in the current times, traditions have little influence on family types that people should choose. The functionalist view of a nuclear family by some sociologist such as Murdock is conservatively biased as they argue it as inevitable and universal across all communities which is not the case (Hampden-Thompson, 2012).
In conclusion, a nuclear family fulfills a biological function as opposed to a sociological function as it emphasizes on primary roles played by the family structure such as children protection, care, and primary socialization. Family life and types have changed tremendously as a result of the change in economic, political and social factors. There is increased independence, increased income, increased freedom, and reduction in poverty levels which have resulted in the adoption of different family types across societies. It has reduced the rate of adoption of nuclear families thereby making them less dominant. Although nuclear families are the most and widely practiced, it cannot be concluded that they are the universal due to the exceptions of other family structures such as the gay relationships, the Matrifocal, and other family types that do not meet requirements of a nuclear family.
Forste, R., & Fox, K. (2012). Household labor, gender roles, and family satisfaction: A cross-national comparison.Journal of Comparative Family Studies,43(5), 613-631.
Hodkinson, P. (2013). Family and parenthood in an ageing 'youth' culture: A collectiveembrace of dominant adulthood?Sociology, 47(6), 1072-1087.
Hampden-Thompson, G. (2012). Under the same roof: An international comparison ofmultigenerational families and children's mathematics achievement.International Journal of Sociology of the Family,38(1), 39-61.
Mazzucato, V., & Schans, D. (2011). Transnational families and the well-being of children: Conceptual and methodological challenges.Journal of Marriage and Family,73(4), 704-712.
Xu, A., & Xia, Y. (2014). The changes in Mainland Chinese families during the social transition: A critical analysis.Journal of Comparative Family Studies,45(1), 31-53.