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In the name of God, the Compassionate and The Merciful
There is a diversity of family forms today in different societies across the world. In some areas such as more remote regions in Asia, Africa and the Pacific Rim, traditional family systems are little altered. In most developing countries, however, widespread changes are occurring. The origins of these changes are complex, but several factors can be picked out as especially important.
One is the spread of western culture. Western ideals of romantic love, for example, have spread to societies in which they were previously unknown. Another factor is the development of centralized government in areas previously composed of autonomous smaller societies. People’s lives become influenced by their involvement in a national political system; moreover, governments make active attempts to alter traditional ways of behavior. A further influence is the large scale migration from rural to urban areas. Often men go to work in towns or cities, leaving family members in the home village. Alternatively a nuclear family group will move as a unit to the city. In both cases, traditional family forms and kinship systems may become weakened. Finally and perhaps most important, employment opportunities away from the land and in such organizations as government bureaucracies, mines, plantations industrial firms tend to have disruptive consequences for family systems previously centred on landed production in the local community.
In general these changes can be seen as creating a worldwide movement towards the breaking down of extended family systems and household kinship groups, though relations between kinspeople continue to be important sources of social bonds.
William J. Goode first documented the decline of extended families in his book world revolution in family patterns (1963) and though the trends he identified were appropriate given the evidence available at the time, it is now clear that globally families are developing in a variety of different directions. A significant criticism of Goode’s argument is its reliance on structural functionalist theory, as set out by Talcott Parsons. For example Goode argued that as the process of modernization spread across the world, it is likely that the ‘conjugal family’ would become the dominant form because of its close fit with the needs of industrialization and industrial culture.
One important recent study is Swedish sociologist Therborn’s between sex and power (2004), an extensive global history of the family over the entire twentieth century and thus beyond Goode’s timeframe. Therborn discusses five major family types that have been shaped by particular religious or philosophical world views: Sub-Saharan African (Animist), European/ North American (Christian); East Asian (Confucian); South Asia(Hindu) and West Asia/ North Africa (Islamic). Two others (the Southeast Asia and creole American) are described as interstitial systems combining elements from more than one of the five major types.
The institution of the family, Therborn argues, has been structured by three central elements across all these familial types: patriarchy or male dominance, marriage and non-marriage in the regulation of sexual behavior, and fertility and birth control measures in the production of demographic trends.