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Theories About Family & Marriage: Crash Course Sociology #37

February 27, 2020


You’ve probably heard people say that blood
is thicker than water. That’s supposed to mean that family relationships –
blood – are stronger than all other relationships. Which I guess are the water? But what do you think?
Is that true? Can friends be considered your family? Or do you only think of your parents or siblings
as family members? And how strong are familial relationships? Do they come with obligations that you don’t
have for other people? Let’s try to tell the blood from the water here,
and figure out what makes a family a family. [Theme Music] You probably have your own idea of what makes
a family, but here’s how sociologists define it. Families are groups of people who are related
by genetics, marriage, or choice, and who share
material, emotional, and economic resources. So, the family isn’t a formal organization,
like a government or a church. Instead it’s a social institution. That’s because the members of a family are
held together by the commonly shared goal of the
well being and mutual support of its members – and they organize people and power based on
positions of social status within the family, like
mother or daughter. Family often goes hand in hand with kinship, a social bond based on common ancestry, marriage, or adoption. These are the relationships that are most
commonly thought of as ‘family’ – parents and
kids, spouses, siblings, aunts and uncles. And some of these relationships you’re born into
– the biological children of parents, for example. But other family relationships are created
through legal bonds, like marriage or adoption. And it’s also important to recognize that
for many people, family is a matter of choice. Marriage is the most prominent example of this – choosing to get married is two people
coming together to say to each other and the world
that they choose to be a family. Another family-by-choice is when close friends
are also considered family, a practice called fictive kin. These family friends are incorporated into
the larger family, interacting daily, living together, having their kids grow up together, calling the friend
Uncle Joey – wait, that’s just the plot of Full House. But fictive kin isn’t a fictional concept. These found families consist of people who
have chosen to care for each other, share resources,
and share their lives together. This can make a family bond as strong as any
based in ancestry or law. Now, no matter what type it is, the family that you
grow up in is known as your family of orientation, because it orients you to the world and
teaches you how families work. And the family that you create on your own,
as an adult, is known as a family of procreation. A common type of family of procreation is
a nuclear family, a unit made up of two parents
and biological or adopted children. Consider this a contrast to another two
common types of families: single parent
families and extended families. A single parent family is exactly what it
sounds like – one parent raising children. Both nuclear and single parent families are
also sometimes referred to as immediate family
– parents and siblings. Extended family is everyone in your family
who isn’t a parent or sibling – grandparents, uncles,
cousins, great aunts, third cousins twice removed. In the United States, most people live with their
immediate family, though they may live nearby or
regularly visit members of their extended family. And in many cultures – including in the
US – families most often form around marriages. Marriage is a legally recognized relationship,
usually involving economic, social, emotional,
and sexual bonds. I know, that’s not a very romantic way to
describe marriage. But marriage isn’t always based on love
and romance. The idea of marrying for love alone is actually
fairly new. Sure, people have always fallen in love. But you didn’t need to be in love to get
married. Instead, more practical concerns – like creating tighter
bonds between families, or finding economic security –
have historically been more common reasons. Cultural norms – that are sometimes enshrined
into laws – also limit romantic love by marking some
people as acceptable spouses, or not. Some norms promote endogamy, or marriage between
people of same social category. Essentially, like marries like. For example, college-educated Americans are more
likely to marry other college-educated Americans. And people are more likely to marry others of the
same race – though that pattern is slowly changing. Interracial marriage is an example of
exogamy, or marriage between people of
different social categories. Another example of exogamy is ‘marrying up’,
where a person of a low socioeconomic status marries
someone of a higher socioeconomic status. Traditionally, women are more likely to use marriage
to move up the socioeconomic ladder than men, partially due to broader patterns of gender inequality
that limit other opportunities for improving their status. And forms of marriage can vary across time
and across cultures. In modern-day high income countries, marriage
is, by law, only between two people – a practice
known as monogamy. Polygamy, or marriage to two or more spouses,
is legally recognized in the majority of African countries
and in some South Asian countries. Marriage practices are deeply tied to the
economic and social structures of society. For example, the most common form of
polygamy is polygyny or the marriage of one man
to two or more women. But in societies with low male-to-female ratios,
polyandry, or the marriage of one woman to two
or more men, can also occur. In countries where polygamy isn’t legally recognized,
the term bigamy is used to refer to going through
the legal processes of marrying while still married
to another person. Now, marriage is the main way that individuals
move from their family of orientation into a family
of procreation. And with marriage comes decisions about how to fit
your new family into your existing, separate families. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble to look at how
marriage practices have varied across societies. Say a man and a woman get married…where
should they live? If we’re in a pre-industrial society, the couple will
most likely move to live with or near the husband’s
family, a practice known as patrilocality. In a study of 1,153 cultures, cultural
anthropologist David Levinson estimated that
about 70% have a patrilocal residence pattern. This was most common for societies with
frequent warfare, where families wanted to keep
sons around as a form of protection. But in some pre-industrial societies, our
newly married couple will practice matrilocality,
where they live with or near the wife’s family. Many Native American tribes, particularly
those in the Southwestern United States, such
as the Hopi and Zuni, have historically been matrilocal, with newly
married couples settling into the clan of the wife. In these societies, women generally own the
home and resources of the family. These tribes are also matrilineal, meaning that
they trace descent through the mother’s family tree. Most societies, however, are patrilineal, meaning
that they trace kinship through the father. This means that all inheritance – land,
wealth, titles – passes from father to son. We see patterns like this even in relatively
recent times. Until the mid-nineteenth century, all land
inherited by women in the US was solely owned
by her husband, encouraging inheritance patterns
that preference sons. And it was only in the last decade that Britain
changed its line of succession to allow the monarchy
to be passed on to the firstborn child, regardless of sex. Thanks Thought Bubble! So that’s how residential choice and family
inheritances worked in the past. But what about nowadays? Industrialization has resulted in huge job
growth in city centers, which has stoked greater
migration from hometowns to big cities. As such, many married couples have been more
likely to be living apart from both sets of parents,
a practice known as neolocality. While patrilineal traditions, like passing
on the father’s last name to children, persist, most families in industrial societies trace
descent through both men and women. This continues to be true in most
high-income countries, and neolocality is most common among
the highly educated and households where
both spouses are working. Because cities are where most of the jobs
are. But even if modern day Americans live far from
their parents, it’s impossible to escape the impact that
families play in molding us, both on an individual
and a societal level. Family is yet another social institution that
we can use the three schools of sociological
thought to examine. Structural functionalists emphasize the role
that families play in socializing children, so they can function in society, while of course
also giving them emotional and material support. But the other role of family in a structural
functionalist framework is the regulation
of sexual activity. Which again, I know, sounds super romantic. What I mean is that our societal norms about who can
marry whom generally tells us something about what
we hold to be acceptable or taboo sexual behavior. For example, incest is taboo in most cultures. This norm exists partially because reproduction
among close relatives increases the likelihood
of genetic inbreeding. These taboos mean that people must find their
partners outside their family, creating social ties
across families within a community. In contrast, social conflict theory, particularly
feminist theory, focuses on the ways in which traditional
notions about family perpetuate social inequality. Some of these inequalities might be obvious,
based on what we’ve talked about already – like patrilineal lines of descent that
make it impossible for women to hold wealth
or gain power. There’s also the negative side of family
as a form of sexual regulation. We might think it’s a good thing that family
status ties prevent incest, but historically, this sexual regulation has also meant that
married women have been seen as the sexual
and economic property of their husbands. I’ve mentioned already that in the 19th
century, women’s inheritance and earnings
legally belonged to their husband. But for a more recent example, look at how
the law treats women’s control over their
own body within marriage: marital rape was not made illegal in all
states in the US until 1993. Social conflict theory also points out the ways
in which marriage entrenches social advantages
and disadvantages. Because most people marry those who are similar to
themselves, inequalities across class and race lines are
often enhanced and further entrenched by marriage. Oftentimes, endogamous marriage occurs because
of social norms and preferences. But it also stems from laws that regulate
who can marry whom. Anti-miscegenation laws, which outlawed interracial
marriage, were not ruled unconstitutional until 1967, in
the aptly named Supreme Court case Loving vs Virginia. Finally, through the lens of symbolic interactionist
theories, we can see families in terms of the daily
interactions of family life. Family statuses come with their own expectations
of behavior. The stereotypes of mother as nurturer and father as
breadwinner shape how people think about themselves,
and others, as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ fathers and mothers. Social exchange theory argues that relationships are
a form of exchange between people, attempts to gain
benefits from their interaction while avoiding the costs. If the costs outweigh the benefits, the
marriage ends. Of course, much of what we’ve discussed today
has looked at marriage under a heteronormative lens, and many of these theories don’t hold up as well when definitions of marriage and family are broadened to cover the wide spectrum of family types that we see today. So next week, we’ll talk about what families
look in the here and now, and how society
shapes these family forms. But today, we learned about how sociology
defines family and the different terms used
to describe specific types of family. We discussed marriage in different societies,
as well as marital residential patterns and
patterns of descent. Finally, we ended with a discussion of three
schools of thought on the societal role of
marriage and family. Crash Course Sociology is filmed in the Dr. Cheryl
C. Kinney Studio in Missoula, MT, and it’s made with
the help of all of these nice people. Our animation team is Thought Cafe and Crash
Course is made with Adobe Creative Cloud. If you’d like to keep Crash Course free for
everyone, forever, you can support the series
at Patreon, a crowdfunding platform that allows
you to support the content you love. Thank you to all of our patrons for making
Crash Course possible with their continued support.

1 Comment

  • Reply Lil Bigga February 21, 2020 at 10:50 am

    Your bare jarring

  • Reply Greg Zeng February 26, 2020 at 11:31 pm

    FAMILY is traditionally heteronormative, forcing heterosexuality, rather than allowing homosexuality. So much sociocultural inertia ATM.
    Other social units are preferred to FAMILY. These alternatives are avoided. So PC, politically correct, unfortunately.
    BTW my heteronormative marriage, no kids, enabled my medical carer to be paid by the Australian government, to stay caring for me, 25+ years now, in my nursing home lifestyle.

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