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Study Notes

Families: Family and Household Defined

AS, A-Level

Last updated 12 Aug 2018

What do we mean by the terms family and household?

What is family?

There is not one clear single definition of “family”. It tends to be used either in a broad sense (all the descendants of a common ancestor, as in a “family tree”) or in a narrower sense, of parents living together with their children as a “unit”.

As a useful sociological concept, we tend to use the narrower definition, only bringing in wider family such as cousins and grandparents when they live together or are involved in everyday family life (such as childcare).

However, while definitions often refer to relations “by blood” or marriage (kinship), in practice families require none of these things. A single parent with adopted children is clearly a family, as is an unmarried couple with adopted children. What about couples without children? If they are a family, and therefore families do not require multiple generations, then is a household comprising of unrelated friends a family? If not, what stops it from being one?

What is a household?

A household is more easily explained: a group of people who live together, regardless of whether there are any kinship ties. Most of these are families, but (depending on your definition of family) many are not: flatmates (such as students), people living on their own, multiple-occupancy homes for migrant workers, etc.

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