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Types of Family

Family, an integral and fundamental unit of society, has been the subject of study for sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists alike. The structure, blood relations, marriage norms, residence patterns, and succession practices define different types of families. To understand the richness and diversity of families, this article will delve into these five dimensions, highlighting different kinds of family systems that exist worldwide. It’s important to remember that these categorizations are not rigid and often overlap, revealing the complex tapestry of human relationships and cultural practices.

Types of Family in Anthropology and Sociology

Family Structure

Family structure is typically determined by the number of members and the relationships between them. The most common classifications are nuclear, extended, and single-parent families.

Nuclear Family

A nuclear family, often referred to as an elementary family, is a family group comprising two parents and their children.

  • Traditional Nuclear Family: This family type consists of two heterosexual parents and their biological or adopted children living in the same residence.
  • Modern Nuclear Family: In this structure, the parents might be of the same sex, or children might be from previous relationships.

Extended Family

An extended family includes relatives in addition to parents and children, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws. They can live together in the same household or reside separately but maintain close relationships and frequent contact.

Single-Parent Family

A single-parent family consists of one parent and his or her children. The single parent might be a result of death, divorce, or childbirth outside of marriage.

Blood Relations and Marriage

Blood relation and marriage establish the kinship patterns within a family. Two main types of kinship systems are consanguinity and affinity.


In consanguineous families, the members are biologically related. This kinship can be through:

  • Lineal Consanguinity: This refers to direct descendants — parents, grandparents, children, and grandchildren.
  • Collateral Consanguinity: This refers to siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles.


Affinity refers to relationships established through marriage. It can involve:

  • In-Laws: These are relations between the spouse and the blood relatives of the other spouse, e.g., mother-in-law, brother-in-law, etc.
  • Step Relations: These are relations between one spouse and the children from the other spouse’s previous relationships, e.g., stepmother, stepson.

Types of Marriage

Marriage practices have a significant influence on family types. Monogamy, polygamy (polygyny and polyandry), and group marriage are the primary types of marriages.


Monogamy involves one man married to one woman. It is the most common marriage type in most societies, often legally enforced.


Polygamy involves one individual being married to multiple partners. It further subdivides into:

  • Polygyny: One man is married to multiple women.
  • Polyandry: One woman is married to multiple men.

Group Marriage

Group marriage is a less common form where all members are considered married to each other, involving multiple men and women.

Residential Patterns

Residential patterns define where a family lives post-marriage. These are typically divided into three main categories: patrilocal, matrilocal, and neolocal residence.

Patrilocal Residence

In patrilocal families, the couple lives with or near the husband’s parents.

Matrilocal Residence

In matrilocal families, the couple lives with or near the wife’s parents.

Neolocal Residence

In neolocal families, the couple establishes a new residence separate from both sets of parents.

Residence PatternDescription
PatrilocalCouple lives with or near the husband’s parents
MatrilocalCouple lives with or near the wife’s parents
NeolocalCouple establishes a new residence separate from both parents

Succession Practices

Succession practices define how property, title, or status is transferred or inherited within a family. It can be patrilineal, matrilineal, or bilateral.

Patrilineal Succession

In patrilineal succession, property or title is passed down through the male line, typically from father to son.

Matrilineal Succession

In matrilineal succession, property or title is passed down through the female line, from mother to daughter or to the brother.

Bilateral Succession

Bilateral succession, also known as cognatic descent, involves the inheritance of property or title through both the male and female lines.


Families, as they exist today, are a result of millennia of cultural, economic, and sociopolitical evolution. Understanding the types of family structures and their associated characteristics helps in recognizing the diversity of human familial relationships, impacting social norms, laws, and policies. This exploration of types of family from multiple perspectives has hopefully provided a comprehensive overview of the topic.


  • Cherlin, A. J. (2013). Public and private families: An introduction (7th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
  • Murdock, G. P. (1949). Social Structure. New York: Macmillan.
  • Goode, W. J. (1964). The Family. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Broude, G. J. (1994). Marriage, Family, and Relationships: A Cross-Cultural Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
  • Ember, C. R., & Ember, M. (2001). Cultural Anthropology (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
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