Different Kinds Of Modern Families Essay

The Family and Family Structure Classification Redefined for the Current Times

Rahul Sharma

Department of Community Medicine, University College of Medical Sciences and Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, Delhi, India

Address for correspondence: Dr. Rahul Sharma, Department of Community Medicine, University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi-110 095, India. E-mail: moc.liamg@renrocyduts

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The family is a basic unit of study in many medical and social science disciplines. Definitions of family have varied from country to country, and also within country. Because of this and the changing realities of the current times, there is a felt need for redefining the family and the common family structure types, for the purpose of study of the family as a factor in health and other variables of interest. A redefinition of a “family” has been proposed and various nuances of the definition are also discussed in detail. A classification scheme for the various types of family has also been put forward. A few exceptional case scenarios have been envisaged and their classification as per the new scheme is discussed, in a bid to clarify the classification scheme further. The proposed scheme should prove to be of use across various countries and cultures, for broadly classifying the family structure. The unique scenarios of particular cultures can be taken into account by defining region or culture-specific subtypes of the overall types of family structure.

Keywords: Classification, definition, family, family structure, types of family


The family as an integrated and functional unit of society has for a considerable period of time captured the attention and imagination of researchers.[1] While the family itself is a matter of study, equally important for research is its role as a factor influencing and affecting the development, behavior, and well-being of the individual. The family is a basic unit of study in many social science disciplines, such as sociology, psychology, economics, anthropology, social psychiatry, and social work.[2] It is also a unit of study in the medical sciences especially in understanding the epidemiology and the natural history of diseases. It also forms the basic unit for family medicine. Census definitions of family have varied from country to country and also from census to census within country. The word household has often been used as a replacement for family. Using the definition as “all people living in one household” may be erroneous, as on one hand it may include people who do not share kinship, and on other hand may exclude those kin members who are temporarily away.[3] This type of definition fails to identify units that function as families in an economic, social or emotional sense but do not usually reside in the same household.[4] Although the literature often focuses on family living arrangements, family membership includes obligations across and between generations, no matter where family members are living.[5]

The UNESCO report stated that a family is a kinship unit and that even when its members do not share a common household, the unit may exist as a social reality.[3] This definition may be too broad to serve the purpose of identification of a family unit for the purpose of assessment as a factor in variables such as health. Just to give an example, a family in a developing country has a son living in the USA, happily married there with a wife, and he sends across some money to the other family members back home occasionally and visits the country once in many years. Should he still be counted as a member of the original family? Does this person (and his wife) share the same risks to their immediate health as the other family members back in the shared household? Would this individual and his dependants in the new surroundings have access to the same kind of health care options as the other family members living in the country of birth? And would the offspring of this person born in the foreign country experience the same sociocultural and environmental exposures, as (s)he would have come into contact with growing up in the country of origin?

Trask[6] observed that while in the past, locale mattered, today social relationships are maintained over great distances with ease. Global communications such as the internet, e-mail, and satellite linkups are facilitating these relationships over space and time. Still, keeping in mind the previous pertinent questions that are raised if we want to consider the “family” as a factor influencing and interacting with other variable characteristics (such as health, environment, social behavior, etc.), the scales are still tilted toward defining the family as people ordinarily sharing a common living area. The meaning of the term “family” also depends on whether it is being interpreted in a social, biological, cultural, or statistical sense.[4] It is important to identify a family unit and the members constituting the unit, for the purpose of studying their health, for example.

Need for Redefining

Desai (1994), as cited in Sonawat[2] defined the family as a unit of two or more persons united by marriage, blood, adoption, or consensual union, in general consulting a single household, interacting and communicating with each other. While the definition is mostly fine, the interacting and communicating with each other may be a difficult thing to elicit or determine. An existing textbook of the medical specialty of community medicine makes it more objective by defining the interdependence part as “individuals living together and eating from a common kitchen.”[7] It considers and defines three types of families: Nuclear, joint, and three generation families. However, practical experience in community has shown that these categories are not mutually exhaustive.

There are several new social dynamics and realities emerging with time. For example, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 of India recognizes and provides protection to female living in a relationship in the nature of a marriage with a male partner.[8] Family research provides insight into the structure of society and the changes taking place in the types, composition, and growth of families.[4] Families can be classified in several different dimensions, for example, by marriage type (monogamous, polygamous), by location (patrilocal, matrilocal, and avunculocal), authority (patriarchy, matriarchy), and by kin composition (nuclear, joint).[3] In the present new classification, only the kin composition has been taken into account. Adjectives can be added to define the family as per marriage type or by locus of residence or authority.

In a social sense people may see themselves as being members of several families, as members of families with their parents and siblings and also members of families that they have formed themselves.[4] However, in the current proposed classification for the purpose of family, the view is that an individual will in usual circumstance belong to one family only in a given role.

Because of the multitude of definitions of “family” and the changing realities of the current times, there is a felt need for redefining the family and the common types, for the purpose of study of the family as a factor in health and other variables of interest. The following definition of a “family” is hence proposed:

“People related by marriage, birth, consanguinity or legal adoption, who share a common kitchen and financial resources on a regular basis.”

Nuances of the Definition

The family will comprise of people ordinarily living in the same house, unless work, study, imprisonment, confinement, foreign sojourn, or any other exigencies compel a member to temporarily live away from the shared house. Members who have been disowned legally will cease to be members of the family. Members living away from the physical premises of the shared house, who are not expected to return back to living in the house in the future, will also cease to be considered as members of this family, even though they may be sharing financial resources.

Common kitchen does not only mean just sharing of a physical infrastructure of a kitchen, but also sharing of common cooked meals in the kitchen. In such families where sets of members share the kitchen together but do not share financial resources, and those where sets of members share financial resources but do not share the kitchen together, the different sets of members should be counted as different families. Regarding common financial resources of the family, it is the sharing that is more important than contributing. An unmarried relative may be there who is not earning and thus not contributing economically to the family purse, but will be counted toward the family if (s)he is sharing the family financial resources.

The term “on a regular basis” in the definition, is left open-ended deliberately. In some families, people may have had tiffs and stopped sharing food together for a period of time that may be few days, few weeks, or few months. After what period of time do we say that they stop comprising a single family? Similar dilemma is there for a time period cutoff regarding nonsharing of financial resources. And a very important aspect in this decision would be future intent, that is, whether the constituents think the differences are irrevocable or they think the possibility of getting together is there, whatever may be the period of nonsharing thus far. In case of any doubt, it is best left to a subjective assessment of the individual family unit at hand. The researcher may directly ask the constituents whether they still consider themselves as belonging to a single common family or not. It has been noted earlier that family membership and obligations are subjective and can only be fully understood from the perspective of the family concerned.[5]

A student who goes to reside in any other city for few years of education and stays in a hostel, with guardians, or in a private accommodation, does not cease to be a part of the original family for those years, only because (s)he is not sharing the family's common kitchen. However, to be counted as a member of the original family, (s)he must continue to share in or receive money or other things of monetary value from the financial resource pool of the family. One important caveat would be that the individual must have the intent of returning to the original family in the future, unless compelled by needs of higher studies or job.

Another case may be of a young adult member of the family who has gone abroad for work, or who went abroad for higher education and ends up finding a vocation there. Such a person may visit back on rare occasions to his or her family of origin, but is reasonably expecting to be staying put in the new location for the foreseeable future. Such a member would not then be exposed to the risk factors or the protective social factors common to the other members sharing a residence. So this person should be counted as belonging to a separate new family, irrespective of whether (s)he has married and irrespective of sharing of financial resources with the original family back home.

Biologically unrelated individuals living together in an institutional setting, for example, hostel, boarding school, working women's hostel, and so on, or living together in a single house, will be counted as belonging to their family of origin or as separate family units (single individual families) as the case may be depending on their future intent. They will not be combined or considered together to form new family units. A person imprisoned for a known period of time does not cease to be a member of the original family (unless legally disowned by the head of the family, or by the next head of the family if (s)he happens to be the head). This is because the person is expected to have the intent of returning to the original family unit as soon as the period of confinement is over.

Classification Scheme for Family Structure

A new classification scheme for the various types of family structure is being proposed, keeping in mind the redefined “family.” The various types of family under the proposed classification scheme are detailed in the Table 1. The first step was to define the various types of family possible, which will cover the myriad variations possible in the current times. Then came the question of coming up with suitable terms to label the categories of family types, and it was thought of to come up with a uniform terminology scheme-based on the classic terms.

Table 1

The proposed classification of types of family

The word “nuclear” was picked upon, that represents a married couple as forming the “nucleus” of a family, as per existing classifications of family structure. Continuing with the word “nucleus,” terms from the atomic world were explored to extend the analogies to the family structure types. For example, a proton would be an incomplete nucleus, a solitary existence. Electrons would be something outside the nucleus, that is, a married couple (nucleus) is not there. An atom would be having a single nucleus only and possibly multiple electrons. Two nuclei cannot be there in an atom, it would have to be a molecule. So the presence of two married couples makes a family “molecular.” It may be clarified here that terms from physics were chosen here just for the nomenclature of the proposed family types. This was done as the word “nuclear” was already being used. Use of these terms borrowed from physics is expected to aid in easier appreciation and recall of the various family types.

The classic term of “joint family” has been retained to define the complex sharing of resources by multiple couples. However, the traditional “joint family” has also been redefined and has two different meanings depending on the number of generations present. Generally across various cultures, obligations to siblings are usually weaker than to parents.[5] This is the reason why the proposed definition of joint family considers different number of couples, depending on the number of generations involved. Two married brothers (or two sisters) living together with their respective families would qualify to be termed as a joint family.

It is a difficult task to categorize families according to any theoretical type or to generalize across or within cultures.[5] An endeavor has been made to try to redefine the family as well as the types of family to keep up with the changing times. However, as per practical experience, the community throws up scenarios which may test any theoretical model of classification. Keeping this in mind, an exercise was done to contemplate a few exceptional case scenarios and discuss their classification as per the new model, in a bid to clarify the classification scheme further [Table 2].

Table 2

Discussion of a few case scenarios and examples of classification as per the new scheme

Changing Family Dynamics in the Current Times

A paper on the structure of families in New Zealand over time has observed that the family is constantly changing and diversifying there. Same-sex couples have been included in the data, but they can be identified as subsets of couple-only and two parent families. Certain types of family that are becoming more prevalent there include one-parent families and couple-only families.[4] As per the new classification, these types of families can be identified as II-Electron and III-Nuclear family, respectively. The situation of a family with a married couple only and no children can be termed as a “nuclear couple family”, but it should be classified as a subtype of the nuclear family only and not as a separate type. Similarly, the sole-parent family can be identified as a subtype of an electron family (type II).

Unlike a previous definition given by Desai, as cited in Sonawat,[2] “relationship by consensual union” has not been taken as one of the criteria for defining the family, in the basic definition proposed. As mentioned earlier, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 of India recognizes “domestic relationships in the nature of marriage,”[8] but the legal and social positions are still evolving. However, in view of the social realities, a classification for families based upon such nuclear relationships has been put forward with the use of qualifier “quasi-” (type VII). Elliott and Gray[5] have also discussed the gray zone caused by remarriage families (or “blended families” as they term it) in classification of families. There may be differences in both the emotional and financial support given to children between “natural” and “new” parents. Also, for many children, both their natural parents may play a very real part in their lives even if they do not live in the same household.[4] These are emerging social realities in the Indian context too. But, counting an individual (e.g., the separated “natural” father/mother) in more than one family may lead to factual mismatches and also create lot of confusion. It is best to consider the remarriage family too as within the frame of the seven types of family set in the new classification, and to label them as a subtype “remarriage family” if required.

Importance of the Changing Family Dynamics for Health

Health has been shown to have multifactorial causation. The family surroundings affect the health of an individual in several ways. Members of a family can be expected to share the risk factors for their health that may arise from various social characteristics of their shared housing, neighborhood, community, society, and culture. They would also share the positive factors contributing toward good health. All the members of a family living together who share the financial resources of the family unit would also share the risks of ill-health and costs of health care as well as the protection offered by availability of money with the family to tide over health-related issues.

Living in a family would also mean usually exposure to similar dietary behaviors and health-related lifestyles, among the family members. Another important aspect shared would be the healthcare-seeking pattern and preference. The changing dynamics of family composition can have important impact on the protective as well as risk factors influencing health. Thus, an updated definition and classification scheme for types of families serves an important purpose for the practitioners of various medical and social science disciplines in the current times.

Concluding Remarks

It is to be expected that the changing societal arrangements in the current times will be a huge challenge for any model of classification of family structure. On top of that is the challenge to keep the possible classification groups to the minimum possible, so that analysis of the family structure as a factor in health and other outcomes, in future studies, does not become an inordinately complex exercise. This is a proposed redefinition of “family” and a proposed scheme of classification of family structure, to try to match the pace of change of current societies. While the objective was mainly to redefine keeping the Indian cultural environment in mind, the sheer heterogeneity of the Indian population in terms of sociocultural milieu is immense. The current proposed scheme should generally suffice for use in other countries and cultures, for broadly classifying the family structure. The intricacies and unique scenarios of particular cultures can be taken into account by defining region or culture-specific subtypes of the overall types of family structure defined in the present article.


Source of Support: Nil

Conflict of Interest: None declared


1. Sooryamoorthy R. The Indian family: Needs for a revisit. J Comp Fam Stud. 2012;43:1–11.

2. Sonawat R. Understanding families in India: A reflection of societal changes. Psicologia: Teoria e Pesquisa. 2001;17:177–86.

3. Bangkok, Thailand: UNESCO; 1992. UNESCO Principal Regional Office for Asia and Pacific. The changing family in Asia: Bangladesh, India, Japan, Philippines and Thailand.

4. Hodgson RM, Birks KS. Palmerston North, New Zealand: The Centre for Public Policy Evaluation, Massey University; 2002. Statistics New Zealand's definition of family, its implications for the accuracy of data and effectiveness of policy targeting. Student paper no. 4.

5. Elliott S, Gray A. New Zealand: New Zealand Immigration Service; 2000. Immigration Research Programme: Family Structures. A report for the New Zealand Immigration Service.

6. Trask BS. New York: Springer; 2010. Globalization and families: Accelerated systemic social change.

7. Park K. 22nd ed. Jabalpur: Banarsidas Bhanot; 2013. Park's text book of Preventive and Social Medicine.

8. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, Gazette of India. No. 43 of 2005. [Last accessed on 2013 Aug 19]. Available at: www.wcd.nic.in/wdvact.pdf .

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This review of literature examines and attempts to explain the following: 1.The definition of contemporary families including the common stereotypes known as modern and traditional. Various family structures and living arrangements are also studied to better comprehend the meaning of a family. 2. The issues in a contemporary family such as economic hardship, marriage and divorce, physical and mental abuse, and abortion. All issues are examined within diverse family structures and definitions. 3. Policies that can be created to address and benefit all types of contemporary families and their issues. New policy ideas are manufactured and modifications are made for existing laws concerning contemporary family issues.

Keywords:Definition of Family, Marriage and divorce, Abortion, New policies  

       Contemporary Families: A Review of the Literature

 Today the definition of a family and its role in a community is being challenged and explored. This institution contains expanding ideals of structure and purpose according to experts and others. The family organization, like any other, has issues and consequences. These consequences can be positive and negative, large and small. Communities and nations are affected by contemporary families though moral and economic debates. In turn, the political community is also affected by families. Many subtopics found in politics such as marriage, abortion, violence, and economics are viewed as separate issues. Through research and education these topics may be found to be directly associated with the institution of a family. In order to better understand the issues and effects of a contemporary family the succeeding questions will be answered:      

1.      What is the definition of a contemporary family?

2.      What are the issues in contemporary families?

3.      What policies can be created to address the issues in a contemporary family?

 By answering the aforementioned questions families and citizens will be able to better comprehend the effects of a family on a community and manufacture positive methods of action for both.

              What is the definition of a contemporary family?

In order to understand the effects and issues of a family the definition of a family must be clarified. The definition of a family varies according to different points of view. The two most prominent views are conveyed as traditional and modern. A traditional family according to stereotypes and folk philosophy is a Patriarchal institution in which the structure consist of a male father, a female mother, and children. The mother in this discourse community is seen as submissive to the father and the children to their parents. Media has portrayed a traditional family as the “perfect” family in shows such as Father Knows Best where the mother is always shown cooking or ironing and the father always gives good counsel. (Rogers, 1958) The video genre allows its audience to envision traditional families as such but the images are limited to a certain time frame and today may entertain the notion that traditional families are old fashioned like black and white TV shows. This typecast has deemed that a traditional family cannot consist of any other structure but of that prior mentioned.  

David Popenoe (1988), a professor of sociology, writes in his book, Disturbing the Nest:                 Family Change and Decline in Modern Societies, that:

“The point at which something ceases to be a family is a matter of controversy. So, too, is the original prototype. The prototype family most commonly used today is, “a married couple who live together with their children.” With this prototype, much of the debate about defining the family revolves around the question of whether one still has a family if… one half of the couple is taken away, the couple is not married, the children are removed, or some members do not live together. Because so many actual families today are not married couples who live together with their children, a number of social scientist no longer consider this prototype to be very useful.” (pg. 5)

Folk philosophy would also have a community believe that a modern family consists of any structure that differs from that of a stereotypical traditional family. In the previous quote Dr. Popenoe mentioned some examples of modern families according to social scientist, but did not include that of same sex parents. According to Pauline Irit Erera (2002) 80 percent of gays and lesbians live in family units and about three million are parents. Recently gay men and lesbians have been pushing with greater force for the right to exist as families. (pg.160)

In her book titled Christianity and the Making of the Modern Family, the theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether states:

 “There has never, of course, been only one form of family. The very term in fact requires definition because it covers several distinguishable realities of human social and economic relations, of kin and non-kin, within households and also beyond them. These relations have been highly malleable in human societies through the centuries, changing to reflect different functions performed by kin and household groups in relation to the larger society.” (Ruether, 2001)

Stereotypes and reality have very different definitions.  To define a family is to examine the many different types of relationships that can occur. Once the relationships have been scrutinized, can they truly be categorized as traditional or modern?

Real Mother Real Family was a face-to-face interview taken place at a young mother’s home. The communicator Samantha Huerta is 19 years old, married, and has one daughter. She contains various family structure experiences that could aid experts, citizen, and families in gaining a better understanding of family effects from a primary point of view. During the interview Mrs. Huerta was asked what type of family structure, regarding herself, her husband, and her child, she thought she had using the definitions traditional and modern. Mrs. Huerta’s first answer was, “I don’t know, I don’t even know what that means.” (personal communication, October 29, 2012). The communicator then expressed that she may be a traditional family structurally but does not feel traditional, “just because we are so young and we don’t even have our own house.” (personal communication, October 29, 2012) Even within a family institution a way to define what a family really is can be obscure. Through examining Mrs. Huerta’s statements the definition of a modern or traditional family may not only be found in family structure, but also family location. Rosemary Ruether (2001) supports the ideology that the definition of a family can be found within households regardless if kin or non-kin inhabit the house together.  Real Mother Real Family questioned Mrs. Huerta concerning the definition of her immediate family before she was married. Mrs. Huerta answered, “More modern I guess, because there is more family divorced that actually together.” (personal communication, October 29, 2012)  Popenoe (1988) states in his own book that, “Another definition of family, one gaining currency, is ‘Anyone living in a household.’” (pg. 5) Mrs. Huerta’s biological parents were never married but did practice co-habitation for a time, when asked if her mother practiced co-habitation with any other men Samantha Huerta snorted and said, “Yes, of course. Oh my God, a lot… every year.” Although the communicator’s mother participated in co-residential relationships, Mrs. Huerta viewed household and family as very similar concepts whether as negative or positive. Real Mother Real Family seemed to have given family a broader meaning concerning who and where, but what was classified as only somewhat traditional or modern. Contemporary, according the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, is, “belonging to the same period of time.” Real Mother Real Family was conclusive in gathering that traditional family structure currently exists within modern types of family life allowing contemporary families the ability to be structurally modern or traditional.              

                       What are the issues in contemporary families?

Through research it has been found that the most common issues within different family structures are marriage, poverty, violence, and emotional hardship. One study recently done focuses on a mother’s physical and emotional well-being by examining the mother’s personal relationships in relation to her economic well-being.

Authors Osborne, Berger, and Magnuson (2012) found that:

 “Partnership dissolution and new partnership formation likely spur concomitant changes in individual and family circumstances, as well as changes in interpersonal relations and processes. Such changes may affect an adult’s access to economic and social resources, as well as his or her psychological functioning. As such, Family transitions are likely to influence adults’ health, productivity, quality of life, and ability to participate in society.” (pg. 24)

From a family into a community this study has shown that citizens require healthy family relationships in order to function positively in a society. The communities in which families live are affected by the well-being of the parents due to their relationship status. Osborne, Berger, and Magnuson (2012) concluded that, “Mothers with multiple transitions, regardless of the types of transitions they experienced, were found to have higher levels of mental health problems at their child’s birth than mothers who were married all five years.” (pg.28) Dissolution of romantic co-habitation relationships are associated with adverse outcomes, while considerable evidence exists linking marriage to economic relief and marriage to a biological father as more beneficial than marriage to a social father. (Osborne, Berger, & Magnuson 2012, pg. 27)

            According to Samantha Huerta in Real Mother Real Family her mother has been married and divorced twice with social fathers. Her biological mother and father were never married but did have a co-residential relationship form some months. When asked if she remembered her biological father living with her and her mother she said, “Nuh uh, I don’t wish to remember!” (personal communication, October 29th, 2012) The Osborne, Berger, and Magnuson (2012) study said, “Children may be particularly troubled… for whom regularity in relationships and routines is especially important.” (pg.26-27) When Mrs. Huerta was asked how her mother’s relationship transitions affected her as a child she answered, “I guess I just stopped caring after a certain point. Once I hit high school…I had my boyfriend, I was so into my life more than hers. I guess it affected me just because we moved so much.” (personal communication, October 29, 2012) Mrs. Huerta was asked to examine her childhood economic state and conclude whether it was better when her mother was married, co-habitating, or single. Mrs. Huerta then said, “Probably when she was single, just because the guys she would be with were idiots.” The interview was successful in gaining a different point of view on single mother’s economic well-being than that of Osborne, Berger, and Magnuson’s study. Mrs. Huerta seemed to agree with the study in her own family unit when she was asked if it is easier to be married or single when having a family. Samantha Huerta replied, “I think for Deziray (daughter), it’s a lot easier (to be married) just because she has both her parents and she’s not like constantly moving and she’s not constantly seeing me or Ray (husband) have different people in her life.” (personal communication, October 29, 2012) Her child’s well-being due to marriage was immediately recognized. When Mrs. Huerta contemplated her own well-being she stated, “For us (communicator and husband) like…. You know what? It is easier, because you can either have two incomes coming in or you can have one person working and the other person taking care of their child. So yeah, it is a lot easier.” (personal communication, October 29, 2012)

            Familiy Structure Transition and Changes in Maternal Resources and Well-being and Real Mother Real Family are just two studies with evidence that two parents are more beneficial that one, marriage is more beneficial than co-habitation, and marriage to a biological parent is more beneficial than a social parent. Today in contemporary families the Lesbian and Gay family and marriage issues must be taken into consideration as well. An article in Time Magazine follows a study done by Nanette Gartrell and Henry Bos, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral scientist.

The articles author Alice Park (2010) states that:

 The authors found that children raised by lesbian mothers — whether the mother was partnered or single — scored very similarly to children raised by heterosexual parents on measures of development and social behavior. These findings were expected, the authors said; however, they were surprised to discover that children in lesbian homes scored higher than kids in straight families on some psychological measures of self-esteem and confidence, did better academically and were less likely to have behavioral problems, such as rule-breaking and aggression. (para.5)

Author Ross Douthat (2012), from The New York Times, states that there are more recent studies suggesting the opposite, “Regnerus’s findings basically confirm the two-parent biological family’s advantages. Across a range of variables, from mental health to material prosperity, intact heterosexual households showed different and generally better long-term outcomes for children than other family structures – gay parents included.” (para. 5) Here are two articles and studies that contradict one another. How can any study be more right or wrong? Social Science research done by Lucy Marks in her Article, Same-sex parenting and children’s outcomes: A closer examination of the American psychological association’s brief on lesbian and gay parenting, provides a graph of varies studies done on Lesbian and Gay parenting and examines their credibility as shown in the following table:


The results found by Lucy Marks (2012) based on this table was that, “26 of 59 APA studies on same-sex parenting had no heterosexual comparison groups. In comparison studies, single mothers were often used as the hetero comparison group. No comparison study had the statistical power required to detect a small effect size. Definitive claims were not substantiated by the 59 published studies.” (para. 2)

            The knowledge gathered on marriage and family structure proves that it is a very important issue for family institutions emotionally and economically. It also proves that more than just structure, the issues of a contemporary family include what is happening within family institutions, what parents, regardless of the type of parents, are teaching their children. Dallin H. Oaks (2012) states in his article Protect the Children, “Worldwide almost eight million children die before their fifth birthday, mostly from disease both treatable and preventable. And the World Health Organization reports that one in four children have stunted growth, mentally and physically, because of inadequate nutrition.” (para. 11) Based on previous research it can be inferred some of these children’s state of health may be related to their parent’s economic state which is worse in a non-traditional structured family. Dallin H. Oaks (2012) goes on to say, “I have grieved as I had to study the shocking evidence of such cases- where a parent has broken or disfigured a child, physically or emotionally- during my service on the Utah Supreme Court.” Contemporary families face issues of violence in various degrees; one of these issues found in politics is that of abortion which is the most prominent of family policy issues (Glendon, 1987) Political ads and campaigns show abortion as women’s rights and human rights, choice and life. Is there research that shows abortion not only affects the woman or the child, but a family and society as well? Theologists Ankerberg and Weldon (2011) assert that, “Abortion affects not only the mother and the pre-born (as well as the father and society in general) it may also affect the siblings of the pre-born. A 1982 study concluded that ‘children who have sibling terminated by abortion may have psychological conflicts similar to those of children who survive disasters or siblings who die of accident or illness.’” (pg. 12) A mother’s psychological well-being is also affected by abortions which create trauma and what is known as post-abortion syndrome. Psychiatrists and doctors have admitted to understanding that a woman is destroying herself and disturbing a life process. (Ankerberg , &Weldon, 2011)  The study done by Osborne, Berger, and Magnuson (2012) formerly discussed, stresses the issue of maternal well-being by stating, “maternal depression…might also reduce a mother’s ability to maintain a good job or to build social networks.” (p.25) These authors also believe that a mother’s general well-being my affect the mother’s ability to optimally care for her child (Osborne, Berger, & Magnuson, 2012)  

What policies can be created to address the issues in a contemporary family?

            Policies can be created to address the issues of marriage, poverty, violence and emotional hardship.  A solution may not always be available but a deep understanding of the problem and some inspiration may be able help improve laws. (Glendon, 1987) Regarding family structure and the issue of marriage and divorce, there are various policies that may benefit a family. First is the issue of a father who has abandoned his family. A law may be created to hold that man accountable economically such as paying 50 percent of his income to the abandoned family. In many cases divorced fathers are given the choice to pay a child support payment or give up their rights as a father, instead of allowing the fathers this choice a policy can be created that does not allow a father to avoid child support payment in any instance. Perhaps policies can be created to directly affect a marriage before a divorce can occur by adjusting current divorce policy.

Mary Ann Glendon (1987) a law professor at Harvard Law School, concludes that:

 “The [current] American story about marriage, as told in the law and in much popular literature , goes something like this: marriage is a relationship that exists primarily for the fulfillment of the individual spouses. If it ceases to perform this function, no one is to blame and either spouse may terminate it at will.” (p.108) 

Fault divorces are based on three major reasons: adultery, desertion, and unreasonable behavior. (Glendon, 1987) Today in the United States grounds for a no-fault divorce include irreconcilable differences. In order to support and uphold marriage as beneficial in society, policies can be created with stricter perimeters for divorce such as not allowing divorce on the basis of incompatibility or a broken-down marriage with “no fault.” (Lawyers.com, para. 7) As shown in the Osborne, Berger, and Magnuson (2012) study children would benefit from the preservation of marriages which would ensure enhanced economic and social resources. (p.24) Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon (1987) compared abortion law to divorce law in that it is excessively lenient stating, “Within less than two decades all but three of these twenty nations abandoned strict abortion laws…in favor of a more permissive stance.” (pg. 10) Glendon (1987) explains that women can easily and legally terminate an unwanted pregnancy on various grounds such as distress. Abortion is no longer only allowed as an exception when necessary to save a woman’s life. (p. 11-15) In order to address the issue of emotional health and violence in families, abortion policies can be generated to reduce abortions by only permitting abortions under circumstances in which the mother’s physical and psychological health is significantly affected. A policy can be created in which a woman must participate in physical and mental examinations to receive a medical doctor’s approval before an abortion can occur. An other policy, in which women have opportunities within their health care plans to speak with doctors, lawyers, and social workers about healthy and easy alternatives to abortion, would be beneficial to not only the pregnant woman and the pre-born, but the family and community as well. With this policy more women would still have their choice of motherhood or non-motherhood, while simultaneously granting the pre-born its growing life.


In conclusion, an inference can be made that experts, societies, and individual family members all agree on one concept: that the traditional structured family (heterosexual biological parents) is not the only family structure that works, in fact it is not the only family structure in which children receive beneficial care economically, physically, and emotionally, but it is the most ideal. Real Mother Real Family, Family Structure Transitions and Changes in Maternal Resources and Well-being, Same-sex parenting and children’s outcomes: A closer examination of the American psychological association’s brief on lesbian and gay parenting (studies), and the various books, shows, and articles mentioned in this review of literature all provided broader points of view regarding why and how in families, varying in data and at times contradicting one another. The what however, was similar in all out comes being that family structures and issues are always related.         


Ankerberg, John, & Weldon, John. (2011) The Facts About Abortion. ATRI Publishing.

Contemporary. (1982). In Morris, W. (Ed.), The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. (287, New College Edition) Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Douthat, Ross. (June 11, 2012). Gay Parents and the Marriage Debate. New York Times, retrieved from http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/11/gay-parents-and-the-marriage-debate/

Erera, Pauline I., (2002) Family Diversity: Continuity and Change in the Contemporary Family. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Glendon, Mary Ann, (1987) Abortion and Divorce in Western Law: American Failures, European Challenges. The United States of America: President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Lawyers.com, (2012) Do I Need A Reason to Get Divorced?, Divorce, retrieved from http://family-law.lawyers.com/divorce/Do-I-Need-a-Reason-to-Get-Divorced.html

Marks, Lucy. (2012) Same-sex parenting and children’s outcomes: A closer examination of the American psychological association’s brief on lesbian and gay parenting. Social Science Research, 41, 4, 735-751. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.03.006   

Osborne, Cynthia, Berger, Lawrence M., & Magnuson, Katherine, (2012). Family Structure Transitions and Changes in Maternal Resourses and Well-Being. Demorgraph, 49, 23-47. doi:10.1007/s13524-001-0080-x

Park, Alice. (June 7, 2010) Study: Children of Lesbians May Do Better Than Their Peers. Time Magazine, retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1994480,00.html#ixzz2BH3zwEyL              

Popenoe, David. (1988). Disturbing the Nest: Family Change and Decline in Modern Societies. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers

Rogers, Roswell (Writer), & Tewksbury, Peter (Director), (January 15, 1958). Calypso Kid [Television series episode.] In Rodney, Eugene B. (Producer), Father Knows Best. Burbank, CA: Columbia Ranch Studios. 

Ruether, Rosemary R. (2001). Christianity and the Making of the Modern Family. Boston, MA: Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

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