An elementary family can be defined as a social group consisting of father, mother and their children. Bohannan in his definition of the family emphasized the functional as well as the structural roles of the family. According to him a family contains people who are linked by sexual and affinal relationships as well as those linked by descent who are linked by secondary relationships that is by chains of primary relationships.
According to William J Goode at least two adult persons of opposite sex reside together. They engage in some kind of division of labor i.e they both do not perform exactly the same tasks. They engage in many types of economic and social exchanges i.e. they do things for one another. They share many things in common such as food, sex, residence and both goods and social activities. The adults have parental relations with their children as their children have filial relations with them; the parents have some authority over their children and both share with one another while also assuming some obligations for protection, cooperation and nurture. There are sibling relations among the children themselves with a range of obligations to share, protect and help one another. Individuals are likely to create various kinds of relations with each other but if their continuing social relations exhibit some or all of the role patterns, in all probability they would be viewed as the family.
A host of inter-related factors like economic, educational, legal and demographic like population growth, migration and urbanization etc have been affecting the structure of the family in India. There are many published accounts demonstrating that changes have taken place in the structure of the family due to exposures to the forces of industrialization. Nuclear status of family is considered as the outcome of its impact. Such an interpretation presupposes existence of non-nuclear family structure in such societies. Empirical evidence sometimes does not support this position. Further industrial establishments have their own requirements of human groups for their efficient functioning. As a result people are migrating to industrial areas and various kinds of family units have been formed added extra-ordinary variety to overall situation.
Due to the influences of urbanization the joint family structure is under severe stress and in many cases it has developed a tendency toward nuclear family. When there is no disagreement on the authenticity of such a tendency the traditional ideal joint family was perhaps not the exclusive type before such influences came into existence.
Both modernization and urbanization are considered as the major contributing factors toward modernization. In fact modernization as a social –psychological attribute can be in operation independent of industrialization and urbanization.
With the passage of time through exposures to the forces of modernization family structure underwent multiple changes. One of the important features of the family studies in India has been concerned with the question of whether the joint family system is disintegrating and a new nuclear type of family pattern is emerging. According to Augustine it seems almost unrealistic that we think of a dichotomy between the joint and nuclear family. This is especially true given the rapidity of social change that has swept our country. In the context of industrialization, urbanization and social change it is very difficult to think of a dichotomy between the joint and the nuclear family in India. In the present context these typologies are not mutually exclusive. Social change is an inevitable social process that can be defined as observable transformations in social relationships. This transformation is most evident in the family system. However because of structures our traditionally these transformations are not easily observable.
According to Augustine the concept of transitionality has two dimensions – retrospective and prospective. The retrospective dimension implies the traditional past of our family and social system while the prospective one denotes the direction in which change is taking place in our family system. Transitionality is thus an attempt to discuss the crux of the emergent forms of family. The studies conducted in several parts of the country show that the joint family system in India is undergoing a process of structural transformation due to the process of modernization, industrialization and urbanization. A nuclear family develops into a joint family after the marriage of a son and hence the process of fission and fusion take place in the family system due to various reasons. In most parts of India where patriarchal families exist sons are expected to stay put together with the parents till the marriage of the children. After this they tend to separate. Thus the process of fission take place and the joint family is broken into relatively smaller number of units –sometimes into nuclear units. Nicolas on the basis of his study in rural West Bengal concludes that if a joint family between a father and his married sons divides a joint family among brothers rarely survive. The father seems to be the keystone of the joint family structure. Despite the solidarity among the male siblings after the father's death many forces tend to break the joint family into separate units.
Significant numbers of studies have been conducted on the urban family structure in India. T.K Oomen in his article Urban family in Transition points out that most of these studies have been obsessed with a single question is the joint family in India breaking down and undergoing a process of nuclear due to urbanization? Scholars point out that industrial urbanization has not brought disintegration in the joint family structure. Milton Singer studies the structure of the joint family among the industrialists of Madras City. He finds that joint family system has not been a blockade for entrepreneurship development. Rather it has facilitated and adapted to industrialization. Ramakrishna Mukherjee in 'Sociologists and Social Change in India Today' finds that the joint family is over represented in the trade and commerce sector of national economy and in the high and middle grade occupations and nuclear family is over represented in the rural rather than in the urban areas. Based on his study on the family structure in West Bengal he concludes that the central tendency in the Indian society is to pursue the joint family organization. T.K Oomen is of the opinion that so far urban family has been viewed from within as a little society .To him for a proper understanding the urban family should be placed in a broad social context. For this purpose the urban families should be placed in a broad social context. The urban families are to be distinguished through the mode of earning a livelihood and sources of income, structure of authority, urban social milieu and social ecology and the emerging value patterns.
The socio-ecological factors like the settlement patterns, cultural environments of the urban migrants and associations to various occupational, political, ideological, cultural, economic groups influence and reorient the style and pattern of urban families. The urban centers are melting pots of traditional and modern values. Individualism is growing at a significant speed in the urban areas. Individualism is against the spirit of the joint family and questions the established authority of the patriarchal set up.
In the context of rapid technological transformation, economic development and social change the pattern of family living has been diverse in urban India. Life is complex both in the rural and in the urban areas .In the urban areas and even in the rural areas many couples are in gainful employment. They depend on others for childcare. With the structural break down of the joint family they face lot of difficulties in raising their children. For employment many rural men come out of the village leaving behind their wives and children.
In the process of structural transformation the old structure of authority and value has been challenged. The growing individualism questions the legitimacy of the age-old hierarchic authority. The old value system also changes significantly. However this system of transformation has minimized the importance of mutual respect, love and affection among the family members belonging to various generations. The lack of emotional support in the family often leads the youth to the path of alcoholism and drug addiction.