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Universality of Family

In the study entitled social structure, Murdock examined the institution of family in a wide range of societies. In a sample of 250 societies ranging from small hunting and gathering bands to large scale industrial societies, he claimed that some form of family existed in every society and concluded that the family is universal. He defined family as a social group characterized by common residence, economic cooperation, and reproduction. It includes adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved relationship and one or more children own or adopted of the sexually cohabiting adults. Many sociologists have maintained that the nuclear family even when embedded in other kinship structures is universal and that this universality is based on its necessity for carrying out the basic and necessary sexual, economic, procreative, and educational functions required by every society. The functionalist theorists emphasize on the biological human compulsions of the helpless condition of human child and the mother and the prolonged infancy of human child as necessitating family. The question of whether the nuclear family structure is universal or necessary is becoming relevant with divorce having acquired greater incidence in western industrialized societies and many families headed by single parent also existing there even to the extent that Kibbutz in Israel were created divesting of nuclear family. An examination of Kibbutz led Spiro to conclude that from a functional and psychological view it is possible to see the Kibbutz as a large extended family. The Kibbutz may have eliminated nuclear family, it did so only by converting the entire community into a single gemeinschaft. In another study, Levy asked whether the nuclear family institutionalized in all societies?  He pointed out that even though the statuses of father, mother, spouses, sister, and brother may be present, they may not function as a nuclear family unit. According to Adams ,social organization is flexible enough to permit different forms of family to co-exist  in many cases some of the statuses of nuclear family may not function at all as a nuclear family unit. These statuses are present in every society, they may be differently filled and function differently as there are more elemental forms of family than nuclear family such as maternal dyad a residential unit composed of the mother and one or more children. Adult dyad or sexual dyad composed of a man and woman based simply on sexual act which may be further sanctioned by marriage. Paternal dyad composed of father and one or more children. The identification of maternal dyad as distinct from the nuclear family is made based on the fact that there is no husband – father as regular resident. There may be households with a man head or woman head. T Smith ( 1956)  studied black towns in British Guiana reported a significant percentage of mother dyad families there. These provide evidence that in contemporary populations with bilateral descent systems, women headed households are common. These women headed households have also been named as mother centered or matrifocal families. Nancy Gonzalez in her study of Livingston Honduras in 1956 found 45% of Black Caribbean families with female heads. Poverty and background of slavery are stated to be factors for matrifocalism in these societies.In some societies , matrifocal families have become an expected and accepted alternative to the nuclear family.