There are two ways of looking at the family. It is regarded and studied as one of the universal and permanent institutions of mankind as a functional unit. There is another way of studying the family, regarding it as a group or a deliberately formed association. Such an approach would study the form and the content of the family.
The family has a biological matrix; it is the mother and the child who require familial protection most. It is never the mother and child alone who constitute a family there are always the mother’s mate and children who complete the initial membership. The basic grouping of the mates and their children has been called by nuclear, the immediate or the primary family. The nucleus of all types of types of families consists of those individuals who are bound together by a procreative urge and grouped with their children into a protective cum productive association. If this nucleus is extended, by the addition of other closely related kin then it is called an extended family. Extended families are of various types. Firstly, there are those who grow mainly around the nucleus and secondly there are those which are extended still further by extending the principle of kinship like in the Hindu joint family. If a nucleus of blood relatives is surrounded by a fringe of spouses the resultant grouping is called a consanguineous family. It consists of members related by the birth and individual choice does not operate. Maturation of children or break up of the marriage bond does not destroy the consanguineous family. Owing to marriage between close relatives being universally ruled out the consanguineous family can meet any demand of its members except that for sexual gratification and it is this fact necessitates the fringe of spouses. The emphasis is on the blood relationship and not the marriage bond. The type of family in which there is a nucleus of spouses and their offspring surrounded by a fringe of relatives is called a conjugal family and is found among many tribes like Kharia. The emphasis on conjugal bond makes it unstable among such people who do not hold this bond as indissoluble. The family in which one is born is called the family of origin or orientation and the family which one helps to set up after one’s marriage is called the family of procreation. There can also be other types of extension to permit the inclusion of all those people whom it may not be possible to include in the primary family. There are polygynous families where a man marries more than one wife a condition of marital arrangement common in some of the tribal societies. There are polyandrous families in which the husbands are more than one. There is joint family which is the collection of more than one primary family on the basis of close blood ties and common residence. There can be two types – matrilocal joint family like that of Nairs and the patrilocal joint family like that of tribes in Central India and Hindus. In both these types of families the offspring female in case of matrilocal and boy in patrilocal do not as a general rule leave their families of origin on their marriage. The family has been viewed from the functional and the compositional point of view. However, the form and structure of a family is not determined only by the type and number of people who are its members but also how the spouses are recruited. Thus, families have been classified as monogamous, polygamous and polyandrous and based on the marriage as nuclear and joint families. The mode of inheritance of family name and property, descent and rank and office may lead to a twofold classification of patrilineal and matrilineal families. A residential classification into patrilocal, matrilocal and avunculocal is also possible.