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A family of parents and three children
An extended family , 2007
Rembrandt van Rijn : Jacob blesses his grandchildren

Family (from Latin familia " servants ", "all of the servants", a collective form of famulus "servant") refers to a sociological one through partnership , marriage , civil partnership , adoption or parentage established community , mostly from parents or guardians and children composed, occasionally further relatives or partners living in the same household expanded. The family is essentially based on relationships .

Purpose of definition

The question to be clarified is not only whether a certain small social group forms a family, but also who belongs to a family. Most definitions by sociologists and economists assume that living together in a common household (the "family household") is a characteristic of a family.

For lawyers , the question of whether someone is a “ relative ” of another person is more relevant . Relatives enjoy privileges that “non-relatives” are not granted, but are also burdened with specific legal obligations. For lawyers, for example, families are communities of beneficiaries or the total number of relatives who are entitled to refuse to testify in court.

Concept history

Antiquity (Roman Empire)

The term familia has its roots in Oscan word famel or famelo and in the Umbrian word fameria . The Oscar famat means "to live" and refers to the basic meaning of living together.

The Latin terms famulus and famula mean "house slave", "servant" or "slave" and "servant" or "slave girl". The Latin term familia derived from this is "multi-layered" in the Latin language. There was no word for today's family term in Latin - just like in Greek : "In none of its meanings, familia was the nuclear family, consisting of father, mother, children."

The terms familia and the associated social center position of the pater familias had dominion names , the balance of power anzeigten or different aspects of power relations. The organic producer (father) was called genitor, not pater. Already in the Indo-European languages , Pater did not stand for bodily and material aspects of fatherhood , but for “creative power” and “supernatural powers” ​​beyond the pure fertility of a man .

In Roman antiquity , kinship was relativized for the first time as a central institution that established relationships , in that the familia was constituted around the central position of the pater familias and was brought into being as a social unit. Not the union of male semen with female fertility, but the charismatically exaggerated position of the landlord, the Patria Potestas , gave him the unrestricted right of disposal over the entire household. H. Things and people like wives, children, slaves , freedmen and cattle.

The very different contexts in which the Latin term familia was used each denote certain aspects of the complex concept of rule:

  • Servants of slaves, d. H. the slaves and dependent freedmen in a household (most common everyday use of the term)
  • Gender of ancestors in the male line
  • All persons who were under the violence of the pater familias (wife, children, possibly grandchildren, slaves, freedmen)
  • All things and people that were under the power of the pater familias , including cattle, money, goods, food, metals, etc.

middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, familia was not a term used in everyday language , but referred to the ruler's framework household, which often comprised many hundreds or thousands of people. This framework budget consisted of a multiple nested system of superordinate and subordinate house communities. The key concept of the social order was not the concept familia , but that of the house. The order of the house went back to the same domestic roots everywhere.

Modern times

It was not until the end of the 17th century that the term family , coming from French, was gradually adopted into everyday German . At first it was synonymous with the older term house . Only later did he designate the closer unit of the so-called nuclear family or the further social unit in the sense of kinship. The new term describes the ideal of the bourgeois family that has gained acceptance with the rise of the bourgeoisie . H. the nuclear family and their embedding in ancestral relationships .

Individual terminology

Regardless of whether a young couple moves to the woman's family after marriage ( matrilocality ) or to that of the man ( patrilocality ) or whether they settle in a third place of residence ( neolocality ), there are different definitions of the term and the depending on the culture Size of a family. The theoretical size of a family can often be read from the variety of kinship terms - so there are different terms in the Croatian language for the uncle as the brother of the father or the mother.

When grandparents, parents and children live together as a family, one speaks of a multigenerational household or a multigenerational family or extended family . In the USA and other countries there is the concept of the extended family , to which the further, partly by-married relationship belongs ( brotherhood ).

A distinction is also made as to whether material, cultural and spiritual resources in a family pass from father to son ( patrilinearity ) or whether they pass through the mother ( matrilinearity ). Blood kinship applies first , but in many cultures there is the possibility of adoption .

The head of the family is considered to be the person who formally and often actually has the greatest decision-making power over the family members and the actions of the family (compare clan mother and the ancient Roman concept of the "family father " pater familias ). In patrilineal societies (according to their patriarchal lines) this is usually the oldest active man; paternalistic care is often expected from him (see also house father literature , seniority ).

Functions of the family

Peer group family. Young families prefer to communicate with one another

The family bundles many biological and social functions:

Whether the biological reproductive function of the human species requires the institution “family” is partly controversial.

The biological basis of a family includes fertility and childbearing ability as well as the ability to care for the brood in a manner appropriate to humans . The ability to reproduce and childbearing are not required if a married couple adopts a child, but one can still speak of a "family". The coexistence of at least two generations is characteristic . The reproductive function serves to secure the succession of generations by passing on life .

Three elementary social functions can be highlighted:

  1. The “socialization” function (also: educational function ) of the family consists in its ability to control social issues , to facilitate socialization and in the formation of motivations and abilities of adolescents. It forms the first dense social network for the baby and also primarily trains children and young people. The family is a social space for security , growth, development and as such it is crucial for the development of skills and potential for action in the next generation.
  2. The economic function is an important function for many families. It provides protection and care (also material) for babies, but also for sick and old family members , feeds, clothes and houses them.
  3. The political function is first of all a locating one: for children born in it it provides a legitimate place in the respective society. Otherwise the political function in modern state- constituted ("statalen") societies has almost expired, but is often still found informally in the upper class . In non-state societies, however, it emerges as the only political support through kinship ( clan , clan ).

Further functions can be derived from these:

  • The religious function (also: conveying values) can be derived from the socialization function, for example in the organization of fixed families . This is inconspicuous in modern small families (examples: father says grace ; he decorates the Christmas tree). It was different in pre-state societies: There it was made clear in many customs - examples: the father determined whether a newborn was viable or whether it would be abandoned ; the sowing by hand may itself only make the farmer.
  • The legal function is still alive today under constitutional and private law (there in family law ). According to the German constitution, the family is under special state protection. In the area of ​​private law, she has numerous organizational rights (such as maintenance, guardianship, adoption and inheritance law).
  • The leisure and recreational function is a modern variant of the economic function. It includes basic services to maintain and restore the health of family members and the provision of recreational opportunities or compensatory benefits for the family in relation to existing social and economic forms of organization.

In addition, the family fulfills a psychological and emotional function by creating identity , contributing to social identity and self-image even in adulthood, and forming a basis for permanent social relationships within the extended family. Kinship relationships create personal ties of high emotional importance in childhood . The close relationships are later mostly expanded to include the life partner and spouse of the relatives and are maintained well into old age. They are celebrated through family visits and family celebrations.

In modern societies, the family's political, religious, economic and educational functions are partly transferred to other social institutions (e.g. states, political communities, insurance companies, schools, sports) and then take a back seat in everyday family life, which can change quickly in times of need.

Prehistoric and protohistoric societies are sometimes hypothetically assigned a familyless organization. In some indigenous tribal societies of modern times, forms of social coexistence are also observed that appear to have no nucleus, but are not necessarily family-free. With extensive material, sociology suspects at least a “universality of the nuclear family ” (Needham).

Family forms

Provincial Roman family. Antique clay model from Cologne.
The biblical holy family

In western and European cultures today, “family” is usually understood to mean the so-called nuclear family, that is, parents - including single parents  - and their children . The nuclear family appears as a predominantly occurring model in most of these societies . Other forms, such as shared apartments or two parents living together with their own children (whether married or not), are increasing, at least in Germany. Conceptually, the "nuclear family" is not the "in this sense, nuclear family are mistaken," which includes some members; a “nuclear family” with twelve legitimate children is not a “nuclear family”.

Change in the family structure - the bourgeois nuclear family (around 1850–1950)

Bulgarian family around 1912
American nuclear family watching TV, circa 1958

With the growth of cities and the development of the middle class in Europe since the middle of the 19th century, a strongly normative idea of ​​the family also emerged. This idea developed up to the middle of the 20th century to offer the following model:

Today the familiar family sociology more characteristic forms. The traditional family is still valued and corresponds to the life plan of most young people. Empirically, the change in family structures is due to a shrinking household size (numerous childless or one-child families), a decrease in marriages (but not necessarily in couples), an increase in divorces , an increase in single existence , a decrease in the average number of births per Women, an increase in female gainful employment , a shorter duration of partnership and family ties, and often identifiable in correspondingly multiple intervals ( serial monogamy ).

The catchphrase (trend towards) single society was coined for the (actual or supposed) trend towards a voluntarily and consciously chosen life plan of lack of a partner . However, the reality of such a trend is being questioned.

Pluralization of life forms (from the late 20th century)

A Rainbow Family (2007)

In the old Federal Republic, the development after 1960 was characterized by a few spurts. At the end of the 1960s, the first phase of intense change began, which ended in the early 1980s. During this period there was a sharp fall in the birth rate (1965–1975), a fall in the propensity to marry (1963–1978) and a rapid rise in the frequency of divorce (1969–1984). During this time, a legislative reform achieved extensive legal equality between men and women in the family (1977). This was followed by a phase of relative stability that lasted until the early 1990s. While the birth rate in West Germany has remained almost constant since 1975, the divorce rate has increased significantly since 1992, while the propensity to marry has decreased at the same time. The divorce rate has remained constant since 2005 and the decline in the propensity to marry lost momentum. The changes in the legal position of the child and the parent-child relationship as a result of the amendment of the Child and Youth Welfare Act (KJHG) 1990/91, the equality of illegitimate children in 1998 and the ban on violence are characteristic of the second development spurt since the mid-1990s in upbringing in 2000 and joint custody also for unmarried parents in 2010.

Due to the demographic development and the change in the way of life since the 1960s, the modern nuclear family has lost its position and is in competition with numerous other alternative forms of coexistence for members of different generations. In this context there is talk of a “ pluralization of life forms ”. Signs of this are the declining birth rate, the decline in marriages and the increase in divorces.

The change in household and family structures is reflected in the reluctance of many to start a family, also in the form that more often than previously married people remain permanently childless. The German citizens cite three main reasons against starting a family:

  • 62%: the desire to remain free and independent
  • 61%: the feeling of not being able to afford children and your own standard of living with children
  • 59%: then having to neglect their own professional career

Above all, however, the change can be seen in the number of single parents and non-marital partnerships. The high divorce rate also creates more and more stepfamilies (also known as “patchwork families” in German-speaking countries, and “continuation families” in sociology) in which children of different origins live. The accelerated change in values ​​since the 1970s is seen as the cause of this development.

The change in values ​​after the 1998 federal election found visible expression . Shortly after taking office, Federal Family Minister Christine Bergmann made the family policy motto of the new federal government known: “Family is where children are.” The minister specified her statement with the words: “Family is the coexistence of adults with children. Single parents and unmarried couples who are raising children are also families. Any other definition would be a gross disregard of reality. ”When asked whether same-sex couples with child (ren) could also be classified as“ family ”, Christine Bergmann did not deny the interviewer.

In the 2011 microcensus , the Federal Statistical Office took into account the definition of 1998 by listing all households with children in the subcategories “children under 18 years” and “children over 18 years” under the category “family households” and not including the marital status of relatives older generation still took into account the type of kinship relationships within the family household.

In 2012, the population researcher Jürgen Dorbritz sharpened Bergmann's thesis by explicitly drawing the reverse conclusion from it: "Where adults live together without children, there is no family". With this sentence he wanted to criticize what he believed to be the wrong tax policy of the federal government: “The forms of coexistence are constantly changing, today same-sex couples with children live together, bilocal couples who are spread over two households, weekend couples. Conversely, this also means: Where adults live together without children, there is no family - that should also be taken into account for tax purposes. "

The fact that people living together without children do not form a “family” is also an implicit assumption of the 2011 microcensus, which does not take childless couples into account under the “family household” category.

In the context of family mainstreaming , however, it must be taken into account that the " sandwich generation " has family obligations not only towards the next generation, but also towards the previous generation. People in an “empty nest situation” can form a “family household” again by moving a parent who is still alive, which does not meet the criteria of the 2011 microcensus, but does meet the criterion “people of several generations living together in one household”.

In addition to the "normal family", various alternative forms of coexistence between different generations have emerged:

  • Single parent household
  • illegitimate cohabitation with child (ren)
  • Couples living separately with a child (ren) together who alternately live with both legal guardians
  • Long-distance relationship or commuter marriage (both partners work separately during the week and often only see each other on weekends) with child (ren) who usually live with one of the two partners
  • Adult living community with child (ren), even without biological parenthood or adoption
  • same-sex partnership with child (ren)
  • same-sex marriage with child (ren)
  • Rainbow family
  • Children with multiple (biological and social) mothers and fathers (adoptive families or stepfamilies ); one also speaks of so-called "binuclear families" when the divorced - non-custodial - parents maintain contact with their children
  • polyamorous families , i.e. families with more than one partnership between the (at least three) adults

Sometimes children don't live in their parents' household, but in foster families , with their grandparents , in a children's home or elsewhere. Reasons for this could be illness, death, or drug addiction of a parent. In the case of very young mothers , multigenerational households are common. One can speak of a “family” in these cases when the children do not only live with the adults temporarily or temporarily.

In the case of two-generation households, the communities defined by living together remain in existence with increasing age of those involved until the last member of one generation moves out of the household of the other generation. Nevertheless, even with advancing age of those involved, typical family relationships persist, on the one hand through family and inheritance law regulations, on the other hand through often persisting emotional ties between the generations.

Due to the earlier occurrence of death in men on average, after the grown-up children move out of the common household there are further age-typical changes in the way of life:

  • One-person household of a widow
  • less often: one-person household of a widower
  • Two- or multi-generation household with widow / widower (usually the widowed person moves into the household of one of the children)
  • functional "extended family" - one of the forms of old people's home
  • functional "small family" - a form of house community predominantly older people (not related)

The advancing individualization process and the socio-structural differentiation process taking place in society make it easier for the individual to choose from a large number of options and decision-making options for their own lifestyle. Added to this is the change in social values , through which traditional values ​​of duty and acceptance are becoming less and less important, while values for self-realization and the planning of an individual life plan are becoming ever higher. This is especially true of the institution of marriage . Because this has lost importance for the fulfillment of certain needs (e.g. sexuality ) and as a material supply instance (for women ). In marriages and, more generally, in nuclear families with two adults, there is a pluralization of family employment arrangements: the breadwinner model that predominates in western Germany in particular is increasingly being replaced by the additional earner model or the double provider model ( e.g. dual career couples ). From the traditional existence for others (family, parenthood), the creation of a self-determined life became more and more important. The following are responsible for this change in family structures:

  • The human capital available to the average young woman approaches that of men of the same age. Above all, the loss of income associated with giving up a job and the high level of appreciation for their profession prompt many women to decide in favor of the profession and against parenthood, often even after they have entered into marriage. Often women who would be willing to accept a loss of income have fundamental doubts about the compatibility of family and work .
  • Overall, more men than women decide against starting a family. The reasons given are the priority of private interests and freedoms as well as the fear of not being up to the (supposed) task of being the main breadwinner of the family.
  • From an economic point of view, the increasing female employment rate reduces the number of those who (can) care for older relatives themselves. This, and the increasing proportion of childless under the patient, the proportion professionally to nurses to.
  • The number of own children for individual retirement provision often appears to be insignificant.
  • As the average age of the population is increasing and there are more and more very old people, people on average belong to the “sandwich generation” for longer and longer and even as retirees often have living parents.
  • The time spent on household work is decreasing due to technical progress and new types of services that are affordable for many.
  • The reform of family law (especially divorce law 1976), in addition to simplifying the divorce, shifted the maintenance obligation from the welfare of the state to the better-earning former spouse for those who would have been divorced under the old law. In a second step, the divorced, poorly earning former spouse's right to spousal support was restricted ( housewife marriage as “discontinued model”).
  • More effective birth control is also possible through better contraception methods.
  • The criticism of the “normal family” by the 68 generation and feminism (changed role models ) caused a change in awareness among many.

In Germany, no more than two adults can exercise custody of children; even the birth certificate is only issued to one or two parents. If a third person takes care of a child, a power of attorney is required for each doctor, etc. A third party cannot adopt a child without one of the others losing parental status. However, the right to spend time with the child is not necessarily limited to two people. Critics complain that politically and socially it is not adequately taken into account that it can be an advantage if more than two adults come together to form a family.

Family related sciences

Because of their variety of functions, many sciences deal with the family. The following family sciences should be mentioned (alphabetically):

Family-related job specifications, such as in social work , care for the elderly and other activities, must also be taken into account .

See also



Representations and special investigations

  • André Burguière, Christiane Klapisch-Zuber , Martine Segalen, Françoise Zonabend (eds.): History of the family. 4 volumes. Campus, Frankfurt u. a. 1996–1998, ISBN 3-593-35557-4 (Original: Histoire de la famille. Paris 1986).
  • René König: The family of today. An intercultural comparison. 3. Edition. Munich 1978.
  • Birgit Kohlhase: Family makes sense. Urachhaus, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-8251-7478-6 .
  • Christian von Zimmermann, Nina von Zimmermann (ed.): Family stories. Biography and family context since the 18th century. Campus, Frankfurt / New York 2008, ISBN 978-3-593-38773-4 .

Critical Aspects


Web links

Commons : Family  - collection of pictures, videos, and audio files
Wiktionary: Family  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikibooks: Etiquette: Family  - Learning and teaching materials

Individual evidence

  1. Alois Walde : Latin etymological dictionary. 3rd edition, obtained from Johann Baptist Hofmann , 3 volumes. Heidelberg 1938-1965, Volume 1, pp. 452-453.
  2. Duden : The dictionary of origin: Etymology of the German language. 5th revised edition. Berlin 2014, p. 271.
  3. Duden editorial team: Family. Retrieved March 13, 2020.
  4. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary: Family. Retrieved March 13, 2020.
  5. Family. In: An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English. Ed .: Ernest Weekly. New York 1967, p. 547 (English).
  6. Family. In: Oxford Dictionary of English. Ed .: Angus Stevenson. Oxford 2010 (English).
  7. ^ A b Carl Sell: From the Noxal law of the Romans. Legal historical treatises . Bonn 1879, p. 5 .
  8. a b Andreas Gestrich : Antiquity. In: Andreas Gestrich, Jens-Uwe Krause, Michael Mitterauer: History of the family. Kröner, Stuttgart 2003, pp. 95ff.
  9. a b c d Andreas Gestrich: Modern times. In: Andreas Gestrich, Jens-Uwe Krause, Michael Mitterauer: History of the family. Kröner, Stuttgart 2003, p. 367.
  10. ^ Bernhard Linke : From the relationship to the state: the emergence of political forms of organization in early Roman history. Stuttgart 1995, pp. 82-83.
  11. Marcel Mauss : Sociology and Anthropology. Volume 2: Exchanging gifts - imagining death - body techniques. Wiesbaden 2010, p. 98.
  12. Michael Mitterauer: Middle Ages. In: Andreas Gestrich, Jens-Uwe Krause, Michael Mitterauer: History of the family. Kröner, Stuttgart 2003, p. 270 ff.
  13. Rosemarie Nave-Herz : A socio-historical consideration of the emergence and spread of the middle-class family ideal in Germany. In: Dorothea Christa Krüger, Holger Herma, Anja Schierbaum (eds.): Family (s) today. Developments, controversies, forecasts. Weinheim 2013, pp. 18–35.
  14. Sabine Verk, Erika Karasek : A matter of taste - cookbooks from the Museum of Folklore (= writings of the Museum of Folklore . Volume 20). Staatliche Museen, Berlin 1995, ISBN 3-88609-382-4 , pp. 8–9 (exhibition catalog).
  15. Dajana Geffken: Cultural heterogeneity as an aspect of cooperation with parents - The role of the father in the course of time. Insights into parental leave, family and professional conflicts . Grin, 2011, p. 2.
  16. Jürgen Liminski : The formation of human assets as the core of every reform approach . In: Growth without offspring? Guiding principles and political consequences . Mainz 2006, p. 7–9 ( [PDF; 936 kB ] Seminar 11./12. March 2006).
  17. Manfred Cierpka : In spite of everything: family. Lecture on April 24, 2011 as part of the Lindau Psychotherapy Weeks ( PDF: 145 kB, 14 p. On
  18. ^ Message: Family statistics: This is how Germans live. In: Der Spiegel . October 20, 2014, accessed March 13, 2020 .
  19. ^ Norbert F. Schneider: Family in Germany - Stability and Change. Federal Agency for Civic Education , May 31, 2012, accessed on March 13, 2020.
  20. ^ Foundation for Future Issues : Lack of Time and Fear: Why Many Germans Don't Want to Start a Family. In: Research News. Volume 35, No. 255, May 15, 2014, accessed on March 13, 2020.
  21. Michael Feldhaus: Continuation families in Germany: Theoretical considerations and empirical findings . In: Yasemin Niephaus, Michaela Kreyenfeld, Reinhold Sackmann (eds.): Handbuch Bevölkerungssoziologie . Springer VS, Wiesbaden 2016, ISBN 978-3-658-01409-4 , p. 347-366 .
  22. Christine Bergmann , interviewed by Nicola Brüning, Henning Krumrey: Germany: “Family is where children are”. In: Focus magazine. No. 47, November 16, 1998 ( online at
  23. Federal Agency for Civic Education: Social Situation in Germany. Family households section by number of children . December 7, 2012, accessed February 13, 2020.
  24. Jürgen Dorbritz, interviewed by Volker Thomas: Family sociology “Where there are children, there is family” . In: . November 2012, accessed March 13, 2020.
  25. Jochen König: Debate family policy: three are not too many. In: . September 4, 2016, accessed March 13, 2020 .
  26. Teresa Bücker : Is it radical to do without biological children? In: Süddeutsche Zeitung . February 5, 2020, accessed March 13, 2020 .