Family forms

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Historically, there are a number of family forms in Europe . The subject of consideration was in particular the “whole house” and the “large household family”. Both forms are also referred to as extended families , although there are considerable variations, both in terms of the number of members, the generations or side lines involved, and in terms of the inclusion of non-blood relatives ( ward , servants , house slaves , domestic staff , au pair ) . The interpretation of “ancestry” also differs ( compare for example the institutions of adoption and foster children / parents ).

To describe the family needed Familiensoziologie a number of terms. In some cases, there has been a development from large to small families in Europe since antiquity . In sociology , the counterpart to the extended family is not the nuclear family , but the " nuclear family ". As a married family consisting of parents (father, mother) and children, it is the basis of all family forms .

The problem here is that the same terms in very different epochs encompassed very different things; The nuclear family in feudalism is the same in form as that in modern times, but there are serious differences in the power structure and social reputation, and the same can be seen in the epochs in the extended family.

Ancient family

In antiquity, family meant a comprehensive way of life and legal form, sometimes also of several generations - for example fathers and sons - with possibly a large number of slaves in one "house". The basis of the “ancient family” is the legal form , later referred to as “house”, in which the father of the house ( pater familias ) is the legal representative and protector of the family externally, and internally as patriarch the holder of all power (up to and including killing Slaves and much more).

Large household family

In the Middle Ages, this corresponds to the “large household family”, in which several generations, sometimes also parallel marriages (for example of brothers) and possibly relatives together with the servants, form a way of life and economy . In the historical development, the "large household family" is more likely to be found in Northern Europe .

The “large household family” describes life forms in which several generations and possibly several parallel marriages (e.g. of brothers) including servants lived under one roof in a life and business association. It occurred more in south-east Europe (apart from other regions of the world - compare, for example, the North Frisian Haubarg ). These historical examples indicate that family formation can take place in different ways (even side by side): birth, adoption, divorce, widowhood, remarriage, foster care .


A special form is the (peasant) “estate” of certain regions with large-scale farming (for example north-west Germany ), in which a “nuclear family” plus servants / relatives as “extended household” is the main household on a (farmer) farm of the householder (see below), but on the other hand other households can be included, namely those of domestic and old-age dividers . Both can in turn be “extended budgets”. While Inste were mostly workers on the farm, retirees are the former farm keepers, usually parents, grandparents of a husband in the main household, seldom also not related to them. They at least had a share in the farm's products .

House / Whole House / Extended Household

  • "House" is in the Middle Ages - later called "Whole House" or "Extended Household" - is based on the above-mentioned legal form of the "House" (house father as legal representative and patron ...) and is differentiated from the other forms than from only defined as consisting of a "core family" plus servants.
  • “Whole house” referred to the household as a legal, social and economic unit. The sociologist Trutz von Trotha writes: “In the so-called 'whole house' of the pre- and early modern world there were house, farm, the succession of generations, the permanence of the paternal name, the securing of livelihoods and the protection of the family and some relatives The center of family life. ”With the development of the bourgeois and sub-bourgeois family, this has changed. The "whole house" will be in 19./20. Century, for example by Otto Brunner to the ideologically colored term, which emphasizes an idealized harmony of "master and servants" under the leadership of the housefather. According to Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl, the "Whole House" is the family form of farmers and townspeople, which developed primarily in "Western Europe" and which, in addition to the nuclear family, was primarily characterized by the inclusion of servants and unmarried relatives. Even if the number of these households was only about a third, up to 50% of the sedentary people lived in them. This type of family declined sharply with industrialization. The "ideological" meaning of this way of life is controversial: On the one hand, it is seen as a harmonious refuge of different social classes, as an exemplary model of a patriarchal way of life; on the other hand, its social gap between rulers and servants is emphasized and the importance of the "whole house" is relativized compared to the nuclear family - the numerically always predominates, but in a medieval or early modern society can hardly be equated with today's nuclear family. It was only from the 18th century onwards that sources were available that list households with all members living in them ( cameralistics ; tax and census lists); previously sources often only show large families of the upper classes. René König pointed out that for this reason historiography has often neglected the earlier importance of small families.
  • "Extended household" describes the situation more precisely (in the legal form of "house") in order to clearly refer to only one "core family" plus servants and, if necessary, relatives. The “extended household” is more of a component of the family forms in Western Europe .

Bourgeois family

The “ bourgeois family” develops out of the “house” of the urban merchants and the educated middle class in the pre-modern era . The frequently employed servants have a different position than those of craftsmen or even farmers (where servants often came from their own class). Here the core family becomes the sole focus of the house. The distance to the servants sets the style.

Nuclear family

At the end of the development in industrialization there is the nuclear family (2 meanings), which takes over the function and rights of the “house” and in which both spouses become legally competent as civil individuals (abolition of the “house”; albeit one-sidedly in favor of the man for a long time ). It arises both from the “bourgeois family” of the educated and property-owned bourgeoisie, primarily of the cities , from the handicrafts when the workshops and employees are outsourced, and from the emerging workforce . The nuclear family is comparable to the traditional family.

Traditional family

The traditional family consists of parents who are married, have children together and live together in one household. That is the ideal of the last decades in Germany. This classic form of family coexistence still exists.

The traditional family, which depends on reliability, faces a working life that is characterized by changes and short-termism. For these reasons, it is difficult to sustainably sustain a traditional family. The family has to change because of the demands of today, which is why family forms such as stepfamilies and single parent families are becoming more and more popular; what used to be considered a shame is now fully accepted. Such family forms offer advantages because the children learn more quickly to take on responsibility and to become independent.

In the past, the woman usually took care of the children, the husband and the rest of the household, the man went to work. Today mothers go to work more and more often - they usually look for part-time work as soon as the children are in kindergarten. Fathers, too, are increasingly exercising their right to parental leave. You also have the right to work part-time. Every woman in Germany gives birth to only 1.4 children instead of 2 or 3 children - as was the average 50 years ago. To stop this trend, all-day schools and child care facilities are being expanded to give women the opportunity to combine work and family. The family also has good legal protection: From maintenance law to custody, the legal regulations for this type of family are the most extensive.

Despite rising divorce rates, more than half of the population lives within a family with children and 80 percent of children grow up with siblings. The traditional family still seems to be a popular way of life today. Most couples express the desire to start a small, classic family. So the traditional family still has its place in society alongside other family forms.

Postmodern family

As a “postmodern family”, forms develop primarily in Western Europe that affect the dissolution of the spouse family. The concept of postmodernism is introduced into family sociology, (among others in Lüscher; see below) but is more likely to mean something like "postmodernism" (Beck), i.e. the time after the high phase of industrialization, i.e. from around the Second World War ( less the special term postmodernism in art). Even if the number of marriages of the spouses continues to predominate in the nuclear family , a number of corresponding developments can be observed. It ranges from shared apartments and partnerships to single-parent families to the connection of two parents, each with their own children, to form a stepfamily without any legal ties. An expression often used for this, the blended family , illuminates the perspective of the children growing up in such a successive association. Such a child may have six or more pairs of grandparents with varying degrees of emotional and instrumental ties. On the part of the state, the non-marital relationship is formalized, be it by offsetting the income of non-marital partners in the poor legislation (Germany: marriage-like cohabitation , benefit community ), be it through recognition of the union of homosexual couples ( registered civil partnership ), or - on the other hand - through joint partnerships Unmarried parents have custody of common children. But even in modern legal marriages, life relationships that correspond to such developments are becoming commonplace.

See also


  • Andreas Gestrich , Jens-Uwe Krause , Michael Mitterauer : History of the family (= Kröner's pocket edition. Vol. 376 = European cultural history. Vol. 1). Kröner, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-520-37601-6 .
  • Lars Hennings: Family and Community Forms at the Transition to Modernity. House, village, town and social structure at the end of the 18th century using the example of Schleswig-Holstein (= contributions to social research. Vol. 7). Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1995, ISBN 3-428-08332-6 .
  • Peter Laslett: Lost Worlds. History of pre-industrial society (= Fischer pocket books 10561 history ). Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1991, ISBN 3-596-10561-7 .
  • Kurt Lüscher , Franz Schultheis , Michael Wehrspaun (eds.): The "postmodern" family. Family strategies and family policy in a transitional period (= Constance contributions to social science research. Vol. 3). Universitäts-Verlag Konstanz, Konstanz 1988, ISBN 3-87940-313-9 .
  • Claudia Opitz : New Paths in Social History? A critical look at Otto Brunner's concept of the “whole house”. In: History and Society. Vol. 20, No. 1, 1994, ISSN  0340-613X , pp. 88-98.
  • Heidi Rosenbaum : Forms of the Family. Studies on the connection between family relationships, social structure and social change in German society in the 19th century (= Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch Wissenschaft 374). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1982, ISBN 3-518-07974-3 (At the same time: Göttingen, University, habilitation paper, 1981).
  • Ferdinand Tönnies : Community and Society. Basic terms d. pure sociology. This reprint is based on the 8th edition from 1935. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1979, ISBN 3-534-05180-7 .
  • Ingeborg Weber-Kellermann : The German family. An attempt at a social history (= Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch 185). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1974, ISBN 3-518-06685-4 .

Individual evidence

  2. ^ Trutz von Trotha: Parent-Child Relationship: France and Germany. (No longer available online.) Berlin Institute for Population and Development, January 2008, archived from the original on November 19, 2008 ; Retrieved September 20, 2008 . Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /