Definitions of Family
 
Estimated Number of Printed Pages: 4
 
TOPICS COVERED: In my book, I spend a lot of time critiquing those who want to define or label a family, so it may seem ironic to have a page of nothing but definitions of "family." But I think that these actually show the fruitlessness of the exercise. Because in that single word are social, historical and cultural values. Embedded in how it's defined are decrees about what's a social norm. Or acceptable behavior. It tells people who's in and who's out. What counts as a family and what doesn't. It's obvious just by reading some of these, some have really been politicizing the family, while others have tried to go with the most pragmatic of definitions. None of these will give you a sense of reassurance. You can't use them to say, "So, we're a family!" But the next time you hear someone say the well-worn platitude, "The family is the cornerstone of society," we think you may remember these and say, "Yes, but . . . . "
 
MEMOS ON RELATED INFORMATION: Family as a Social Institution, Family Structures
 
Links to Sources for this material are available below. Please also see The Factbook Sources page for further information regarding Factbook sources and their availability.
 
 

DEFINITIONS OF FAMILY

 
 
 
Family, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau:

"A family includes a householder and one or more people living in the same household who are related to the householder by birth, marriage, or adoption. All people in a household who are related to the householder are regarded as members of his or her family. A family household may contain people not related to the householder, but those people are not included as part of the householder’s family in census tabulations. Thus, the number of family households is equal to the number of families, but family households may include more members than do families. A household can contain only one family for purposes of census tabulations. Not all households contain families since a household may comprise a group of unrelated people or one person living alone." 1.

 
 
Family, as defined by a 1970s Long Island, New York housing code (upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1974):

"One or more persons related by blood, adoption, or marriage, living and cooking together as a single housekeeping unit, exclusive of household servants. A number of persons but not exceeding two (2) living and cooking together as a single housekeeping unit though not related by blood, adoption, or marriage shall be deemed to constitute a family." 2.

 
 
Three Views of "Family," by the U.S. Supreme Court:

1. a traditional “nuclear family” of two parents and their children, and where the parents are presumed to be acting in the best interests of their children. In such a family, there is no need to give the children their own voice – even when parents do such things as institutionalize their children;
 
2. an extended-kind model of family made up of a community of parents, siblings, grandparents and other relatives which should be recognized as a primary family, even if the blood-ties are not as strong as a nuclear family; and
 
3. an individualist model where family members are fairly autonomous and that individuality should be respected. 3.

 
 
Family, as defined by Statistics Canada:

"[A] now-married couple, a common-law couple or a lone-parent with a child or youth who is under the age of 25 and who does not have his or her own spouse or child living in the household. Now-married couples and common-law couples may or may not have such children and youth living with them. Now-married couples and common-law couples are classified as husband-wife families and the partners in the couple are classified as spouses." 4.

 
 
Family, as defined by the Netherlands Cabinet:

"a social unit where one or more children are being cared for and/or brought up." 5.

 
 
As long as you're under my roof . . . .
The National Statistical Service of Greece counts all the people who live under the same roof as a family – even if they aren't related. 6.
 
 
 
House -
Similarly, the Zinacantecos of southern Mexico don't have a word that is equivalent to our concept of family as a parent-child relationship. Instead, their basic social unit is a "house" – and that can mean just one or as many as 20 people who live there. 7.
 
 
 
Oxford English Dictionary
first defines a family as the servants of a house, or the household. The second definition is everyone who lives in a house or under one head. It isn't until the third definition that it defines family as a "group of persons consisting of the parents and their children, whether actually living together or not." 8.
 
 
 
Guo + Jia
The Chinese word for "nation" consists of the combination of two other characters: "guo" – country – and "jia" – family. 9.
 
 
 
It doesn't just take a village – it is one –
Up until the mid-1800s, a Japanese family unit was considered those who worked together in a single village. 10.
 
 
 
ie
In 1889, Japanese law defined a family to be based on blood lineage, with a father as head of the household, passing on down to his eldest son. Since the determining factor was paternal blood relations, that included polygamous families: all children who had the same father were considered to be in the same family. 11.
 
 
 
uchi:
The contemporary Japanese term for family, following post-World War II changes in the nation's laws and society. It may refer to a nuclear family of parents and unmarried children, but it can also mean a household as a unit of production or consumption. 12.
 
 
 
The Arabic equivalent to American concept of family is: ‘aila. The root of that word means: “to support.” 13.
 
 
 
Family, as described by George Santayana:
"one of nature's masterpieces." 14.
 
 
 
Families, as quoted by Gloria Steinem:
"Families mean support and an audience to men. To women, they just mean more work." 15.
 
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1. ________, Census 2000 Profiles of General Demographic Characteristics, United States, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC (2001). p. A-1. Archived at: http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2000/doc/ProfilesTD.pdf
2. As quoted in ________, Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas, 416 U.S. 1, 3 (1974). Archived at: http://laws.findlaw.com/us/416/1.html
3 According to constitutional law scholar, Janet L. Dolgin. Janet L. Dolgin, "The Constitution As Family Arbiter: A Moral in the Mess?" Columbia Law Review, vol. 102 pp. 337-407 (March 4, 2002), pp. 379- 383.
4. _______, Census Family Definition, Statistics Canada, Accessed at http://www.statcan.ca/english/concepts/definitions/cen-family.htm on August 27, 2005. Statistics Canada information is used with the permission of Statistics Canada. Users are forbidden to copy the data and redisseminate them, in an original or modified form, for commercial purposes, without the expressed permission of Statistics Canada. Information on the availability of the wide range of data from Statistics Canada can be obtained from Statistics Canada's Regional Offices, its World Wide Web site at http://www.statcan.ca, and its toll-free access number 1-800-263-1136.
5. Hans-Joachim Schulze, General Monitoring Report, 2004, European Observatory on Family Matters (2004), p. 2. Archived at: http://europa.eu.int/comm/employment_social/eoss/downloads/gm_04_Netherlands.pdf and Hans-Joachim Schulze and Peter Cuyvers, The Situation of Families in The Netherlands in 2001, European Observatory on Family Matters (2001), p. 2. Archived at: http://europa.eu.int/comm/employment_social/eoss/downloads/gm_01_netherlands_schulze_cuyvers.pdf
6. Aphrodite Teperoglou, "Greece," International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family, Second Ed. James J. Ponzetti, (ed.), Macmillian Reference USA (2002), p. 775. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0028656725/qid=1123776640/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846 or http://www.galegroup.com/servlet/ItemDetailServlet?region=9&imprint=000&titleCode=M106&type=4&id=174024
7. Arlene Skolnick, "Nuclear Families," International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family, Second Ed. James J. Ponzetti, (ed.), Macmillian Reference USA (2002), p. 1181. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0028656725/qid=1123776640/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846 or http://www.galegroup.com/servlet/ItemDetailServlet?region=9&imprint=000&titleCode=M106&type=4&id=174024
8. J.A. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner, The Compact Oxford English Dictionary (New/Second Edition), Oxford University Press, Inc., New York, NY (2000).
9. Cecilia L.W. Chan, "How the Socio-cultural Context Shapes Women's Divorce Experience in Hong Kong," Journal of Comparative Family Studies (January 1, 2004). Archived at: http://www.highbeam.com/library/doc3.asp?docid=1G1:113302752
10. Junko Kuninobu, "Japan," International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family, Second Ed. James J. Ponzetti, (ed.), Macmillian Reference USA (2002), p. 969. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0028656725/qid=1123776640/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846 or http://www.galegroup.com/servlet/ItemDetailServlet?region=9&imprint=000&titleCode=M106&type=4&id=174024
11. Junko Kuninobu, "Japan," International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family, Second Ed. James J. Ponzetti, (ed.), Macmillian Reference USA (2002), p. 969. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0028656725/qid=1123776640/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846 or http://www.galegroup.com/servlet/ItemDetailServlet?region=9&imprint=000&titleCode=M106&type=4&id=174024 See also Ronald E. Dolan and Robert L. Worden (eds), Library of Congress Country Study: Japan (1994). Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress under the Country Studies/Area Handbook Program sponsored by the Department of the Army. Online edition at http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/jptoc.html
12. Ronald E. Dolan and Robert L. Worden (eds), Library of Congress Country Study: Japan (1994). Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress under the Country Studies/Area Handbook Program sponsored by the Department of the Army. Online edition at http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/jptoc.html
13. Nazek Nosseir, "Family in the New Millennium: Major Trends Affecting Families in North Africa," Major Trends Affecting Families: A Background Document, Report for United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Social Policy and Development, Program on the Family (2003), p. 3. Archived at: http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/family/Publications/mtnosseir.pdf
14. From George Santayana's The Life of Reason, 1905-1906, as quoted by George Carruth and Eugene Ehrlich (eds), American Quotations, Wings Books, Avenel, New Jersey (1992) p. 227.
15. The quote's original author unknown; it was quoted by Steinem in the September 1981 Ms. Magazine. As quoted by George Carruth and Eugene Ehrlich (eds), American Quotations, Wings Books, Avenel, New Jersey (1992) p. 227.