Сompare two culture on family structre: extended and communal versus nuclear families


                   The comparison between extended and nuclear family is done by looking at various cultures and how they embrace these kinds of families - Сompare two culture on family structre: extended and communal versus nuclear families introduction. The reflection goes ahead to denote emotional distance, social interaction, and communication as well as geographical proximity. The functional aspects of a family defined as members of the nuclear family include father, mother and their children. For the extended family the functional aspect equally defined as members include grandmother/grandfather, uncle/aunt and cousins.

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                     However, nuclear families can be any size as long as the family can support itself and there are only parents and children. Therefore the size does not matter. The family is a social group characterized by common residence, economic cooperation and reproduction. It contains adults of both sexes at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship (Amin 1996) – that is for a nuclear family in the West. This is contrary to some nuclear families in Africa where we have one father and several wives- thus in such cases polygamy is embraced. Nuclear family has long been characterized and associated to the European family which is a contrast to Asia where extended family is a norm.

                          In Africa the family primarily is composed of extended family. The family includes grandparents, mothers, father, children, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephew, and nieces. Children from the same father and different mothers (from a polygamous marriage) consider themselves as brothers and sisters. All the children within the extended family are considered equal and must be treated equally. In the African culture the head of the family and the wife are obligated to care for their nephews, nieces and cousins as their own children. Once the children are adults they are in turn responsible for caring for them, their own parents, aunts and uncles when they age. In this kind of scenario, the communal aspect of the family as a whole in caring for its members and the welfare of the family as a whole is depicted. In the African cultures men are the head of the family while women are responsible for the old and the sick and children.

This however this is eroded by education (educated individuals) which sees the family members detaching themselves from the others when they leave their communal families to go searching for jobs thus living only with their wives and children thus formation of nuclear family.

Differences between Extended and Nuclear Families

                   The difference of a nuclear and extended family can be attributed to the allocation of headship: a nuclear family is headed by a child’s father, whereas an extended family is headed by the grand father. This can be manifested in both the African and Asian cultures. The extended family is mostly viewed as a family form that ensures support of the elderly by their adult children.

                      Extended family is described by its characteristic of the sharing of common residence and economic sharing with relatives. This implies sharing of common residence of a married couple with other nuclear units in the husband’s kinship group. But this can be different from one culture to another. For instance in other cultures like Chinese the parents represents the vertical dimension of extended kinship which cut across generations, and brothers, the lateral dimension which is within the same generation as individual. The ideal extended family in this culture would include the two dimensions (Solomon 1974).

                      One of the factor that limit the incident of extended families across the globe is the small landholdings of most families have been yielding inadequate resources to maintain large extended families. The children in nuclear families are prone to benefit from privileges like the provision of private goods but suffering from lower levels of household public goods, compared to children from the extended families.   The difference between nuclear and extended families arises in the way education is provided in the two families (Shavit 1991). Children in the nuclear families tend to have higher level of education than their counterparts in the extended families. This might be because of the roles the children are expected to play in the two sets of families. In traditional extended families, children are expected to take care of specific chores that saw them not attending school. In Africa, girls are not given an opportunity to advance in education in the extended family and are remotely looked at as objects to be married and generate wealth in the entire extended family.

                              On the other hand the communal family engages and lives together. This can be illustrated by a patriarch who has two adult sons. The sons marry and form families. These families continue to co-reside with the patriarch and thus form a purely extended family or the sons may go ahead and their own households thus forming a nuclear family (Amin 1996). In a communal situation one of the sons ought to remain and stay with the patriarch and inherits the headship of the patriarch. This is a case common in Asia.   The consequence of the continuous practicing of this form of family structure leads to a scenario where, properties and wealth is owned by the communal family or –as it is referred to in Africa the clan- unlike the nuclear family where property and wealth is owned by an individual-the head of the family who ideally is the father.

                If families were classified according to headship and demographic composition, nuclear families are headed by the father and extended families are headed by the grand-father. Among the nuclear families, those with and those without co-residing grand-parents can be distinguished. The pattern from land-holding is some-what mixed. On one hand, nuclear families appear substantially poorer than other types. Land holding is lower in nuclear families this is                                                              contrary to extended family which possess a very big land under the umbrella of the grand-father or the family name. Eventually in other cultures like Africa this land is referred to as the clan land or ancestral land. The nuclear family possesses a smaller piece of land because the family has fewer members and is usually formed by an individual who has moved away from the extended family- which has a large piece of land.

                   However parents, fathers in particular are better educated in nuclear than in extended families (Shavit 1991).  However in the two families the men are looked at as the bread winners while the women are perceived as the caretakers. The organization of the family varies across cultures along a number of dimensions. Extended family is prominent in Asia and Africa, and the nuclear family is prominent in the Europe. A potentially important difference between the two is the allocation of headship- with the father in nuclear families but the grand-father in extended families.


                In the contemporary world the concept of extended family is an issue that is gradually phased out although it is still prominent in other cultures. In Africa for instance, the extended family is a thing that is diminishing with time. This is partially because of the enlightenment brought about by education that tends to alienate an individual from the communal society. This can be illustrated when an individual goes to school and eventually leave the communal land and gets a job, he moves with his nuclear family. In addition, the extended families thrive in rural area in African set up, where everything is gotten from the ploughed land. Extended families are diminishing in this sense since there is consistent rural-urban migration which has seen young men moving with their wives and children (nuclear family) into urban cities.

                         On the other hand the Asian communities have maintained their culture of extended families. They own family businesses and live and move together in every town they go to. This is advantageous to them because they cut-cost sustaining their standards of living.  It is also crucial to observe that through extended family it is easier to accumulate wealth than when a family goes it alone in a nuclear family set up.

Works Cited

Amin, Sajeda. “Family Structure and Change in Rural Bangladeshi,” the` Population Council, WP No. 87 (1996)

Shavit, Yossi. “Sibship Size and Educational Attainment in Nuclear and Extended Families” American Sociological Review (1991): 321-330

Solomon, Simon. Some Aspects of Extended kinship in a Chinese Community. Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 36 (1974): 628-633.


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