What Are the Different Types of Family Structures?

Family structure has changed quite a lot in the last half of century. The “Leave it to Beaver” family doesn`t represent the standard family anymore, and now there are a few new family variations created.

What Are the Different Types of Family Structures

What Is the Meaning of a Traditional Family?

The family structure in the traditional way is considered to be a family that involves 2 married people who provide stability and care to their biological child. Still, this 2-parent, nuclear family has become in time less predominant, and various alternatives of family forms have become more frequent.

The idea of the family is created at birth, and then there are ties established over generations. In time, the traditional structure of the family has adapted, and now it includes divorces, unwed mothers, single-parent families or teenage pregnancies or same-sex marriages. Lately, there`s an increased interest in adoption.

What Are the Roles of the Family?

The main roles in a family known or assumed are the ones of the father, mother, daughter, son, uncle, aunt, grandfather and grandmother. They are often assigned to identify the general family structure, but also the gender of the people in the family. Therefore, these so called “titles” highlight the responsibilities and rights, privileges and duties, authority or power. What exactly they mean and what associated issues may occur, you`re about to find out now.

In any group of people, inevitably appears a designation of a role, sometimes being obvious. For instance, in a sports team the coach is the one who decides what position each player occupies; in a play there are similarly attributed roles to each actor, the structures of this nature exist in order to work together in the attempt of achieving a common purpose.  In a family, the very same thing happens – parents obviously being the ones who take control over the roles each person has.

Each person generally plays a certain role in the family, which may be rather different from the one from work or between friends. Sometimes a person goes beyond the role in the family, but the family expects for him/her to still meet his/her requirements. For instance, someone who has always been looked as the “little one” in the family may confront himself with some difficulties in the attempt to gain his independence or respect from the other members of the family.

What it should be kept in mind is that these roles are imposed to children even from an early age and, although they appear at a subconscious level, most of the times they involve an increased degree of inflexibility. Children may also assume roles, not only parents, and usually they cooperate in the attempt to achieve them. The more disorganized and chaotic a family is, the more increased this inflexibility of the roles is, just as it happens during periods of crisis and the members try to negotiate the terms of the crisis. The message that the children perceive when it comes to these roles is that they are necessary for the family to function properly.

However, there`s also a positive side: knowing and understanding the duties may be beneficial because the role during childhood is often perpetuated during adulthood.  The way in which everyone decides how and if he wants to take part in these assumed roles remains a personal choice. It affects the way of everyone thinks: the hero, scapegoat, lost child and mascot.

What Are the Different Types of Family Structures?

There are now 6 particular family structure types that exist in our society.

Nuclear Family

The nuclear family today represents the traditional type of a family. This type of family includes 2 parents and a number of children. It was long considered by most societies as being the ideal way of raising children. Children find stability and strength in a nuclear family and usually have a lot more opportunities because of the financial ease of both parents. Around 70% of children worldwide are raised in a nuclear family type, according to U.S. Census data.

Childless Family

While of us think of the idea of a family as also having children, there are couples out there who either choose not or cannot conceive children. This family is often considered the “forgotten family,” as it doesn`t really meet the traditional rules set by most societies. This type of family includes a wife, a husband working and living together. Most of these families choose to own a pet or keep contact with their nephews or nieces as a substitute.

Single-Parent Family

This family includes one single parent who raises one or several children by himself. Frequently, such a family type includes a mother together with her children, although there are also many single fathers out there. This type of family represents the biggest change in a society if we are to speak about family structures. One in 4 children is born to a single parent. Such families are usually close and are always looking for ways of solving their issues together, like dividing up the chores around the house. These families struggle when it comes to childcare, because there`s often one parent who has a job. This often limits opportunities or income, although lots of single parent families find aid in friends or relatives.


More than half of all marriages end in divorce in our current times, and many of these persons get married again. This leads to stepfamily which includes 2 separate families that merge into 1 single unit. It includes a new wife and husband along with their children from previous relationships/marriages. This type of family is just about as frequent as nuclear family, although they have a tendency of having more issues, like discipline problems or adjustment periods. Stepfamilies have to learn to work with one another to make sure these families function smoothly.

Extended Family

The extended family type includes 2 or more adults who have some sort of relation, either by marriage or blood. This particular type of family consists of lots of relatives that live together and work for the same goals, like keeping up with the duties of the house or raising the children. Lots of such families include uncles, grandparents, aunts or cousins, all living together. The extended family structure might form because of financial problems or due to older relatives being unable to take care of themselves on their own. This type of family structure are becoming more and more common worldwide.

Grandparent Family

Lots of grandparents these days raise their grandchildren for many reasons. One out of 14 children is raised by the grandparents, and his parents aren`t involved in the life of the child. This may very well be due to the parents being unfit, death of the parents, abandonment or addiction. Lots of grandparents have to return to their old jobs or find other sources of income to be able to raise their grandchildren.

How Does a Family Work?

A family isn`t a democracy! Each family has a general structure, but also its own way of deciding who has the power and authority within its unit and what rights, privileges, duties and roles are assigned to each member of the family. As already mentioned, the parents are the ones who “rule” in the family, and the children need to follow the instructions. Obviously, along with growth, the little ones are now teenagers and will ask for an increased degree of autonomy, and their opinions have to be taken into consideration when there are decisions taken, but the parents remain final.

Of course, there`ll always be things to disagree between generations, and parents need to allow children to have their own opinion, but the final decision need to be taken by the parents. However, they should explain their decision, without needing to become defensive or excused, although not always things will be pleasant.

The type of hierarchy plays an essential role regarding the way a family function and, therefore in the patriarchal societies the man has more power than the woman, including in the family, the father being seen as a provider and an authoritarian figure (who has the last saying), and the mother being the one who takes care of everything, responsible with the emotional part of the family (maintains the harmony in the family). Thus, mothers most of the primary responsibilities, and fathers have a partial responsibilities regarding the daily decisions. – Find out more!

However, in the present as a result of a society that is constantly changing, the traditional structure is subject to some challenges, and in a lot of families mothers are the ones who need to financially support the family, while fathers assume roles that are more and more important in the domestic responsibilities and raising the children. It`s useful to evaluate every assumed role in the family and if each person is satisfied with the present arrangement; for instance, the biggest child assumes the role in taking care of his brothers or the grandmother may assume the essential role of replacing the real parents. On the other hand, a bigger child might be recalcitrant regarding too much responsibility on his shoulders, and the little ones will come to detest the authority imposed by the big brother. In dysfunctional families may appear an inversion of roles, the parents expecting to be taken care of by their children.

What Are the Responsibilities of Family?

Family responsibility covers not only fathers and mothers that have a job and provide for their child. It also comprises, for example, a worker who carries for a different family member (single adults who carry for uncles and aunts, or siblings who take care of each other).

The 6 Basic Roles

Children who are raised in families that are disorganized proven to adopt one or more of the following roles:

  • Good child (hero): a child who assumes the parental role;
  • The rebel or problematic child: the child who is usually blamed for most issues that are related to the poor functioning of the family, despite the demonstrated emotional stability;
  • Caregiver: the child who takes the responsibility for the emotional well-being of the family;
  • The lost child: usually unnoticeable, silent, whose needs are most of the time ignored or hidden;
  • Mascot: uses jokes to distract the attention from the dysfunctional family system;
  • Genius: the opportunist who capitalizes the mistakes of other members of the family to get what he wants, often the object for the peace of adults. – More details!


Assigning and performing the roles within a family may prove to be a difficult task, requiring immense efforts from all family members. Here are some tips that you need to consider:

  • Establishing some clear roles, easy to identify. Each member of the family needs to recognize and admit his role and responsibility (he knows what is expected from him, otherwise the “agenda” of another member will become busy);
  • Allowing flexibility. Flexibility is very important in a healthy family and may change in periods of crisis (a person is sick or dying), healthy families can adjust and adapt (it requires a temporary/permanent change of roles);
  • A just assign of roles. They are established so as not to burden anyone, so the issues that may appear when a member is forced to take too many other roles (when single parents are concerned). Children require a certain degree of accountability as well.
  • Responsibility in assuming the role. This needs to be taken seriously and done as best as possible. For example, if the parent doesn`t offer enough support to the child, low self-esteem, behavioral problems or depression might result.
Image courtesy of ipr.northwestern.edu

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