In the context of human society, a family is a group of people affiliated by consanguinity (by recognized birth), affinity (by marriage), or co-residence and/or shared consumption (see Nurture kinship). Members of the immediate family include spouses, parents, brothers, sisters, sons and/or daughters. Members of the extended family may include grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces and/or siblings-in-law.
In most societies, the family is the principal institution for the socialization of children. As the basic unit for raising children, anthropologists generally classify most family organization as matrifocal (a mother and her children); conjugal (a husband, his wife, and children; also called the nuclear family); avuncular (for example, a grandparent, a brother, his sister, and her children); or extended (parents and children co-reside with other members of one parent’s family). Sexual relations among the members are regulated by rules concerning incest such as the incest taboo.
“Family” is used metaphorically to create more inclusive categories such as community, nationhood, global village and humanism. Genealogy is a field which aims to trace family lineages through history. Family is also an important economic unit studied in family economics.
One of the primary functions of the family involves providing a framework for the production and reproduction of persons, biologically and/or socially. This can occur through the sharing of material substances (such as food); the giving and receiving of care and nurture (nurture kinship); jural rights and obligations; and moral and sentimental ties. Thus, one’s experience of one’s family shifts over time. From the perspective of children, the family is a “family of orientation”: the family serves to locate children socially and plays a major role in their enculturation and socialization. From the point of view of the parent(s), the family is a “family of procreation,” the goal of which is to produce and enculturate and socialize children. However, producing children is not the only function of the family; in societies with a sexual division of labor, marriage, and the resulting relationship between two people, it is necessary for the formation of an economically productive household.
A family’s socioeconomic status is based on family income, parental education level, parental occupation, and social status in the community (such as contacts within the community, group associations, and the community’s perception of the family), note Demarest, Reisner, Anderson, Humphrey, Farquhar, and Stein (1993). Families with high socioeconomic status often have more success in preparing their young children for school because they typically have access to a wide range of resources to promote and support young children’s development. They are able to provide their young children with high-quality child care, books, and toys to encourage children in various learning activities at home. Also, they have easy access to information regarding their children’s health, as well as social, emotional, and cognitive development. In addition, families with high socioeconomic status often seek out information to help them better prepare their young children for school. As noted, the economic decline during the last decade has placed significant pressures on many families in terms of financial distress, reduced employment opportunities, and fewer resources to help family members pursue their educational goals. These dimensions of economic, occupational, and educational experience represent important markers of social class or socioeconomic status. In this report, we use the term social class interchangeably with socioeconomic status (SES) as is typically done in quantitative analyses of class effects (e.g., Haas, 2006; Scott & Leonhardt, 2005). SES is a construct that captures various dimensions of social position, including prestige, power, and economic well-being (Hoff, Laursen, & Tardiff, 2002; Oakes & Rossi, 2003). Most contemporary investigators agree that three quantitative indicators provide reasonably good coverage of the domains of interest: income, education, and occupational status (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002; Ensminger & Fothergill 2003).
Simply put, there is good evidence that social class or SES is positively related to marital quality and stability and, more tentatively, to the same outcomes for cohabiting partners. Despite findings consistent with the notion that SES predicts relationship outcomes, it needs to be noted that most of the studies reviewed here have both significant methodological strengths, such as large representative samples (e.g., Amato et al., 2007), as well as noteworthy design limitations, such as reliance on a single informant and the absence of information across time (e.g., Stanley et al., 2006). We return to these issues in later comments on directions for future research. We next turn to a central concern of this report; that is, the possible explanation for the positive association between SES and romantic relationship quality and stability. In our review of research during the past decade, we found that a majority of theoretically driven studies on this issue drew in whole or in part on predictions from the family stress model (FSM).

Families with low socioeconomic status often lack the financial, social, and educational supports that characterize families with high socioeconomic status. Poor families also may have inadequate or limited access to community resources that promote and support children’s development and school readiness. Parents may have inadequate skills for such activities as reading to and with their children, and they may lack information about childhood immunizations and nutrition. Zill, Collins, West, and Hausken (1995) state that “low maternal education and minority-language status are most consistently associated with fewer signs of emerging literacy and a greater number of difficulties in preschoolers.” Having inadequate resources and limited access to available resources can negatively affect families’ decisions regarding their young children’s development and learning. As a result, children from families with low socioeconomic status are at greater risk of entering kindergarten unprepared than their peers from families with median or high socioeconomic status. Research during the past decade shows that social class or socioeconomic status (SES) is related to satisfaction and stability in romantic unions, the quality of parent-child relationships, and a range of developmental outcomes for adults and children. Research findings reported during the past decade demonstrate support for an interactionist model of the relationship between SES and family life, which incorporates assumptions from both the social causation and social selection perspectives.
Bradley R.H., Corwyn R.F. Socioeconomic status and child development. Annual Review of Psychology. 2002;53:371–399. [PubMed]
Breen R., Jonsson J.O. Inequality of opportunity in comparative perspective: Recent research on educational attainment and social mobility. Annual Review of Sociology. 2005;31:223–243.
Davies G., Tenesa A., Payton A., Yang J., Harris S.E., Liewald D. Genome-wide association studies establish that human intelligence is highly heritable and polygenic. Molecular Psychiatry. 2011;16:996–1005. [PubMed]
Haworth C.M.A., Davis O.S.P., Plomin R. Twins Early Development Study (TEDS): A genetically sensitive investigation of cognitive and behavioral development from childhood to young adulthood. Twin Research and Human Genetics. 2013;16:117–125. [PubMed]
Haworth C.M.A., Harlaar N., Kovas Y., Davis O.S.P., Oliver B., Hayiou-Thomas M.E. Internet cognitive testing of large samples needed in genetic research. Twin Research and Human Genetics. 2007;10:554–563. [PubMed]
Howie B.N., Donnelly P., Marchini J. A flexible and accurate genotype imputation method for the next generation of genome-wide association studies. PLoS Genetics. 2009;5:e1000529. [PubMed]


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