The word “family” can be used metaphorically to create more inclusive categories such as community, nationhood, global village and humanism. 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.

Function of the family

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


  • Importance of the larger kin group (extended family) beyond the nuclear family.
  • Dedication of the extended family to the raising and support of children.
  • Lack of public display of affection.
  • Care and respect for the elderly.
  • Marriage as a series of interrelated ceremonies.
  • Polygamy as a desired measure of social success or status; male access to younger women and female division of labor.
  • Less prominence of romance in courtship and marriage.
  • Constrained communication between parents and children.

Some aspects of the traditional family change fairly rapidly in transitional situations. Yet, the importance of the extended family and children, the restrained public display of affection, and care and respect for the elderly are sustained.


  • Changing socialization patterns of nursing children.
  • Changing roles of father and children especially in family life.
  • The decline of polygamy yet the persistence of polygamous behavior.
  • The increase of large single marriage ceremonies—church or civil.
  • Greater emphasis on romance and freedom for choosing one’s own mate.
  • Increased communication among members of educated families.


“The fact that Africa has been going through many social changes has been documented by many writers…Forms of nuclear family systems can now be found in Africa, especially in urban areas. This problem of change has exposed the African family to varied problems…[with] considerable conflicts of prescribed norms and behavior.” (p. 56). The following issues comprise sources of tension within the transitioning African family:

  • Mate selection and brideprice.
  • Alternatives for families of barren women.
  • Lack of privacy for couples forced to live with relatives.
  • Lack of support for women with husbands working at a distance.
  • Lack of adequate housing in urban areas.
  • Extramarital relations—especially on the part of separated spouses.
  • The problem of balancing responsibilities between work and family. (e.g., the working mother)
  • Continued expectations of extended family for support.
  • Confused roles and authority within the family. (e.g., a husband’s irresponsible expenditure of money earned by the wife in farming)

These and other problems arise when norms, expectations, and supports of traditional subsistence society crumble in modern cultures. In traditional society, for example, the father “would expect the children to regard his new wife as a mother and to call her such while their own mother was still alive and lived in the same house.” But “to most (modern) urban African children, a person called a ‘mother’ is that one who has given birth to you…All this creates much conflict…in the children and may explain alcohol and drug abuse among the youth in Africa.” The negative reaction in children to polygamy is especially acute “when the children are either approaching their teenage years or when they are really teenagers and need their parental support…through the turmoils of adolescence.” (p. 66)

“Our opinion, is that, in general, the African family represents a synthesis of traditional and Western family forms…The African family is undergoing rapid change that is not fully understandable through either simple descriptions of African family life or through use of theories based solely on studies of non-African societies. After more detailed studies of issues covered in this textbook, we may then start conceptualizing African variations on a common family form.” (p. 109)


The modern forces of change in Africa traditional family can be stated and discuss below;


There is no more important issue in the economics of the family than the impact of parents on the behavior of their children. By providing rewards and imposing constraints, parents seek to affect their children’s behavior. The explanation of these actions is that the child’s conduct directly enters into the parents utility function. The most important feature of parental conduct is the mere fact of being there, of remaining in the home with the child. This factor has become increasingly relevant over the past three decades as higher rates of divorce and illegitimacy have led increasing numbers of children to live in households where a parent, typically the father, is absent. In 1960, 87.7 percent of U.S. children lived with both parents, but this proportion fell to 68.1 percent by 1998. Of those children remaining, 73.1 percent lived with their mother but not with their father, 13.8 percent lived with their father but not with their mother, while the remaining 13.0 percent lived with others who were not their parents (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1998). We focus here on the role played by parental absence on the child’s subsequent conduct.



The shape of the family is changing across the world and it is no longer appropriate or constructive to view family as one-dimensional. Families are diverse and shared experience, acceptance of difference and respect and are key values in any progressive society. Gender is a social contruct, it is used to explain and justify men’s dominance over women across all dimensions of society. Women are no more inclined or able to cook, clean and care than men are to protect, provide and punish.  Evidence suggests neglible differences between the sexes outside of physiological ones (which including pregnancy and breast feeding would on average amount to approximately 8% of a woman’s life) Gross 2005.

There have been many positive moves towards equalising the position of men and women in Europe through legislation and policy in all spheres of public life, however change appears much  slower with regard to family life. Sex role stereotyping is particularly entrenched in the private domain. It is time for individuals and institutions to embrace and support diversity in family life for the benefit of all.


Gender inequality is a result of the persistent discrimination of one group of people based upon gender and it manifests itself differently according to race, culture, politics, country, and economic situation. It is furthermore considered a causal factor of violence against women. While gender discrimination happens to both men and women in individual situations, discrimination against women is an entrenched, global pandemic. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, rape and violence against women and girls is used as a tool of war. In Uganda, girls have had acid thrown in their faces for attending school. Considerable focus has been given to the issue of gender inequality at the international level by organizations such as the United Nations (UN), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the World Bank, particularly in developing countries. The causes and effects of gender inequality vary geographically, as do methods for combating it. This has continue to be a driving force in changing the African traditional family.


The global revolution that is changing the perception of families as a unit is impacting families across cultures and in multi-dimensional ways. The traditional, nuclear family consisting of the bread-winning father, stay-at-home mother and dependent children is slowly declining. The complexity of modern living has changed people’s perception towards marriage and family, as more families are becoming “touch and go” due to workplace demands and lack of time spent together. The impact of globalization on families is undeniable in terms of family re-modeling. Families have evolved due to the impact of individualism which is associated with globalization. Kagitcibasi (2002) highlights three different family interaction patterns which have come into existence due to socio-economic development. In summary, Kagitcibasi (2002) suggests that the model of emotional interdependence (with combined autonomy and control orientation in parenting) is prevalent in immigrant groups in Western Countries. This combination of individualism and collectiveness equates to the concept of related self.



Family is considered a basic cell of the society. All social and cultural practices find their connection with a notion of family, either supporting or distorting it. African society has been undergoing a process of profound changes affecting all aspects of its traditional life (Kisembo, 1998, p. 208, Vahakangas, 2004, p.43, O’Donovan, 2000, p. 40). I would like to, generally, mention just few of them that in my view are most relevant to the topic. A lot of these changes directly affect the family which is “the logical outcome of marriage” (Ayisi, 1992, p. 15). For various reasons, natural and human, the standard of life in Africa, in many cases and for most people, either did not improve since independence or actually reduced. Put together with an ever increasing cost of life, it contributes to the fact that many people live in poverty. It prevents them from fulfilling their traditional obligations (Timberlake, 1985; Wasah, 2008).






Acock, Alan C., and David H. Demo. 1994. Family Diversity and

Well -Being. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Amato, Paul R., and Alan Booth. 1997. A Generation at Risk:

Growing Up in an Era of Family Upheaval. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Arnett, Jeffrey J. 2000. “Emerging Adulthood: A Theory of

Development from the Late Teens Through the Twenties,” American Psychologist 55: 469-480.

Bergstrom, T.C. (1989), ÒA Fresh Look at the Rotten Kid Theorem

and Other Household Mysteries, Journal of Political Economy 97: 1138-1159.


Bergstrom, T.C. (1996), Economics in a Family Way, Journal of

Economic Literature 34: 1903-1934.


Blau, D.M. (1999), The Effect of Income on Child Development,

Review of Economics and Statistics 71: 261-276.


Clutton-Brock, T.H. (1991), The Evolution of Parental Care,

Princeton University Press. Daly, M. and M.I. Wilson




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