(Sample Material) UPSC IAS Mains GS Online Coaching : Paper 4 - "Family"

Sample Material of Our IAS Mains GS Online Coaching Programme

Subject: General Studies (Paper 4 - Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude)

Topic: Family



Family, as a reproductive or a biological unit, consists of a man and a woman having a socially approved sexual relationship and whatever off- spring (natural or adopted) they might have. As a social unit, a family is referred to as “a group of persons of both sexes, related by marriage, blood or adoption, performing roles based on age, sex and relationship, and socially distinguished as making up a single household or a sub house hold.” Aileen Ross’ definition of family includes physical, social and psychological elements of family life. According to her. family is “a group of people usually related as some particular type of kindred, who may live in one household and whose unity resides in patterning of rights and duties, sentiments and authority”. She. thus, makes distinction between four sub-structures of family:

  •  ecological sub-structure, i.e., spatial arrangement of family members and their households, or how relatives live geographically close to each otlier. In simple words, this refers to the size of the household and type of the family;

  •  sub-structure of rights and duties, i.e., division of labour within the household:

  •  sub-structure of power and authority, i.e., control over the action of members; and sub-structure of sentiments, i.e., relationship between different sets of members, say, between husband and wife, parents and children, and siblings and siblings, etc.

Different scholars have given different forms of family. K.P. Chattopadhyay has given three types of family: simple (man, wife, and unmarried children), compound (two simple families, say, ego, his wife and unmarried children, and ego’s parents and unmarried brothers and sisters), and composite (i.e., lineal and collateral joint families). On the basis of authority, families have been classified as husband-dominant, wife- dominant, equalitarian, and autonomic families. Burgess and Locke have classified them as institutional and companionship families on the basis of the behaviour of the individual members. In the former family, the behaviour of the members is controlled by mores and public opinion, while in the latter family, behaviour arises from mutual affection and consensus. On the basis of kinship tics, families are classified as conjugal (priority given to marital ties) and consanguine (priority given to blood ties). Zimmerman has classified them as trustee (where members have to conform to family norms and they have no individual rights), atomistic (in which conventional mores lose their significance and each member can make his own choice) and domestic (which is an intermediate type between trustee and atomistic). I have introduced the concept of fissioned family which in structure and functioning is a nuclear family, separated from the parental family.


The concept of joint family has varied with different scholars. While Irawati Karve regards ‘co-residentiality” as important in jointness, Harold Gould, LP. Desai, SC. Dabe, B.S. Cohn, and Pauline Kolenda do not regard coresidentiality and commensality as essential ingrethents of jointness. F.G Bailey and T.N. Madan give importance to joint ownership of property, irrespective of the type of residence and commensality. LP. Desai gives importance to fulfillment of obligations towards kin, even if residence is separate and there is no common ownership of property. According to Irawati Karve, the traditional ancient Indian family (Vedic and Epic periods) was joint in terms of residence, property, and functions. She has given five characteristics of joint family: common residence, common kitchen, common property, common family worship, and some kinship relationship. On this basis, she defines joint family as “a group of people who generally live under one roof, eat food cooked at one hearth, hold property in common, participate in common family worship, and are related to each other as some particular type of kindred”. The word ‘common’ or ‘joint property’ here (according to the Hindu Succession Act, 1956) means that all the living male and female members up to three generations have a share in the paternal property. According to LP. Desai, co-residence and common kitchen are not as important dimensions of joint family as intra-family relationships are. He thinks that when two families having kinship relationship are living separately but function under one common authority, it will be a joint family. He calls it functional joint family. He calls a traditional joint family as one which consists of three or more generations. He calls two-generation family as a marginal joint family. Ramakrishna Mukherjee while giving five types of relations-conjugal, parental-filial, inter-sibling, lineal and affinal-has maintained that a joint family is a co-resident and commensal kin-group which consist of one or more of the first three types of relations and either lineal and/or affinal relations among the members.

While LP. Desai has given five types of family-nuclear, functionally joint, functionally and substantially (in terms of property) joint, marginally joint, and traditional joint, KM. Kapadiu has given five types of family: nuclear (husband, wife and unmarried children), nuclear with married sons (what LP. Desai calls Marginal Joint and Aileen Ross calls small joint family), lineal joint, collateral joint, and nuclear family with a dependant (widowed sister, etc) Aileen Ross has given four types of families: large joint, small joint, nuclear, and nuclear with dependants.

Taking all these types of families together as given by different scholars a joint family may be defined as ‘a multiplicity of geneologically related nuclear families, joint in residence and commensal relations and functioning under one authority’. The characteristics of joint family may be described as below:

 It has an authoritarian structure, i.e., power to make decisions lies in the hands of the head of the family (patriarch). Contrary to the authoritarian family, in a democratic family, the authority is vested in one or more individuals on the basis of competence and ability.

 It has familistic organization, i.e., individual’s interests are subordinated to the interests of the family as a whole, or the goals of the family are the goals of the individual members.

 Status of members is determined by their age and relationship. The status: of a man is higher than his wife; in two generations, the status of a person in the higher generation is higher than the status of a person in the lower generation; in the same generation, the status of a person of higher age is higher than the status of a person of lower age; and the status of a woman is determined by the status of her husband in the family.

The filial and fraternal relationship gets preference over conjugal relationship, i.e., husband-wife relationship is subordinated to father-son or brother-brother relationship.

 The family functions on the ideal of joint responsibility. If a father takes loan to marry his daughter, it is also the responsibility of his sons to repay the loan.

 All members get equal attention. A poor brother’s son will be admitted to the same school (even if costly) as rich brother’s son.

 The authority in the family (between men and men, men and women, and women and women) is determined on the principle of seniority. Though the eldest male (or female) may delegate the authority to someone else yet even this delegation is based on the principle of seniority, which limits the scope for the emergence of individualism.


The changes in intra-family relations may be examined at three levels: husband-wife relations, parental-filial relations, and relations between daughter-in-law and parents-in-law.

Emphasising ‘resources’ factor does not mean that ‘culture’ (what Max Weber has called ‘traditional authority’) has lost its importance. In fact, both factors are important today in conjugal bonds’. It may thus be averred that though an average Indian family is husband-dominant yet the ideological source of power of women is giving place to a pragmatic one.

The change in conjugal bonds is also evident from the increasing emancipation of wife. In urban areas, wife going with husband for social visits, taking food with husband or even before he does, going together to restaurants and movies, etc. indicate increasing ‘companion’ role of wife. Husband do longer regards his wife as inferior to him or devoid of reasoning but consult her and trusts her with serious matters. As regards closeness of man to his wife and mother, man, particularly the educated one. is now equally close to both (Gore, 1968:180).

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