"The family is universal." Evaluate this claim.

Essay by Muse October 2005

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A family is defined in the dictionary as "a social unit consisting of people who are related by blood or law." There are many different definitions of family, some more specific then others; sociologists tend to use a more specific definition, which can vary according to the sociologist. There are different types of family; there are the more commonly-known ones, such as nuclear and extended, but there are also names for a mother-and-child family (matrifocal) and a father-and-child family (consanguineal). "Universal" means that it is found in all societies around the world; the "universal family" means a certain type of family that is found all over the world. Since the definition of family can mean different things to different people, it is hard to tell if family really is universal, but some sociologists try to answer this question by studying the ideals of family and making very specific classifications for it.

George Peter Murdock defined a family "a social group characterized by common residence, economic cooperation, and reproduction." He added that the family "includes adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, and one or more children". He stated that, to be a family, the unit must fulfil the four essential functions: socialisation, economic, sexual gratification, and reproduction. If they do not fulfil these functions, then they are not defined as a family, according to Murdock. These roles are important for the family to carry out because if they do not, they will not be able to produce children who are successful members of society, and if no family fulfilled these functions, society would cease to exist. Therefore, a "universal family" is needed to carry society on as it is now, otherwise it could just fall apart and society...