An extended family is a family that extends beyond the nuclear family of parents and their children to include aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins or other relatives, all living nearby or in the same household. Particular forms include the stem and joint families.


In some circumstances, the extended family comes to live either with or in place of a member of the immediate family. These families include, in one household or close proximity, relatives in addition to an immediate family.[1] An example would be an elderly parent who moves in with his or her children due to old age. In modern Western cultures dominated by immediate family constructs, the term has come to be used generically to refer to grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins, whether they live together within the same household or not.[2] However, it may also refer to a family unit in which several generations live together within a single household. In some cultures, the term is used synonymously with consanguineous family.

A stem family is a kind of extended family, first discussed by Frédéric Le Play. Parents will live with one child and his/her spouse, as well as the children of both, while other children will leave the house or remain in it, unmarried. The stem family is sometimes associated with inegalitarian inheritance practices, as in Japan and Korea, but the term has also been used in some contexts to describe a family type where parents live with a married child and his or her spouse and children, but the transfer of land and moveable property is more or less egalitarian, as in the case of traditional Romania,[3] northeastern Thailand[4] or Mesoamerican indigenous peoples.[5] In these cases, the child who cares for the parents usually receives the house in addition to his or her own share of land and moveable property.[citation needed]


Often, it has been presumed that extended family groups sharing a single household enjoy specific advantages, such as a greater sense of security and belonging due to sharing a wider pool of members to serve as resources during a crisis, and more role models to help perpetuate desired behavior and cultural values. However, even in cultures in which adults are expected to leave home after marriage to begin their own nuclear-based households, the extended family often forms an important support network offering similar advantages. Particularly in working-class communities, grown children tend to establish their own households within the same general area as their parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. These extended family members tend to gather often for family events and to feel responsible for helping and supporting one another, both emotionally and financially.[6]

While contemporary families may be considered more mobile in general than in the past, sociologists find that this has not necessarily resulted in the disintegration of extended family networks. Rather, technological aids such as the Internet and social networking sites such as Facebook are now commonly used[where?] to retain contact and maintain these family ties.[6]

Particularly in the case of single-parent households, it can be helpful for extended family members to share a single household in order to share the burden of meeting expenses. On the other hand, sharing a household can present a disadvantage depending on the sizes and number of families involved, particularly when only a few members shoulder most of the responsibility to meet expenses for the family's basic needs.[7]

An estimated 49 million Americans (16.1% of the total population) live in homes comprising three or more generations, up from 42 million in 2000. This situation is similar in Western Europe. Another 34 percent live within a kilometer of their children.[8][9]

Around the world

In many cultures, such as in those of Asians,[10] Middle Easterners, Africans, Indigenous peoples like Native Americans and Pacific Islanders, and Latin Americans and Caribbeans, even for Eastern Europeans and Southern Europeans (Orthodox/Catholic countries[10]), extended families are the basic family unit. That is to say the modern western nuclear family is not the norm. Even in Western Europe, extended families (mostly of the stem type) were also clearly prevalent, England being a rare exception.[11] In Britain and the United States, during the Industrial Revolution (approximately 1750 to 1900), more people lived in extended families than at any time before or since.[12]

It is common for today's world to have older children in nuclear families to reach walking up to driving age ranges before meeting extended family members. Geographical isolation is common for middle-class families who move based on occupational opportunities while family branches "retain [their] basic independence".[13] Some extended families hold family reunions or opportunities for gathering regularly, normally around holiday time frames, to reestablish and integrate a stronger family connection. This allows individual nuclear families to connect with extended family members.

Australian Aborigines are another group for whom the concept of family extends well beyond the nuclear model. Aboriginal immediate families include aunts, uncles and a number of other relatives who would be considered "distant relations" in the context of the nuclear family. Aboriginal families have strict social rules regarding whom they can marry. Their family structure incorporates a shared responsibility for all tasks.[citation needed]

Where families consist of multiple generations living together, the family is usually headed by the elders. More often than not, it consists of grandparents, their sons, and their sons' families in patriarchal and especially patrilineal societies. Extended families make discussions together and solve the problem. [failed verification]

Indian subcontinent

Main article: Hindu joint family

Historically, for generations South Asia had a prevailing tradition of the joint family system or undivided family. The joint family system is an extended family arrangement prevalent throughout the Indian subcontinent, particularly in India, consisting of many generations living in the same home, all bound by the common relationship.[14] A patrilineal joint family consists of an older man and his wife, his sons and unmarried daughters, his sons' wives and children. The family is headed by a patriarch, usually the oldest male, who makes decisions on economic and social matters on behalf of the entire family. The patriarch's wife generally exerts control over the household, minor religious practices and often wields considerable influence in domestic matters. Family income flows into a common pool, from which resources are drawn to meet the needs of all members, which are regulated by the heads of the family.[15]

Recent trend in the United States

See also: American family structure

In the early stages of the twentieth century, it was not very common to find many families with extended kin in their household, which may have been due to the idea that the young people in these times typically waited to establish themselves and start a household before they married and filled a home.[citation needed] As life expectancy becomes older and programs such as Social Security benefit the elderly, the old are now beginning to live longer than prior generations, which then may lead to generations mixing together.[16] According to results of a study by Pew Research Center in 2010, approximately 50 million (nearly one in six) Americans, including rising numbers of seniors, live in households with at least two adult generations, and often three. It has become an ongoing trend for elderly generations to move in and live with their children, as they can give them support and help with everyday living. The main reasons cited for this shift are an increase in unemployment and slumped housing prices and arrival of new immigrants from Asian and South American countries.[17] According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 2.7 million grandparents raising their grandchildren in 2009.[18] The dramatic increase in grandparent-headed households has been attributed to many factors including parental substance abuse.[19] In 2003, the number of U.S. "family groups" where one or more subfamilies live in a household (e.g. a householder's daughter has a child. The mother-child is a subfamily) was 79 million. Two-point-six million of U.S. multigenerational family households in 2000 had a householder, the householder's children, and the householder's grandchildren. That is 65 percent of multigenerational family households in the U.S. So it is twice as common for a grandparent to be the householder than for adult children to bring parents into their home.[20] The increase in the number of multigenerational households has created complex legal issues, such as who in the household has authority to consent to police searches of the family home or private bedrooms.[21]

Besides the legal issues that multigenerational households could create, there are issues that may arise from households where the grandparents are the sole guardians. The Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act was signed into law on July 7, 2018 after unanimously passing the U.S. House and Senate. It was first introduced in the Senate on May 10, 2017 by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA). Out of this came The Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Advisory Council which will identify, promote, coordinate, and disseminate to the public information, resources, and the best practices available to help grandparents and other older relatives both meet the needs of the children in their care and maintain their own physical and mental health and emotional well-being.[22]


Mexican society is composed of three-generational units consisting of grandparents, children, and grandchildren. Further close relationships are maintained with the progenitors of these families and are known as kin or "cousins". When one is born, they are born into two extended families, a kinship group of sometimes 70 people. The group traditionally acts as a cohesive unit, pooling resources and influence. The extended family also consists of spouses and siblings. This is in contrast to the two generational American nuclear family.[23]

Some scholars have used the term "grand-family" to describe the close relationship between grandparents, children, and grandchildren in Mexican society.[24][25] Larissa A. Lomnitz and Marisol Perez-Lizaur, for example, describe the grand-family as "the basic unit of family solidarity in Mexico", where basic family obligations between grandparents, children, and grandchildren include "economic support, participation in family rituals, and social recognition".[24]

Economic background

The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. You may improve this article, discuss the issue on the talk page, or create a new article, as appropriate. (April 2018) (Learn how and when to remove this message)

The relative economic deprivation of racial and ethnic minorities leads to higher levels of extended family involvement; primarily because blacks and Latinos have less money and education than whites, they are more likely to give and receive help from kin.[26] Having family on which one can rely is very important in times of economic hardship especially if there are children involved. Living in an extended family provides constant care for children and support for other members of the family as well. Analysis of the National Survey of Families and Households[clarification needed] suggests there are differences between whites and other ethnic groups because of economic differences among racial groups: blacks and Latinos less often have the economic resources that allow the kind of privatization that the nuclear family entails. Extended kinship, then, is a survival strategy in the face of economic difficulties.[27] Being able to rely on not only two parents but grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, and sisters helps to create a support system which in turn brings families closer together. Living in an extended family provides many things that a nuclear family does not.

The number of multigenerational households has been steadily rising because of the economic hardships people are experiencing today.[when?] According to the AARP, multigenerational households have increased from 5 million in 2000 to 6.2 million in 2008.[28] "There's no question that with some ethnicities that are growing in America, it is more mainstream and traditional to have multigenerational households. We're going to see that increasing in the general population as well," says AARP's Ginzler.[28] While high unemployment and housing foreclosures of the recession have played a key role in the trend, Pew Research Center exec VP and co-author of its multigenerational household study Paul Taylor said it has been growing over several decades, fueled by demographic and cultural shifts such as the rising number of immigrants and the rising average age of young-adult marriages.[29] The importance of an extended family is one that many people may not realize, but having a support system and many forms of income may help people today because of the difficulties in finding a job and bringing in enough money.[clarification needed]

See also


  1. ^ Webster's New World Dictionary, p. 231 (2013)
  2. ^ Andersen, Margaret L and Taylor, Howard Francis (2007). The extended family may live together for many reasons, such as to help raise children, support for an ill relative, or help with financial problems. Sociology: Understanding a diverse society. p. 396 ISBN 0-495-00742-0.
  3. ^ Gender and Well-Being Interactions between Work, Family and Public Policies COST ACTION A 34 Second Symposium: The Transmission of Well-Being: Marriage Strategies and Inheritance Systems in Europe (17th-20th Centuries) 25th -28th April 2007 University of Minho Guimarães-Portugal Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ David I. Kertzer; Thomas Earl Fricke (15 July 1997). Anthropological Demography: Toward a New Synthesis. University of Chicago Press. pp. 62–. ISBN 978-0-226-43195-6.
  5. ^ Robichaux, David Luke (1 January 1997). "Residence Rules and Ultimogeniture in Tlaxcala and Mesoamerica". Ethnology. 36 (2): 149–171. doi:10.2307/3774080. JSTOR 3774080.
  6. ^ a b Browne, Ken (2011). Introduction to Sociology. p. 107 ISBN 0-7456-5008-2.
  7. ^ Pillitteri, Adele (2009). Maternal and Child Health Nursing: Care of the Childbearing and Childrearing Family. p. 42 ISBN 1-58255-999-6.
  8. ^ "The Return of the Multi-Generational Family Household | Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Project". 2010-03-18. Retrieved August 8, 2014.
  9. ^ It is also said that in an extended family grandfathers and grandmothers take care of the children staying home, mother works in the kitchen and father does the financial work
  10. ^ a b Pritchard, Colin Pritchard (2006). Mental Health Social Work: Evidence-Based Practice. Routledge. p. 111. ISBN 9781134365449. ... in cultures with stronger 'extended family traditions', such as Asian and Catholic countries...
  11. ^ Family Types and the Persistence of Regional Disparities in Europe
  12. ^ Brooks, Story by David. "The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake". The Atlantic. ISSN 1072-7825. Retrieved 2020-10-02.
  13. ^ Meyerhoff, Michael. Discovery Fit and Health. Understanding Family Structure and Dynamics: The Extended Family. Discovery Communications, LLC. 2012. Web. [1]
  14. ^ Talwar, Swati. "Meaning of HUF (Hindu Undivided Family)". Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  15. ^ Henry Orenstein and Michael Micklin (1966). "The Hindu Joint Family: The Norms and the Numbers". Pacific Affairs. 39 (3/4): 314–325. doi:10.2307/2754275. JSTOR 2754275. Autumn, 1966
  16. ^ Cherlin, Andrew J. (2010). Public and Private families. McGraw Hill.
  17. ^ Surge in Multigenerational Households, U.S. News (March 21, 2010).
  18. ^ Lee, Y., & Blitz, L. V. (2016). "We're GRAND: a qualitative design and development pilot project addressing the needs and strengths of grandparents raising grandchildren. Child & Family Social Work, 21(4), 381–390." doi:10.1111/cfs.12153
  19. ^ Cox, Carole. B.(2000). "To Grandmother's House We Go And Stay: Perspectives on Custodial Grandparents."[2]
  20. ^ Bronson, Po. Multiple Generation/Extended Family Households. The Factbook: eye-opening memos on everything family. 2000 [3] Archived 2017-07-18 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ When is a Parent's Authority Apparent? Reconsidering Third Party Consent Searches of an Adult Child's Private Bedroom and Property, Criminal Justice, Vol. 24, pp. 34–37, Winter 2010.
  22. ^ "Senator Collins Announces Nominations of Mainers to Grandparent and Family Caregiver Federal Councils | Senator Susan Collins". 9 August 2019. Retrieved 2021-09-14.
  23. ^ The Family on the Threshold of the 21st Century: Trends and Implications By Solly Dreman
  24. ^ a b Lomnitz, Larissa A.; Perez-Lizaur, Marisol (2003). "Dynastic Growth and Survival Strategies: The Solidarity of Mexican Grand Families". In Cheal, David (ed.). Family: Critical Concepts in Sociology. Psychology Press. p. 377. ISBN 978-0415226325. Retrieved March 13, 2016.
  25. ^ Jelin, Elizabeth (1991). Family, Household and Gender Relations in Latin America. Kegan Paul International. ISBN 978-9231026577.
  26. ^ Gerstel, N (2011). "Rethinking Families and Community: The Color, Class, and Centrality of Extended Kin Ties". Sociological Forum. 26 (1): 1–20. doi:10.1111/j.1573-7861.2010.01222.x.
  27. ^ Gerstel, N. (2011). Rethinking Families and Community: The Color, Class, and Centrality of Extended Kin Ties. Sociological Forum, 26(1), 1-20. doi:10.1111/ j.1573-7861.2010.01222.x
  28. ^ a b Metcalf, E. R. (2010). "The Family That Stays Together". Saturday Evening Post. 282 (1): 39.
  29. ^ Bulik, B (2010). "We Are Family-And More Of Us Are Living Under One Roof. (Cover story)". Advertising Age. 81 (30): 1–20.