An Analysis of the Topic of the Traditional Families

Categories: FamilyParents Divorce

Traditional families and marriage will continue to be a central organizing axis of society and individuals lives.

In completing this essay I plan to highlight factual information that will support and oppose this topic. The idea of the traditional family and the traditional marriage differ from all around the world. I want to briefly outline these differences using specific countries as examples. I also want to touch on possible reasons for the evolution of the family and of marriage while also marking other significant changes and non-changes that have taken place in our society over the past many years.

Lastly, I will discuss views that Irish society has by providing facts and figures to support both sides of this argument.

In order to discuss the statement outlined above, some consideration must be given to the definition of the traditional family and of traditional marriage. The English word family is a derivative from the Latin word for household. In the 14th century, this meant that the family referred to all persons living in the same household, including servants and slaves, under the command of the household head.

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It was not until 200 years ago that the definition of family was a married couple and their children living in the family home (Arnold, 2007).

The concept of the traditional family has changed somewhat over the decades and varies from country to country. In India for example, the traditional family is usually large and you may find three generations living in the same household; the parents and their children, the husbands brothers and their wives and the grandparents.

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The eldest son usually heads the household and the family business and will merit the most respect. (Hathibelagel, 2011).

According to Giddens (2006), a family is a set of individuals that are linked through kinship. Kinship bonds are connections that are created through either marriage between two adults or through being related through blood. The family or the nuclear family as it is sometimes referred to, consists of a mother, father and their children. An extended family would consist of the relatives of the immediate family; grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. In some cultures, as outlined above, the extended family and nuclear family may live in the same household as one family unit. We must also give some attention to the single parent family, parents who live together with their children but are unmarried, step-families and cohabiting couples; these are types of families that are becoming more popular in the western world. There is also the idea of same sex couples having families which has become highly controversial.

A traditional marriage is known to society as a union between a man and a woman. It is a union based on love and emotion and monogamy but it also includes a legal element. Like traditional families, traditional marriage has also gone through some changes over time and differs from culture to culture. Again using India as an example, arranged marriages are still quite popular and make up an overwhelming majority. However, in the western world, although the idea of traditional marriage remains pre-eminent, more alternative styles of unions between two individuals are becoming more popular, for example; the union of same sex couples. Gay marriage is legal in some U.S. states like Massachusetts, lowa and Vermont and also European countries like Sweden, Norway and Holland. It is also legal in South Africa, Mexico and Argentina. Couples married in these countries have the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples, however, other states and countries that do not recognize same sex marriages may not recognize equal rights for same sex partnerships (Belge 2011).

I will now move the focus on to the possible reasons for the evolution of the traditional family and marriage. There are many aspects to consider. Within the last 100 years, the world has changed significantly; attitudes, expectations, technology and legislation has progressed considerably. These changes have led to other changes in our society, promoting modernization. There has been a momentous rise in females in the workplace and the introduction of contraception has lead to the delay in individuals having children. Women are now opting to go to college to obtain a qualification and to graduate to the workforce before settling down for marriage and the prospect of having children. Divorce and remarriage are now also widely accepted; if an individual is unhappy in a marriage, is being abused in some way or if things simply do not work out, couples are free to divorce without the stigma that once surrounded divorce in the past (Jenkins and Pereira 2009). Unlike 15 or 20 years ago when couples would stay together even if the circumstances were more than unfavorable. Cohabitation is yet another change that has become prevalent and in some cases is even encouraged; an individual may be advised to live with their partner for some time before they undertake the commitment of marriage to know me, come live with me (Irish proverb).

Other significant changes include the rights of women becoming more recognized, arranged marriages are on the decline, more freedom of sexual orientation for men and women and the increasing acceptance of same-sex partnerships. Just this week, predominantly strict catholic society, same sex civil partnerships are being performed. This is a huge milestone for Ireland, taking into consideration that homosexual behavior in this country was only decriminalized in 1993.

Although these trends have been widespread, by no means have they been unanimous, they are becoming more of a trend in the more modernized western world. The status of women around the globe still suffers in some countries, particularly in regions under development.

In China today women workers predominate in the fields of agriculture, banking, textile work, and export manufacturing. Many farms are worked by women. Husbands and older children have migrated to the cities because the farms no longer pay well enough to support the family. There are about 100 million women working in isolated conditions on large plots of land for about $1 a day. China has highest rate of suicide in the world among rural women (Tytler 2009).

In Saudi Arabia, wives of Saudi nationals need permission to leave the country from their husbands, for themselves and their children. Women are still denied the right to vote. Also in Saudi Arabia, homosexual behavior is illegal and may be punishable by death if discovered (FCO 2011). It is clear from the evidence provided that although many parts of the world are becoming more liberal in their views and acceptance of others individual choices, it is also equally evident that there are parts of the world that have not yet progressed at the same pace.

The information outlined in the previous pages would both support and oppose this essays topic from a global perspective. It is clear that each culture and each society have contrasting viewpoints on the idea of family and marriage in addition to other central issues like homosexuality and womens rights.

I am now going to discuss this topic from an Irish viewpoint. In Ireland, it can be seen that over the years there has been changes with the internal structure of the family in addition to family dynamic. This is evident in the results of two anthropological studies that were carried out in rural Ireland with specific attention paid on the family. The first study which was carried out in the 1930s by Conrad Arensberg and Solon Kimball (1940) revealed that in rural Ireland the family type that existed had characteristics of having a mainly patriarchal authority structure with a strict division of labor which was solely based on gender. The second study that was carried out was in the 1970s by Damian Hannan and Louise Katsiouni (1977) when the course of change was at the forefront. This study revealed that there was diversity among the farming families and also that there was socialization patterns among partners and interaction among family members. They also discovered that families were growing more democratic and that the distribution of labor was now established through the idea of ones skill or capability. The study confirmed that the family was experiencing change and was moving toward the model of the modern family. The authors believed that this was influenced by the economic, social and cultural setting that was in Ireland at that time (Ireland-Family Change, 2011).

Changes that have occurred within the Irish family structure have also been a direct result of the decline in influence in the Catholic Church, the church having had a huge influence on Irish society in the past. The traditional Irish family was known for being very conventional which mirrored the view of the Catholic Church. Devout religious practices are still dominant today in Ireland but the authority of catholic teaching on family life has greatly reduced. We can see this change on the widespread use of contraception and the growing acceptance of pre-marital sex and other sexual orientation. In the 1980s and 1990s there was the introduction of new legislation including a referendum on divorce. This legislation was challenged by the Catholic Church citing that it interfered with family matters (Ireland-Family Change, 2011).

According to the Constitution of Ireland, The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack (Constitution of Ireland, 2004).

This take on marriage in Ireland was again supported in 1966. The Supreme Court believed that this meant family was solely based on the institution of marriage. During the 1930s this article may have reflected the Irish ideal of marriage and family but nowadays this is may be not the case (IrelandMarriage, 2011).

In 2007, The lona Institute carried out a report based on the 2006 census. The report revealed that marital breakdown was five times higher in 2006 than it was in 1986, there was an increase in the number of lone-parent families. Cohabiting couples were up fourfold in ten years and one in four children are being raised in non-marital families. Other findings on this report showed that there was a considerable decline in marriages of people aged between 25 and 29. In 1986, half of the populations in this age group were married; in 2006 it was less than one fifth. It also reported that the slowest rising family type was that of families based on marriage.

In 2009, The lona Institute published an opinion poll stating that the greater part of society believes that marriage is better for society and for bringing up children rather than the idea of cohabiting couples doing same. The same poll revealed that 90 per cent of people believed that children had a right to a mother and a father where possible, indicating that single-parent families were not supported as much.

The report, entitled Family Figures: Family Dynamics and Family Types in Ireland, 1986-2006, shows that most women now wait until their 30s to have children, that marital breakdown has levelled off in recent years and that when marriages fall apart the child stays with the father in one-in-eight cases (Baker, 2010).

This report cited above outlined the evidence of rising cohabitation among Irish couples and the prioritization of having a child before marriage, (Baker, 2010). Evidence shows that the marriage rate in Ireland has decreased while at the same time, marriage breakdown has stayed considerably low. However, the fact that most couples in Ireland who separate do not usually divorce may lead to this statistic being inaccurate (Ireland-Marriage, 2011).

On the other hand, attitude studies reveal that there is a solid allegiance to the sanctity of marriage and the idea of companionship has been perceived as being of much greater importance than independence outside the marriage (Mac Greil, cited in Ireland-Marriage, 2011). This idea is highlighted further in the results of a Eurobarometer study (1993) that revealed 97.1 percent of Irish people who responded to the study believed that the family and marriage was central to any other values (Ireland- Marriage, 2011).

I understand that this last study I have cited was carried out 18 years ago and that the figures may have changed. Updated figures for same were unavailable to me.

In this essay I have defined the family and marriage. I have discussed what the idea of both mean in different societies around the world and have also discussed the onset of modernization, what occurred through modernization and how the changing family and marriage may have been a consequence of this. I have also highlighted that although our society is changing continuously, not all societies and cultures are changing at the same pace. I have also identified Irish views on the family and marriage today. I have provided facts and figures on the progression on the idea of the family in Ireland in days gone by and what it represents today.

Through all the research provided, it is evident that the structure of the family is changing, from oneparent families to non-marital families to extended families and these changes will continue to occur. Over time, it is inevitable that peoples opinions and attitudes will change also, as new norms become established.


  1. Arnold, D. (2007) Decline in the traditional family (Internet]. In: Associated content. Available from [Accessed 11th April 2011].
  2. Baker, N. (2010) Family matters Irish Available from [Accessed on 11th April 11 2011]
  3. Belge, K. (n.d) Where can gays legally marry? [Internet]. In:, Lesbian Life Available from [Accessed on 11th April 2011].
  4. Foreign & Commonwealth Office, (2011) Middle East and North Africa. [Internet]. In: Travel and living abroad. Available from [Accessed on 11th April 11, 2011].
  5. Giddens, A. (2006) Sociology 5th Edition. UK: Polity Press.
  6. Haithibelagel, (n.d) An insight into traditional Indian families. [Internet]. In: Hubpages Available from [Accessed on 11th April 11, 2011].
  7. Ireland-Family Change, (n.d) [Internet]. Available from [Accessed on 11th April 2011]
  8. Ireland-Marriage, (n.d) [Internet). Available from [Accessed on 11th April 11, 2011].
  9. Irish proverb, (n.d) Irish Proverbs [Internet] In: Salute to Ireland: Irish blessings, curses, quotations, proverbs and Irish toasts Available from [Accessed on 11th April 2011].
  10. Jenkins, S. & Pereira, I. (2009) Families in Britain-The impact of changing family structure and what the public think [Internet]. In: Ipsos MORI Policy Exchange. Available from [Accessed on 11th April 11, 2011].
  11. The Constitution of Ireland, (2004) The Family; Article 41.3.1. [Internet] Available from (WebFiles)/242860F2D11AFE5B802573160045FD06/$FILE/Constitution%20of %20lreland_English.pdf [Accessed on 11th April 11, 2011]
  12. The lona Institute, (2007). Marriage breakdown and family structure in Ireland [internet]. Available from [Accessed on 11th April 2011].
  13. The lona Institute, (2009) New polls show majority still believe marriage is better than cohabitation [Internet]. Available from Release_The_lona_Institute_12Jan08-2.pdf
  14. Tytler, C. (2009) Womens rights in China [Internet]. In: Helium: Feminism and womens rights. Available from [Accessed on 11th April 2011]

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An Analysis of the Topic of the Traditional Families. (2021, Sep 14). Retrieved from

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