Some definitions of family

Everybody knows what a family is, but trying to find a widely accepted definition is actually very hard. I’ve been looking at how various writers define families and the following are some examples. I’m not going to comment on them except to say that historically, like today, families took (take) many forms (Beck-Gernsheim, 2002) and so I believe we need to have inclusive definitions of family that recognises the diversity of experiences in relation to families. (Some of the following do not pass this test!) It is worth remembering that defining family can be a political strategy to exclude some people. For example, in 2004 the Australian Marriage Act was amended by the Howard Government to specifically exclude same sex couples from marrying. I do not support this type of exclusion. The family studies I am interested in recognises there is a wide diversity in families.

A group consisting of two parents and their children living together as a unit… A group of people related by blood or marriage (Oxford Dictionaries).

The family is a social group characterized by common residence, economic cooperation and reproduction. It includes adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, and one or more children, own or adopted, of the sexually cohabiting couple (Murdock, 1949 quoted in Steel, Kidd, & Brown, 2012, p. 2).

Two or more persons, one of whom is at least 15 years of age, who are related by blood, marriage (registered or de facto), adoption, step or fostering, and who are usually resident in the same household (The Australian Bureau of Statistics).

A family is a group of two people or more (one of whom is the householder) related by birth, marriage, or adoption and residing together; all such people (including related subfamily members) are considered as members of one family (U.S. Census Bureau).

A group of persons directly linked by kin connections, adult members of which assume responsibility of caring for children (Giddens 1993 quoted in Steel et al., 2012, p. 2).

Two or more people who share goals and values, have long-term commitments to one another and reside usually in the same dwelling (LoveToKnow Family).

A network of related kin (Goldthorpe, 1987 quoted in Steel et al., 2012, p. 3).

Family signifies “the subjective meaning of intimate connections rather than formal, objective blood or marriage ties” (Silva & Smart, 1999 quoted in Lindsay & Dempsey, 2009, p. 6)

A family is a group of individuals in which there is a generational connection present (i.e., a parent-child relationship is found). Additionally, family members provide close intimate contact (usually characterized by deeply held commitment, trust, respect, and a sense of longer term obligation. It is assumed that sexual intimacy is an element of the relationship between the parents and that this family group seeks to achieve goals by acquiring, allocating and distributing resources (i.e., time, money, space, and close personal contact) (Day, 2010, p. 14).

A family is “a psychosocial group constituted by at least one adult member and one or more others who work as a group toward mutual need fulfillment, nurturance, and development (Fitzpatrick & Wamboldt, 1990 quoted in Edwards & Graham, 2009, p. 193).

Families are who you love. Our families all “look” different and it’s always been so. A family caregiving unit might consist of a couple; a mother, father and children; a single parent and child; grandparent and grandchildren; a sibling group; a circle of friends; or however that family defines itself (Family Ties).

Perhaps in the broadest sense of the word, a family is a group of people who have intimate social relationships and have a history together (Leeder, 2004, p. 25).

Which definitions of family make sense to you? How would you define family?

If you liked this post you might want to follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:

  1. Being an Aboriginal father in prison
  2. Parenting for a better world
  3. Service-learning at retreats for children with special needs and their families
  4. Playgroups as a foundation for working with hard to reach families
  5. “I try and make it feel more like a home” – families living in caravan parks


Beck-Gernsheim, E. (2002). Reinventing the family: In search of new lifestyles. Malden, Mass.: Polity Press.

Day, R. D. (2010). Introduction to family processes (5th ed.). New York: Routledge.

Edwards, A. P., & Graham, E. E. (2009). The Relationship Between Individuals’ Definitions of Family and Implicit Personal Theories of Communication. Journal of Family Communication, 9(4), 191-208. doi: 10.1080/15267430903070147

Leeder, E. J. (2004). The family in global perspective : a gendered journey. Thousand Oaks, Calif. ; London: Sage Publications.

Lindsay, J., & Dempsey, D. (2009). Families, relationships and intimate life. South Melbourne,: Oxford University Press.

Steel, L., Kidd, W., & Brown, A. (2012). The family (2nd ed.). Houndmills, Basingstoke England: Palgrave MacMillan.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Families & parenting and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Some definitions of family

  1. Anonymous says:

    need defination of famliy not meaning


  2. Vahan Nisanian says:

    A married couple living together by themselves and united by love and devotion in the same household is just as much of a family as two parents with biological children.


  3. Aligeti Prabhavathi says:

    As per Darwin’s theory we human beings have evolved from single celled creatures through number of biological,physiological and environmental factors influence. So it is too difficult to trace when how and where the first human being was evolved. similarly it is difficult to define Family as it has been through such influences from immemorial time. However I feel that Family is the fundamental social unit to control,responsible, support and keep up culture to continue society to flourish for ever.


  4. Abdussalam Dawa says:

    It’s a very good write up well elaborated, but couldn’t find your identity for reference.


  5. Dave says:

    Now more than ever before, it is important for people to understand that when it comes to “what is a family”, there is no such thing as normal. Every person, every child, every parent, every couple has a unique situation, and to try and define everyone in one black and white term would make no sense! Family is not defined by biology, or marriage, or even a home. Family is the people you love and who love you back, the people you feel safe around, and the people you can count on to be there when you need them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes I agree. Unfortunately attempts at creating definitions of family are often not very successful. They are either too narrow, or so broad that they are nearly meaningless. “Family” is one of those terms where people often know what it means but can’t formally define.


  6. Holly says:

    I recently started my grad dip in education and one of the lesson plans I created for an assignment was teaching preppies about family and it was fun coming up with ways to represent the broad range of ‘normal’ that makes a family.

    Liked by 1 person

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