Topic: The Family and Intimate Relationships Aim

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  • Aim: What are some
  • differing forms of
  • families in different
  • cultural contexts?
  • Family- c.1400, "servants of a household," from L. familia "family servants, domestics;" also "members of a household," including relatives and servants, from famulus "servant," of unknown origin.
  • Do Now: offer a working definition of what you understand a ‘family’ to be, based on your own life experience.
  • Which of those is strangest to you? Why?
  • How has your own culture influenced your ability to view
  • different views of the family?
  • In Tibet, a woman may be married simultaneously to more than one man, usually brothers
  • Among the Betsileo of Madagascar, a man has multiple wives, each living in a different village where cultivates rice (whichever he has the best rice field is considered the ‘senior’ wife!)
  • Among the Yanomami of Brazil & Venezuela, it is considered proper to have sexual relations with your opposite-sex cousins if they are the children of your mother’s brother or your father’s sister (but, if the cousins are children of your mother’s sister or your father’s brother, the practice is considered incest - Haviland et al. 2008; Kottak 2011).

Do We Define Family As…

  • Those who live under the same roof? (A New Jersey court ruled that male college students sharing a renewable four-month lease fits the definition.)
  • The functions it performs?
  • Includes adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, and one or more children? (Same sex-marriage?)
  • Legal recognitions of the relationships? (only married couples?)
  • Although the institution of family is universal to all cultures, the form of family varies greatly. For every element someone might regard as essential to family, some group has a different custom.
  • "A group of persons directly linked by kin connections, the adult members of which assume responsibility for caring for the children.” (Giddens)
  • Kinship - relationships based on biological or marital ties.
  • Household - the place of domesticity.
  • The Nayar of Malabar never allow a bride and groom to have sex. After a 3 day marriage ceremony, the groom leaves and is never allowed to see the bride again. Nayar women can have sex, but only with approved partners---none of whom can be her husband! She can bear children for up to 12 men - This system keeps family property intact- along matrilineal lines. (Gough, 1972)
  • The Oneida Community (Boston 1848) - founded by Christian preacher, John Humphrey Noyes: sexual activity between agreeable members, but only those considered suitable were allowed to reproduce. An ethos of group marriage where children were raised communally.
  • The Nuer & Dinka peoples of Sudan have several forms of "ghost marriage."  A man may marry a woman as a stand-in for his deceased brother.  The children that are born of this union will be considered descendants of the dead man--the "ghost" is the socially recognized father.  This allows the continuation of his family line and succession to an important social position. 
  • A Nuer woman of wealth may marry a deceased man to keep her wealth and power.  Married Nuer women traditionally have no significant wealth--it belongs to their husbands.  With this form of "ghost marriage", there will be no living husband, though she may subsequently have children.  She is, in effect, a widow who takes care of her husband's wealth and children until they are mature.

Organization of Families

Types of families:

  • Nuclear: Family made up of a husband, wife, and children
  • Extended: nuclear family plus other family members such as grandparents who live together (3 or more generations)
  • Single Parent: Family with only one parent (typically the mother)
  • Same Sex: same sex couples or same-sex parents

Family Trends in the U.S.

  • The "traditional" nuclear family, with a husband wage-earner, wife homemaker and dependent children, now accounts for less than 10 percent of all American households
  • 45% of American families headed by a single mother live in poverty
  • 65% of black children live in a family headed by a single mother (‘feminization of poverty’), and a black child born today has an 87 percent chance of spending some years in a single- parent home.

Common Cultural Themes of Family:

  • Mate Selection: Established norms for choosing who marries whom
  • Marriage: approved mating arrangements, marked by a ritual of some sort
  • Descent: The way people trace their kinship over generations
  • Inheritance: Property passed from parent to child

Kinship Patterns:

  • Who is your mother’s mother to you? ____
  • Who is your father’s mother to you? ____
  • Who is your mother’s sister to you? ____
  • Who is your father’s sister to you? ____

Bilateral System: a system of organizing one’s descent that gives equal value to both the mother’s and father’s side (typically Western concept).

  • Bilateral System: a system of organizing one’s descent that gives equal value to both the mother’s and father’s side (typically Western concept).
  • Matrilineal or Patrilineal System: Up to 64% of cultures give primacy to either mother or father.
  • Systems of Descent:
  • Descent assigns
  • people to kinship
  • groups based on their
  • relationship to their
  • mother and father.

Sociological Perspectives on the Family

  • Why is the family (in some form), universal to all cultures?
  • What functions/purposes does it serve?

Functionalist View:

  • The family is universal because it fulfils the following essential functions for society
  • Sexual Regulation: controls sexuality, provides stability for adults (i.e.- the ‘incest taboo’)
  • Reproductive: provides new members of society.
  • Protective: family provides for its members, takes care of sick and aged
  • Socialization: family socialises the young into norms and values of society.
  • Provision of social status: we inherit a social position because of family background.
  • Interactionist Viewpoint
  • Interested in how individual family members interact with one another, on a micro level. So, for example, in a study of Black and White two-parent households, it was discovered that children with more involved fathers had fewer behavior problems and got along better with other family members (Mosley & Thomson, 1995)
  • The Feminist
  • Perspective

The isolated and ‘private’ nuclear family

  • The functionalist view suggests that the nuclear family has become
  • Socially isolated from extended kin
  • Geographically separated from wider kin
  • The family is self-contained, inward looking with little contact with neighbours and community. Home leisure via TV, Video, Internet etc. have made the family more home-centred.

Marriage and Family

  • Fill out the ‘mate selection’ handout and then
  • we’ll discuss

Love & Courtship in a Global Perspective:

  • Concept of romantic love - people idealizing and being sexually attracted to one another, is a common cultural theme
  • Generally a Western concept, but appears in many societies around the world
  • Like family itself, love manifests in vastly different ways from culture to culture

Aspects of Mate Selection:

  • Exogamy: Exogamy rules require that marriage be outside of some defined social group, such as one's own family
  • Endogamy:  In contrast, endogamy rules require that it be within some larger group, such as the local community. 
  • In other words, rules of exogamy tell you who you cannot marry, while rules of endogamy specify who would be acceptable and preferred as a marriage partner.  


  • How many spouses an individual is allowed to have varies from culture to culture, for different reasons. 
  • The rule that is familiar to North Americans and Europeans is monogamy--that is, one man married to one woman.  While this is now by far the most common form of marriage around the world, it is, in a sense, the least preferred.  (In a sample of 850 societies, less than 20% preferred monogamy over other marriage patterns!)

Polygamy: the marriage of more than one spouse at a time, has been popular on all continents except Europe. 

  • Polygamy: the marriage of more than one spouse at a time, has been popular on all continents except Europe. 
  • Polygyny: the marriage of many women to one man
  • However, a rarer form, known as polyandry, occurs when several husbands share the same wife (typically fraternal polyandry - 2 brother marrying the same woman)
  • Both forms of polygamy have advantages and disadvantages over monogamy in their particular cultural settings.

What is your initial reaction to the concept of a polygamist family?

  • What is your initial reaction to the concept of a polygamist family?
  • How is their family different from what you think of as a ‘family’?
  • Do you look at this ethnocentrically or relativistic (in other words, do you judge this lifestyle or not, and why?)
  • What is the role of culture and religion in this practice?
  • Should this practice be allowed by law? Why or why not?
  • Do children complicate this type of lifestyle? Do you think this is a good way to raise a child?
  • What are the benefits of this kind of lifestyle (even if you don’t agree with it)?

Now I Ain’t Sayin She’s a Gold Digger…

  • Hypergamy: Selecting a spouse of higher socio-economic status than oneself.
  • Specifically, it refers to a widespread tendency amongst human cultures for females to seek or be encouraged to pursue male suitors that are comparatively older, wealthier or otherwise more privileged than themselves.

Love & Arranged Marriage in India:

  • Indian sociologists estimate about 95% of marriages are still arranged by parents.
  • Sociologist ask why India has so many arranged marriages whereas Americans do not..
  • Why do you think this is?

A basic sociological principle explains: A group’s marriage practices match its values and its patterns of social stratification

  • A basic sociological principle explains: A group’s marriage practices match its values and its patterns of social stratification
  • The U.S. values individuality, so we stress individual choice in picking a partner.
  • Arranging marriage reflects Indian values of deferring to parental authority and reaffirmations of the Caste System.

Dating & Relationships:

  • After 2 people decide they are interested in one another, how do they begin to date/go out? Describe the actual process…
  • How do you think this has changed, let’s say in the past 100 or so years? What did ‘dating’ look like in the 1950’s, for example?
  • What are some other, non-traditional forms of dating/realtionships available to people today? What is your opinion of them?

A Brief History of American Dating:

  • Pre-WWII, couples didn’t ‘go out’, the man went to the woman’s family’s home. After that they were chaperoned by a male member of the woman’s family, or went to group activities (like dances), typically organized and controlled by a church group.
  • The car changes all this - dating shifts to being less about finding a spouse than having fun
  • Changing role of women impacted reason for dating/marriage (how so?)
  • The pill
  • Cohabitation and divorce trends

Stimulus-Value_Role Theory of Mate Selection:

  • Stimulus Stage: 2 people attracted to each other in some superficial way
  • Value Stage: Compatibility is tested in terms of important things (religious beliefs, political opinions, interests, the future, etc.)
  • Role Stage: People then ‘act’ the role of the couple as dictated by society and culture

Mate Selection & Gender Roles Discussion:

  • Thinking back to our gender topic, what were some of the ‘typical’ qualities that we associated with males/females
  • How many of these are very important to you when considering a potential partner?

Mate Selection & Gender Roles:

  • Actual mating patterns may be different from the cultural ideal.  For instance, in the more traditional regions of Spain, Portugal, and Latin America, men generally strive to be machos-- that is, confident, strong, dignified, brave men.  Machos should be overtly masculine and sexually active.  They are expected to have a wife with many children and possibly one or more mistresses.  Men are usually assumed to be adulterous by nature. 
  • Women, in contrast, are expected to be passive in responding to the demands of their husbands and to have sexual intercourse only with them and only when they are married.  They are to emulate the Virgin Mary in being chaste.  As a result, this female counterpart to machismo has been referred to as marianismo (from Maria or Mary).

The Dating Game (Activity)…

  • Gender (male/female/transgendered)
  • Height, Weight, Hair Color, Eye Color
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Religion
  • Nationality (from what country)
  • Education Level (be specific)
  • Socio-economic status (how much $ do they make/have? What social class are they)
  • What do they specifically do for a living?

Cohabitation and marriage trends

  • Do you see yourself getting married in the future?
  • Why or why not?
  • If so, at what age?

Marriage Trends:

  • With few exceptions, marriage choices follow highly predictable social channels, particularly age, education, social class, race, and religion (over 90% of Americans marry within the same racial group!)
  • This is due to propinquity, or spatial awareness - we tend to ‘fall in love’ and marry those who live near us or who we meet at school or work
  • For example, an Hispanic woman with a college degree whose parents are both physicians is likely to fall in love with and marry an Hispanic man slightly older than herself who graduated from college

Postponing Marriage:

  • In 1890 the typical first-time bride was 22. By 1950 she had just left her teens.
  • In 1970 age started to increase. Today’s aver rage first time bride and groom are older now than any time in U.S. history
  • Partly due to increased trends in cohabitation

Cohabitation Trends in the U.S.

  • Cohabitation: living together in a sexual relationship without being married.
  • 8x more common today than 30 years ago
  • In marriage, the assumption is permanence; in cohabitation, couples agree to stay as long as it works out.

Cohabitation Discussion Questions (part 1):

  • Would you consider living with someone before getting married? Why or why not?
  • Describe how would this be perceived by your family? Role of culture?
  • Do you believe that it is acceptable to have children with someone you live with outside of marriage? Why or why not?

Cohabitation Discussion (continued):

  • Of those who said they would cohabitate, would the expectation be to get married at some point? Why or why not?
  • Regarding cohabitation and mate selection, what factors would separate partners from those you would live with vs. those you would marry? Explain
  • Do you view cohabitation as less permanent than you would marriage? Explain.
  • What impact do you think cohabitation might have on children, either good or bad?

Cohabitation Statistics:

  • A significant number of cohabitations end before marriage (40%) – 2 years is a significant benchmark
  • Whether the male cohabiter is employed full-time has a significant impact on the duration of the relationship
  • Cohabiters report more frequent interaction with their partners than do married people
  • Children living in cohabiting households are more likely to be officially poor than those living in married couple households
  • The longer a couple lives together the less likely it is that they will marry
  • Spouses who cohabited before marriage report lower levels of commitment to marriage as an institution.

Divorce and Divorce Trends

  • What have you heard regarding the frequency of
  • divorce in the United States?

50 % ???

  • Each year there are about half as many divorces are granted as there are marriages performed
  • However, the one number has nothing to do with the other, as the number of people married in a given year are most often not the ones getting divorced!
  • Since the U.S. has 59,000,000 married couples, and only 1,135,000 obtain divorces in a year, the divorce rate in a given year is actually 1.9%, not 50%!

Divorce Discussion:

  • What are some reasons why so many marriages in the U.S. end in divorce?
  • Why has divorce become increasingly accepted in our society?
  • Do you think divorce is a viable option, or should couples simply ‘stick it out’, or ‘work it out for the kids?” Explain your rationale.
  • In what circumstances might divorce be necessary?
  • For what reasons do you think other marriage types (polygamist marriages, arranged marriages in Asia/Africa, etc.) have an almost non-existent divorce rate compared to U.S./western marriages?

Societal Acceptance:

  • Increasing acceptance of divorce in society, including religious institutions
  • Rise in no-fault liberal divorce laws
  • More practical due to decrease in numbers of children couples have
  • Greater opportunities for divorced women - women less dependent on husbands economically and socially.
  • How do you view divorce?

Children of Divorce:

  • What are some ways in which divorce has an effect on children?

Impact on Children:

  • Sociologists disagree as to the short term and long term impacts of divorce on children
  • In 1/3 of cases children benefit due to less exposure to dysfunction and conflict
  • Greater difficulty forming and maintaining intimate relationships (Wallerstein, 1971)

Topic: Abuse Aim: To what extent is the United States a ‘rape culture’?

  • Do Now:
  • Define the term ‘rape’
  • Is rape possible in the context of a marriage? Explain why or why not.

“The Rape Culture”

  • Phrase coined by sociologist Dianne F. Herman in her 1984 essay of the same name.
  • Argues that by linking sexuality and violence in the media, we’ve created a ‘rape culture’ in which rape is taken less seriously
  • “Rape is the logical outcome if men act according to the ‘masculine mystique’ and women act according to the ‘feminine mystique.” (Herman, 1984)

Marital Rape:

  • 14% of married women report being raped by their husbands (Russell, 1990).
  • Statistics hard to quantify since most probably do not report the rape
  • Why do you think so many wives/girlfriends do not report incidents such as this?

Types of Marital Rape: (Finkelhor, Yllo, 1985)

  • Non-battering rape: forced sex with no other physical violence
  • Battering rape: sexual assault with some other intentionally inflicted pain
  • Perverted rape: force wives to submit to unusual sex acts

Women ages 16 to 24 experience rape at rates 4X higher than the assault rate of all women, making the college (and high school) years the most vulnerable for women.

  • Women ages 16 to 24 experience rape at rates 4X higher than the assault rate of all women, making the college (and high school) years the most vulnerable for women.
  • 60% of male college students “indicated some likelihood of raping or using force in certain circumstances.”
  • Men in fraternities appear to engage in more non-physical coercion and use of drugs and alcohol as a sexual strategy than do independents.
  • 90% of all campus rapes occur under the influence of alcohol. Men are more likely than women to assume that a woman who drinks alcohol on a date is a willing sex partner. 40% of men who think this way also believe it is acceptable to force sex on an intoxicated woman.

Types of Acquaintance Rape:

  • In examining the problem of acquaintance rape of college students (which, as noted, accounts for 90% of college rapes), it is important to define the sub-problems for analysis, investigation and prevention purposes.
  • Among them are:
  • Party rape (can also include gang rape);
  • Date rape (usually takes place in the victim's or offender's residence or in a car after the date);
  • Rape in a non-party and non-date situation (e.g., while studying together);
  • Rape by a former intimate (ex- boyfriend or girlfriend)
  • Rape by a current intimate (boyfriend or girlfriend)

Alcohol use at the time of the attack was found to be one of the four strongest predictors of a college woman being raped.

  • Alcohol use at the time of the attack was found to be one of the four strongest predictors of a college woman being raped.
  • 43% of college men admit using coercive behavior to have sex, including ignoring a woman’s protest; using physical aggression; and forcing intercourse; 15% acknowledged they had committed acquaintance rape; 11% acknowledged using physical restraint to force a woman to have sex.
  • Of the college woman who are raped, only 25% describe it as rape.
  • Of the college women who are raped, only 10% report the rape.
  • College women are most vulnerable to rape during the first few weeks of the freshman and sophomore years.
  • One in twelve college-age men admit having fulfilled the prevailing definition of rape or attempted rape, yet virtually none of these men identify themselves as rapists.

Domestic Abuse Discussion:

  • Define ‘domestic abuse’
  • What are the forms domestic abuse can take?
  • Why do you think domestic abuse is so rampant?
  • Do you think it is more accepted in some cultures vs. others? Why?
  • What impact does the witnessing of domestic abuse have on children?

Discussion Questions (gender):

  • Why might men be abusive towards their significant others?
  • Why is it less common for women to be abusive towards their husbands?
  • Why do you think that women commonly remain with men who abuse them, sometimes for years? Why don’t they ‘just leave’?

Statistics of domestic abuse:

  • Nearly 25% of women and 7.6% of men were raped and/or physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, or dating partner/acquaintance at some time in their lifetime
  • In 2000, 1,247 women and 440 men were killed by an intimate partner.
  • Sociologists believe that this is due to the socialization into a sexist, gender stratified society


  • Any sexual relationship between family members constitutes incest
  • More common than once thought
  • Uncles are the most common offenders, followed by first cousins, fathers/stepfathers, and brothers
  • Brother-Sister incest more common than father-daughter incest. Mother-son incest is very rare.
  • "rule of thumb": English orig.., where law specified
it was acceptable to beat one's wife with a switch
no thicker than a thumb
  • "naboot": ancient Egyptian orig., a wooden stave used by husbands to beat their wives.

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