Marriage and Family Types Term Paper

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Monogamous Nuclear Families, Polygamous and Communal Families

Family has different connotations for different persons and cultures. In American society, the word is usually meant to denote a nuclear family consisting of a father, mother and their children. However the meaning of family in Asia is different because the family includes the grandparents, relatives and siblings of the elders. Family thus would also denote an entire clan. In African communities the Mormon system has its own connotation of family. Most of the world has some form of plural marriage, or polygamy, and is sanctioned by religions. Polygamy is not a non-western practice, but also exists in modern Western societies. (Koktvedgaard Zeitzen, 2008)

The common type of family being the nuclear family, the other types have all along attracted researchers to attempt to find an anthropological theory for polygamy that has spread to U.S. And UK to Malaysia, India, regions of Africa and Tibet. Thus all these types of definitions are relevant to the U.S. because representatives of the whole globe are in the U.S.A. Marriages are also regulated by law to be between an eligible unmarried male and similarly an unmarried female. Other types of marriages - where a married person marries another man or woman as the case may be will call for penal action. In some communities there is a religious permission to marry more than one woman, and this provision is against the monogamy laws. Monogamy is a system where a male can marry only one female at a time- that is cannot marry again when the marriage subsists. In the polygamous type -- which can also include polyandry, a male may be allowed more than one wife, or a woman may marry more than one man and each of the marriage is permitted. Communal families are families that have extended beyond the husband and wife, and include near and distance relatives of a community that has well defined social borders. While monogamy is the rule, there are questions as to why there must be the other types of family systems. (Koktvedgaard Zeitzen, 2008)

As a man may marry more than one wife, polygyny and polyandry may also be practiced within a household. Thus where a woman lives with her husband -- he is the acknowledged father of the children even if it is proved that biologically his brother is the father. In some communities the rights of brothers to their elder or younger brothers' wife has been recognized. This is established in some Asiatic communities. (Koktvedgaard Zeitzen, 2008)

There are numerous theories that either support monogamy or polygamy. Research became necessary because of the confusion that prevails in the very definition. Of polygamy there are many differentiations, firstly the concept must be considered as a union where several people are married in any way to a common spouse, of the opposite gender. Thus there may not be residence of all the married persons with the spouse, and this brings in defacto polygamy which may be like polygamy without the right and duties. The differentiation is necessary because if a male marries a woman and keeps a mistress, he is not polygamous but merely an offender under law having committed bigamy. The polyandry type of marriage is an institution where the rights and obligations of the marriage are vested with all persons and follow a social or religion regulated law. (Koktvedgaard Zeitzen, 2008) What then could have brought about these types of deviations in family life should be theorized in a global context rather than the western idea.


It should be remembered that the changing family systems, that are created by divorces, and single parent households, there are blended families with children of both the spouses from previous marriages, and this is the foundation to a community system that would evolve into communities of the future and it has many elements like children returning to their aging parents, poor elderly occupants of single rooms, and all this would call for changes in the entire community including housing. (Altman; Ginat, 1996)

Thus in the U.S. like all other places, the family and its structure and the way of living is changing fast. Polygamy and polyandry are but the existing form that was not recognized yet. It is possible that all forms of families and all permutations of relationships existed from the time humans evolved. The biological nature of the question and the spatial relationships form the important aspect of the study. While other systems have clear boundaries, the definitions of polygamy are closely related to the definition of marriage. Researchers have been influenced by the western definition of a marriage and accordingly a person can either be married, widowed, single, or divorced. There are no more options in the definition of a person as to his or her marital status. On the other hand in the multiple unions, the nuclear family that brought in these definitions have no meaning. The reproductive arrangements in the polygamous families are where a person may relate to several half siblings and have a hierarchy of wives, and there are distinctive patterns of infant care. (Koktvedgaard Zeitzen, 2008)

However the basic question is which system was mankind as a species following? Were we monogamous as we evolved, and are the other types a deviation in culture or are we polygamist and the monogamy was imposed on the society by the thoughts and culture? To answer this researchers have gone back to our ancestors, the primates who lived like us and the primates found now which have a social system.

Kinzey (1987) argues that monogamy is related to ecological rigidity and behavioural modifications. Among non-human primates there are both the monogamous and polygamous families. The behaviour of these two types of primates exhibits some of the reasons why these types of families evolved. The monogamous primates lived in an ecological restricted place and thus became more conservative, and this has human implications. The argument has been advanced that in primates both the types are found, and communal living is the norm. Some primates like the owl monkey Aotus is nocturnal and is monogamous. Nocturnal creatures exhibit the tendency to be monogamous. The lemur and other nocturnal animals are either solitary or monogamous. Thus since human kind may have also been nocturnal the monogamy may have been the rule. (Kinzey, 1987)

However this has been disputed. It has been argued buy researchers that only 20% of the world's population are monogamous and the rest are living in bands -- living a marginal existence. The success of some tribes like the pigmies is largely due to the kinships and communal living. Contrasting this is the argument that primates show that monogamy is the basic state of human kind. Monogamy may have been the natural state of humans, if we were to go by the evidence produced by observations of the life of other primates. Monogamy is practiced where there is a sudden need for instant mobility, and it can be argued that monogamy is universal, while the other forms are simply extensions of the monogamy family core. (Kinzey, 1987)


In western society the kinship has been institutionalized. There is little relationship within the nuclear family. Thus clubs, and organizations, groups etc. provide the relationships. On the other hand in non-western societies there are more relationships and thus kin groups, based on community, religion or even place exist there is more adaptive situation and even in divorce there can be observed some form of polygyny. The communal families are more constant because in the communal breeding system as in the Mormons and Tamarins tend to the increased care of all off springs and thus ensure the survival of the community. (Kinzey, 1987)

In ongoing researches, researchers have concluded that the polygamous family structure has an impact on children's and wives' psychological, social and family functioning. (Al-Krenawi; Sheva; Graham, 2006) In a study that was aimed at finding 'family functioning, life satisfaction, marital satisfaction and mental health functioning among women who are in polygamous marriages and women who are in monogamous marriages' revealed that Bedouin-Arab women subject to polygamy were 67% and those in monogamy were 33% and the researcher states that the women in polygamous and monogamous marriages exhibit different traits. "Women in polygamous marriages showed significantly higher psychological distress, and higher levels of somatisation, phobia and other psychological problems. They also had significantly more problems in family functioning, marital relationships and life satisfaction." (Al-Krenawi; Sheva; Graham, 2006)

In another pilot study of the Mormons and solidarity between the siblings -- both full and half siblings, in the Mormon Fundamentalist polygamous community, it was found that "the community actively promotes full and half sibling solidarity through an ethos that strives to downplay genetic differences in favour of a harmonious family living together in one household." (Jankowiaka; Diderichb, 2000)

As a study for the inclusive fitness theory for family cohesion, the result of the study showed that withstanding the religious ideals, there is a distancing between half…

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