Indian Joint Family

There are many definitions of the Indian joint family but the most suitable definition given by sociologist Davis, as per his definition consists of persons having a common male ancestor, female offspring not yet married, and women brought into the group by marriage. All of these persons might live in a common household or in several households near one another. In any case, so long as the joint family holds together, its members are expected to contribute to the support of the whole and to receive from it a share of the total product.

The life cycle of Joint families

  • Studies suggest that the nuclear family in India has to be viewed as a stage in a developmental cycle but not to be taken as indicative of a change in the institution of joint family.
  • With the birth, marriage, and death of its members and the division of property, each family goes through a cycle of development from joint to nuclear and again to the joint.
  • At birth, one can belong to either a joint family or a nuclear family.  one may be born into a joint family in rural India and into a nuclear family in urban areas.
  • After the marriage of brothers and sisters, there is the probability of a split in the joint family and the emergence of a new nuclear family.
  • Another reason for the formation of new nuclear is migration to urban centers.
  • But this nuclear family again expands to the level of joint family majorly in rural areas and rarely in urban areas.
  • Though structural patterns of the family have been changing, nuclear family members still retain their close connection with extended family, fulfill ritual obligations, and send money back home to their parents.

Thus, though modern forces of change have resulted in the structural transformation of the family, the core functions of the joint family have been retained. It suggests that we are moving towards a functional joint family.

The Disintegration of Joint Family

The joint family is a salient feature of Indian society. Yet it had undergone a major shift toward nuclear families over the decades. According to 2011 census, more than half (52%) of total households in India are nuclear. It suggested the disintegration of a joint family. Factors responsible for this shift:

  • Economic Factors: With the availability of diversified occupational opportunities, families disintegrated from their land and traditional occupations and migrated to urban areas. Land reforms and agrarian distress caused the youth to move out to urban settings and establish their families there.
  • Modern Education: Increasing rationality among the young generation with modern education enabled them to question orthodox customs of the joint family system. They preferred new forms of family where individuality and equal rights for men and women are given prominence.
  • Legal factors: Legislations regarding employment, education, marriage, and property, have affected the family system in many ways.
  • Labour laws like the Minimum wages act and equal remuneration acts not only reduced the economic reliance of members on joint families but also helped women to participate in the labour market. This forced the nuclearization of joint families since women in joint families are not free from domestic work to do the paid jobs outside the house.
  • The Hindu succession act gave equal inheritance rights to sons and daughters, which reduced the dependency of women on the joint families
  • Urban Migration: The migration of rural families to urban areas in search of better educational, economic opportunities, and amenities; resulted in the residential separation and disintegration of Joint families.
  • Diffusion of Western models of family like nuclear, live-in, etc. into Indian society.
  • Demographic factors: Reduction in total fertility levels and increased life expectancy impacted the size of the family in multiple ways.
  • Change in the marriage system: Restricted role of the family in mate selection, and freedom enjoyed by young men and women in matrimonial affairs have weakened joint family ties.
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