November 20, 2017

What Makes a Family?

The definition of a family has changed to include same sex couples and single parents, even unmarried couples with children, but if you are in a child-free partnership you are not a family.  What makes a family? Children. According to a family is a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not: the traditional family. That means same sex couples and married or unmarried couples are still not considered equal in society. While it warms my heart to see people post charts that include same sex couples and their children as families, I am sad to see that my choice to be child-free keeps me out of the family category.

An ABC news story on a 2010 survey by sociology professor Brian Powell shows that most Americans believe that kids make a family:

“In 2010, almost everyone — 99.8 percent — agreed that a husband, wife and kids count as a family. Ninety-two percent said that a husband and wife without the kids made a family.

“Children provide this, quote, ‘guarantee’ that move you to family status,” Powell said. “Having children signals something. It signals that there really is a commitment and a sense of responsibility in a family.”

For instance, 39.6 percent in 2010 said that an unmarried man and woman living together were a family — but give that couple some kids and 83 percent say that’s a family.

Thirty-three percent said a gay male couple was a family. Sixty-four percent said they became a family when they added children.”

So while we are making baby steps with our wider definition of family it seems that the child-free might be considered family-free for now.

Hey WNKers do you consider yourself part of a family?

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  1. Note that it’s ‘kids,’ plural, and children, not child. Do my husband, my daughter and myself count as a family? (I do have a stepdaughter, but she’s 28 years old and has never lived with me.) Oh well, I’ll count my cat as my other daughter and then we can be a family.

  2. Thanks, Emilia. This is news to me. Curious phenomenon. And a wee bit weird, no? It’s indicative of a deeply ingrained linguistic bias toward large families, I suppose. Language is a complex and intriguing cultural artifact for sure, and I hope that we can further complicate the dominant narrative by designating childfree couples and couples with single children as families too. Here’s to confusing the linguists and anthropologists! You in?


  1. […] month ago Amy asked, “What makes a family?” and drew attention to the curious exemption that childfree families often experience. If […]

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