New Internationalist

The Incredible Chrinking Family

December 1982

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THE FAMILY [image, unknown] The Facts

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The incredible
shrinking family

Knowing who your relatives are is vital for survival in many parts of the world. Sharing when times are good, helping when they are bad, family members are allies in the game of survival. But as the practical necessity for relatives declines and the economic bonds between father and son and wife and husband loosen, so the circle of people we count as our own begins to shrink.

Relatively speaking...
You may think you know who your relatives are - but do you? Of course you know your immidiate family - your mother, father, brothers, sisters, spouse, sons, daughters. So you have seven categories of 'primary' relative. But they have primary relatives too, who are your secondary relatives. You have 33 categories of secondary relatives. Who all have primary relatives of their own. Which gives you 151 categories of tertiary relatives.

Life would be chaotic if they all came to stay at Christmas. So we choose, according to subtle social rules, to whom we will open our doors, to whom we will turn for help, to whom we will leave our money when we die.

It runs in the blood
The major patterns of wealth inheritance in the world are:
Patrilineal - from father to son (dotted line on tree)
Matrilineal - from mother's brother to her son (solid line on tree)
Bilateral - from mother and father to son and daughter (not shown on tree)
• In practice inheritance almost invariably passes through men
• In the UK three-quarters of those who died rich between 1950 and 1975 owed their wealth to inheritance.

Inheritance Tree

Third World goes nuclear

Illustration is from figures from countries in Table below.
*Families can be extended vertically (more than two generations), horizontally (including aunts, uncles and their children) or vertically and horizontally.

Third World goes nuclear

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Numbers may not add up to 100% because of rounding

* 'Family' was designated as those people who habitually eat together from the same cooking pot.

** Malaysia data did not differentiate between urban and rural households.

Not the marrying kind

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• But studies show that the rise in divorce rates is partly due to changes in the laws allowing divorce

• In the US there was an approximate 30-fold increase in teh number of people 'living together' between 1960 and 1970.

• 'Non-formal unions' outnumber marriages in the Dominican Repulic and in Panama and make up approximately one-fifth of households in the other Latin American countries studies by the World Fertility Survey.

[image, unknown] Labours of love

• Working mothers have less than two-thirds of the free time enjoyed by their husbands according to the International Labour Organisation.

• Housewives with young children in the West work an average of 77 hours a week. To hire someone to do the same job at current rates would cost at least $20,000 per year.

• One-quarter of all reported violent crime in the UK is wife assault.

The chosen few

The World Fertility Survey asked women aged 45-49 and 15-19 how many children were in teh 'ideal family'.

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Women are beginning to transform their ideals into reality. In almost every country they are having fewer children than their mothers because they marry later, are better educated, have access to contraception and employment opportunities outside the home.

And similar families mean better health for mothers and their babies. In the US and Sweden when women began to limit childbearing to the ages of 20-34 there was a 29% drop in infant mortality.

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Photo: Peter Stalker

Staying single

• One in 10 households was a single parent family in teh US in 1975.

• In France in 1962 one in six women had decided not to have any children.

• In the UK in 1979 one in four households consisted of people living alone.

• In hondoruras 45% of households in urban areas are single parent families.

Sources: Divorce and illegitimacy figures from European Community Statistical Office Demographic Statistics ; most other figures from World Fertility Survey publications.

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