Mother and father are capitalized

Family policy

The question of what family today that is, it is usually discussed against the background of what is family earlier mattered. Many people have certain family clich├ęs in their heads, which often do not apply and therefore lead to distorted assessments of the current situation. For example, the idea that in the past several generations lived together harmoniously under one roof and supported each other in no way corresponds to reality, since life expectancy was often insufficient to experience the adult existence of the children or even more so to experience one's own grandchildren can. However, family science now has a relatively good level of knowledge on the socio-historical development of families, family models and family forms and discusses current developments on this basis.

The knowledge that is now widely shared includes, for example, the realization that the majority realization of the bourgeois family ideal of "mother, father, child" (as married heterosexual parents who live with their biological child in a common household, whereby the father is responsible for income and the mother takes care of the child and the household) was a historically exceptional situation in the 1950s and 1960s in western societies in Europe and North America. During these two decades, which in family research are also referred to as the "Golden Age of Marriage", a certain family model was able to prevail for a very short historical period, which has since served as a background for assessing today's family forms. What is forgotten is that (almost) all types of family that exist today have actually always existed.

Core elements of a definition of family

In order to take stock of families and types of families - current as well as historical - it is first necessary to use a general definition that gives us an answer to the question: What actually is a family? Although there is no uniform definition of family, there are essentially three core elements that determine what distinguishes families from non-familial forms of life: [1]

First, the biological-social dual nature: In all societies and at all times, families have fulfilled and still fulfill the biological and social reproductive and socialization functions. This includes bringing up children, mutual protection and care, as well as satisfying the emotional and expressive needs of family members.

Second, the Generation differentiation: A family consists of at least two generations; but it can of course also consist of three or four generations. The term "nuclear family" is used for parent-child units, while the term "multigenerational family" also includes other generations such as grandparents and great-grandparents.

Third, that special cooperation and solidarity relationship between their members: families are characterized by a specific role structure. The roles (father, daughter, grandchildren and so on) are associated with certain normative expectations, which may vary depending on time and culture, but always define their own cooperation and solidarity relationships between family members.

In other words: Family is where there is (at least) one generational relationship that includes a special sense of solidarity, and where members of different generations provide services for one another. Marriage, living together and, in the meantime, biological ties are no longer decisive criteria for describing private lifestyles as families, even if they are very often associated with them. This means that in addition to the nuclear family (mother, father, child) with married or unmarried parents, families also include single parent families, step families, same-sex families, adoptive families and foster families. Singles and couples without children - regardless of whether they are married or not - are accordingly not considered to be families, although as children of their parents, siblings, aunts or uncles they are naturally also involved in family contexts.

Family forms in transition

Socio-historical studies of families show that virtually all family forms that we know today existed a few hundred years ago. [2] For example, marriage restrictions not only led to forced childlessness, but also to illegitimate partnerships or "wild marriages" with children. In the 18th and 19th centuries, therefore, by no means all parents were married or lived together. Single parent families, step families and foster families were also common. This was mainly due to the low life expectancy as a result of famine, epidemics, poor health care, accidents and wars. For economic reasons, i.e. to secure the family's life, deceased partners often had to be replaced relatively quickly. In general, family structures have long been associated with the production methods of different population groups. [3]

The biggest difference between historical and current family forms is therefore not their occurrence, but that today's family diversity is largely based on voluntary decisions. Unmarried partnerships with children do not exist because of marriage restrictions, but because the parents do not want to marry. Single-parent families and stepfamilies only very rarely arise because one of the parents dies, but rather as a result of separations and divorces or follow-up partnerships.

Basically only two types of families have been added that have actually only existed for a few decades due to the abolition of discriminatory laws and developments in reproductive medicine: families with same-sex parents (so-called rainbow families) and families with children who were conceived through artificial insemination (insemination families) .

Nuclear families, in which mother and father live with their biological children in one household, still make up the majority of all families with underage children in Germany at around 70 percent. [4] Other family types with substantial proportions are single-parent families with around 15 percent and step families with around 14 percent. In comparison, adoptive and foster families are very rare at around 0.4 percent. Only the proportion of same-sex families is even lower at less than 0.05 percent. [5] It is not known how many insemination families there are in Germany; However, estimates assume a share of no more than about 0.01 percent.

If one looks at the types of families in Germany, even more than 25 years after reunification, there are considerable differences between the "old" and the "new" federal states: [6] While there is still a very strong link between marriage and starting a family in West Germany this is not the case in East Germany. Nevertheless, a third of women in West Germany are not married when their first child is born. In East Germany, however, it is more than half. In both parts of the country, mothers often marry at a later point in time in the family development process, for example when a second child is born, but the marital relationship with child has at least clearly lost its normative monopoly in Germany. Since East German mothers and fathers are more likely to separate than West German parents, we also find a lower proportion of nuclear families and a higher proportion of single-parent families and step families in the east. [7]