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“The Family” by Cohen

In the first chapter of The Family, Cohen (2018) describes different definitions of family and the major factors that shape roles and decisions within family members. According to the text, three main definitions are considered: personal, legal, and institutional (family as an institutional arena). The first one, according to Cohen (2018), is when one feels related to another. Under this concept, people define their own families, and the criteria for forming a family varies; families may link biologically, legally, or emotionally. The second concept, legal family, is followed by the rights and responsibilities regulated by the government. The third definition of the family as an institutional arena includes three factors as the family arena, state, and market. According to the author, the three factors overlap with each other which creates a more sociological approach to define families (Cohen, 2018). The state is an institutional arena where the behavior is regulated, for instance, the control of violence and marriage licenses. The market is an institutional arena where the market activities occur such as labor, economic exchange. The text emphasizes that three instructional arenas intersect and determine the role of individuals, decisions within a family, and changes in family relationships.

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The chapter also provides major sociological theories and perspectives that deeper explain families and their relationships. Under the consensus theory, the family provided society with stability and cooperation by structurally dividing functional roles between men and women as breadwinners and homemakers. The conflict theory, as opposed to the consensus perspective, is focused on the competing interests of family members and is driven by change rather than complying with the status quo.

The second chapter focuses on the development of the family as an institutional arena, the evolution of roles within a family, and family trends. The first historical trend indicated by Cohen (2018) is the increased life expectancy as a result of better sanitation, nutrition, and higher standards of living. The next trend is that people have fewer children than in the past. The third one is the fact that family members do fewer tasks at home. The last trend is that families become more diverse with an increase in single-parent families, married couples, and people who live alone.

In the second half of the chapter, Cohen (2018) explains a wide variety of family types and how they have evolved. The author highlights that a particular type of family can have a whole structure or patterns of family life (Cohen, 2018). The family types include monogamy, where one person marries another, or polygamy, where one person has several spouses. The other types are a nuclear family, which represents married monogamous couples living with their children and no extended family members, and a conjugal family, which is a nuclear family independent from extended family members. The latter, according to the text, is considered more modern (Cohen, 2018). Some family systems are organized by how the wealth and power are transmitted from parents to children such as patrilineal (from fathers to sons) or matrilineal (from mothers to daughters). Other classifications can be organized according to different types of residence patterns. They can be patrilocal, in which a married couple lives near or in the husband’s family, or matrilocal, in which the couple lives near or in the wife’s family home. The difficulty to conclude that there is one normal form of the family is primarily due to that wide diversity in history.


Cohen, P. N. (2018). A sociology of the family. In The family: Diversity, inequality, and social change (2nd ed., pp. 2–33). W. W. Norton

Cohen, P. N. (2018). The family in history. In The family: Diversity, inequality, and social change (2nd ed., pp. 34–71). W. W. Norton

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