The ‘family’ is generally regarded as a major social institution social unit created by blood, marriage or adoption giving us a sense of belonging (The Vanier Institute of the Family, 1994 pg. 6). The family is an institution that has evolved and changed over time from a social unit that was formed for mainly economic reasons to one that mainly provides for emotional needs of its members. This can be seen after observing the past and present of survival, children, and marriage of families throughout history.
The earliest families were known as the hunter-gatherers. The invention of the family ensured survival and emotional needs of the members were not an issue. With the family came a division of labor, food-sharing, long term relationships of reciprocity and obligation (Conway, 1997 pg. 11). A recent case study has shown that hunter gatherer families still exist today. The Urueu-Wau-Wau community in Brazil has become a living museum of the hunter gatherer family lifestyle (Holloway, 2003 pg. 12).
The members of the tribe do not wear clothes, they live in small villages, and the roles of men, women and children are clearly defined and are taught by the community elders, who are of higher status. This is very similar to the past hunter gatherer families. Apart from the scant amount of hunter gatherer families that still exist, “family” has changed from a unit formed to ensure survival to a unit where emotional needs are fulfilled. Children were viewed as an economic investment because they were able to work the lands there parents owned.
Agriculture enabled our ancestors to provide much more food, but it also required a great deal of labor. These two factors resulted in larger families, because more people were needed to work the land and tend to the animals. A family could also acquire more land and become wealthier as a result. Pre industrial families, children were an economic necessity during a time when less than 50% of them reached adulthood (Holloway, 2003 pg. 15). Childhood as a period of innocence did not exist and by the age of 7 or 8, they began to assist in the economic activities of the family.
Young adults would work in other families, boys would work on a farm or become an apprentice in a trade or craft, and girls would do household work. In the past, marriage was a big economic step for a family. For the agricultural families, arranged marriages with young women ensured that the family would produce more children. These children were now viewed as an economic asset because they could work on the land. For the pre-industrial families, marriage was also an economic necessity rather than an expression of a couple’s love for each other.
This is because in the 1600s and 1700s there was no work available for single women and no housekeepers for single men (Holloway, 2003 pg. 15). Nowadays, it is no longer essential to marry to obtain social standing, or for mutual economic support, or even to have intercourse and children. Relationships based on love are becoming the new ideal and according to many reports, the norm (Bibbly, 2001 pg. 22). In today’s society, basic needs are fulfilled independently and family has become a tool to quench and balance emotional needs of support, trust, friendship etc. unlike the past where families were built solely to survive and prosper economically. Nowadays children are viewed as an expense. As society advanced, parents now have to pay for their children’s education, food, shelter, clothing etc. and there are strict laws against child labor which result in having children more of an expense rather than an economic investment like the past. Marriage is now based on the love a couple has for each other and the family has become more of a psychological unit that people chose to form in order to meet their social and emotional needs (Conway, 1997 pg. 22).