Family is a very old social group. It has been in existence since long times. It is older than society and as old as human life itself. But despite all this, it is not a static institution. It is always changing with the march of time. It is for this reason that the structure of the modern family is not the same as it was about a century ago.
In order to emphasise this fact, J. Rurnney and Joseph Maier observe, “Although the family is universal, no particular form of it is primary or inevitable. Like all other institutions, it is a social product subject to change and modification”.
Similarly Nimkoff and Ogburn also write, “The family has changed a good deal in the past and has assumed many different forms and functions. The family has proved to be a very resilient and flexible institution. Despite radical changes in form and functions, the family has continued to exist in every society known to us. It should be clear from these facts that family is undergoing constant changes. As a result of this the modern family has become much different from the ancient family”.
In short, some of the main points of difference between them can be shown in the following way:
To begin with a fundamental difference between the modern family and the ancient family pertains to its size. In the ancient societies joint family system was the order of the day. There used to be families of very big size consisting of the members of many generations. Not only parents and their children but also the families of their brothers, grandparents and the widow daughters of the same family used to live in one house.
Such family group was like a social unit and many a time the number of its members exceeded even a hundred, but in the modern times single-family system has become the order of the day. Now joint families have broken up and their place has been taken over by single families. The modern families are quite small in size consisting of parents and their small children.
Even the grown up children after their marriage separate themselves from their parents and establish their own families. At present the number of membership in a family hardly exceeds ten persons or so. This process of the disintegration of joint families and in its place the establishment of single families first began in the west and now it has spread all over the world.
2. Modern Family no Longer a Social Unit:
The traditional family was regarded as a social unit, whereas the modern families have become individualistic in outlook. In the ancient times all the members of a family lived at one and the same place and they were bound together by a thread of the commonness of residential and social conditions. All the physical and social needs were fulfilled in the family and there was no necessity of any outside agency to interfere in the human life.
But this is not the case in the modern families with the disintegration of joint family system. The family in the modern time has lost. Its character as a social unit. The people have become more Individualistic In outlook than they think of common interests. Now even the members of the same family live scattered at different places and do separate occupations.
Emphasizing this fact Gisbert writes, “The family has somewhat relaxed as a closely knit social unit and has opened the door to individualistic tendencies and outlook. The husband now has to leave his home for a living and work at a specified time and place and under conditions prescribed by others.”
3. Change in the Position of Women:
An important point of difference between the traditional and modern families relates to the position of women. Formerly, the women occupied a very low position in the family. They were just slaves to men possessing none of their own individuality. They had no rights nor any freedom. They had to carry out the dictates of the male members of the family. But now her position has changed altogether.
In modern family the woman if not the devotee of man but an equal partner in life with equal rights. The husband now does not dictate but only requests the wife to do tasks for him. She is now emancipated of man’s slavery. She can divorce her husband as the husband can divorce her. She can sue the husband for her rights and likewise be sued in turn. Thus the position of the women has changed in the family with the changing times.
4. Economic Independence of Women:
A very important feature of modern family is the economic independence of women, while such a thing was not found in the traditional family. Previously, women were dependent on men for the fulfilment of all their needs and wants. They had no independent economic resources of their own to support them. They were confined within the four walls of the home and all their basic needs of food, clothing and shelter had to be met in the family by men.
Women could own neither property nor could they hold any occupation. Marriage was a compulsory bond for them, which they had to undertake for the fulfilment of economic, needs. But now the position has changed altogether. Women in modern family have attained an increasing degree of economic dependence. It is not only the husband who leaves the home for work but it is also the wife who goes out of doors, for work. The percentage of women employed outside the home is continually on the increase.
They are now property-owners as well as wage earners and do not want to lag behind men in any way. This economic dependence has largely affected the attitude of modern woman. Formerly, she had no choice but to find a male partner who could marry her and support her economically.
She now does not feel helpless before man, settles matters with him in terms of her own right. She is not a slave of the man who provides her with food, clothing, and shelter but she can now earn her own living. Such a feature did not mark the traditional family.
5. Decline of Religious Control:
While the traditional family was religious in outlook, the modern family is secular in attitude. The religious rites of the traditional family such as early prayer, yagya etc. are no longer performed in modern family. Marriage also has become a civil contract rather than a religious sacrament. It can be broken at an hour. The authority of religion over the conditions of marriage and divorce has markedly declined. Divorce is a frequent occurrence in modern family. In traditional family it was a rare phenomenon.
6. Decreased Control of the Marriage Contract:
Marriage is the basis of family. In a traditional family the parents contracted the marriage. The marriage ceremony was based on the principle of male dominance and female obedience. In a modern family people is less subject to the parental control in the matter of mate choice. The partners themselves do not settle the marriage and it can be undone at their own will.
7. Abandonment of Non-Essential Functions:
The sphere of activities of traditional family had been much larger than that of modern family. The modern family has given up a great many functions, which were performed by the traditional family. These functions have now been taken over by specialized agencies.
According to Jay Rumney and Joseph Maier, “Compared with the family of medieval times the functions of the modern family are few. All but gone are its economic, educational, religious and protective functions. They have been transferred to the State, the Church, the school and industry.”
Not only this much but many of the traditional tasks of the household such as cooking and baking, cleaning and washing are also performed outside the household by specialized agencies. In this way while the traditional family performed both essential and non-essential functions, the modern family is concerned with the doing of essential functions.
8. Modern Family no longer an Economic Unit:
The traditional family was an economic unit, which the modern family has, ceases to be now. The traditional family was all at once a production and consumption unit. It was self-sufficient in economic needs. All the active members of the family were employed in the family occupation. All the articles of consumption could be prepared at home.
There was no cause of depending on outside agencies for the sake of economic gratification. But the modern family does not possess such a character. It is no longer a self-sufficient unit. The members of the family have to seek outside help for finding a suitable occupation. It has also ceased to be a unit of production because most of the articles of daily need are now obtained from the market.
In this connection Gisbert has aptly remarked, “The modern family is no longer the Economic unit that it was in the Middle Ages where production, distribution and consumption developed in the home as a self-sufficient unit in an agricultural and handicraft economy. It would be misleading to say that the family is losing its economic functions, but it is certainly transforming them considerably.”
It is clear from the foregoing facts that the family has been subjected to profound modification of an economic, social and biological nature. The modern family is no longer the economic and self-sufficient unit. But despite all this it may be said, that the family still remains a strategic social institution.
The loss of its functions and the change in its structure has not destroyed its basic position. Thus it may be said in the end that the modern family has considerably changed from the traditional family, but this process of change has been all at once the result of changing needs and current circumstances.