The size of a family is determined by the number of members in it. Accordingly, we have nuclear family or conjugal family, extended family, and joint family.
(i) Nuclear Family:
Talcott Parsons calls the nuclear family an isolated family. It is isolated because “it does not form an integral part of a wider system of kinship relationships.
Obviously, there are social relationships between members of nuclear families and their kin but these relationships are more a matter of choice than binding obligations.” Parsons argues that there is a functional relationship between the isolated nuclear family and the economic system in industrial society.
In particular, the isolated nuclear family is shaped to meet the requirements of the economic system. He observes that because of the isolation of the nuclear family from the wider kinship group, the relationship between husband and wife is strengthened.
Parsons is correct so far as isolated nuclear families of industrial societies are concerned. In India, in any case, the nuclear families are hardly isolated from the kin group.
Even, in big cities, the nuclear families are, in one way or the other, on one occasion or the other, always an integral part of the wider kindred. For the tribals, social anthropologists have always argued that their society predominantly consists of the nuclear families only.
(ii) Extended Family:
This is a family consisting of a series of close relations along either the male or female line, usually not along both.
A woman, her husband, their children and her married daughter, with her husband, would be one form of an extended family. This kind of family is sometimes found in the west and among tribals in South Africa. In our country, the extended form of family is known as joint family.
(iii) Joint Family:
The Indian family, in general, is a joint family. However, due to increase in migration and social mobility, we see nuclear families more and more.
Iravati Karve defines the joint family as one where: (1) members live under one roof; (2) have a common hearth; (3) share common property; (4) have a common purse; and (5) worship a common deity. K.M. Kapadia and LP. Desai consider the generation depth yet another characteristic of the joint family.
On a broader plane, a joint family is defined as a group of several related conjugal or nuclear families in one household. In this family labour is pooled and all are responsible to the same authority.
Tribals do not have the joint family which is a standard pattern found among the high caste Hindus. Among the tribals residence is generally separate for each nuclear family though economically the family is joint.
In our country we have more than 400 tribal groups and among them the north-east tribals are in many ways different from the heartland tribals. These groups have the kind of family which suits to their geography and economy.