The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Living In A Nuclear Family

Nuclear family is the norm in today’s fast-paced, materialistic world, But, why? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a nuclear family? Let’s read on to understand.

By Moina Memon  • 11 min read

The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Living In A Nuclear Family
A nuclear family

With change being an inevitable part of life, nothing escapes transformation. This has happened with the family structure as well. In India, the joint family system is disintegrating and being replaced by the nuclear family. But, what exactly are the characteristics of a nuclear family? And what are the advantages and disadvantages of this set-up? Why is the nuclear family replacing the joint family? Read on to learn all about the nuclear family system and whether it suits your need.

Nuclear family meaning

In his book, 'A Dictionary of Sociology', sociologist G Duncan Mitchell defines a nuclear family as, 'A small group composed of husband and wife and immature children which constitutes a unit apart from the rest of the community'.

The above-mentioned nuclear family definition suggests that this type of family consists of two adults and their child(ren) living under one roof by themselves, i.e. without other relatives living with them under the same roof.

The rise of the nuclear family set-up can be attributed to various factors such as increasing urbanisation, scarcity of living space in big cities, changes in attitudes, desire for more privacy, impact of westernisation and so on. Although the nuclear family system continues to flourish, like any other system, it isn’t perfect and has its fair share of merits and demerits.

So, let's look at the advantages and disadvantages of living in a nuclear family set-up.

Advantages of a nuclear family

Today, many in the world believe that there are several benefits of a nuclear family set-up. Some of the merits of a nuclear family are:

  • More freedom and privacy: Being able to catch up with each other during dinner is of great significance for married couples. Also, things like sharing a few moments of privacy, trying to understand the partner's needs and extending support, are also essential. These are non-negotiable in the modern family system where men and women are considered equal, unlike joint family systems where couples have to wait to enjoy these privileges. What's more, living in a nuclear family means that couples enjoy greater freedom, and are able to take decisions together and with their children. That may not be possible in a joint family.
  • Shared responsibilities and interdependence: Most nuclear families follow the modern thought process. The husband, wife and children share the responsibilities of running the household such as shopping, cooking, setting up the dinner table, cleaning the home and so on. Doing activities together is a great way to bond, extend support and be equally involved in family matters. It makes everyone in the family feel responsible and understand how interdependent they are on each other.
  • Better bonding between husband and wife: Shouldering family responsibilities together makes the husband and wife look at each other in a different light. Both run the family and are equal partners here. So, they bond more like friends. For the children, nothing works better than watching their parents care for, understand and love each other; and have open conversations. The concept of 'inner circle' or the immediate family sinks in much deeper.
  • Confident women: All of the above makes the woman financially independent and more assertive. The woman in a nuclear family often has a career, has a say in all matters related to the family. She is a key decision-maker when it comes to the needs of her family and home — the school the children will go to, arranging get-togethers, play dates, or even, deciding on the decor of her home. This makes her feel confident of her own abilities.
  • Comfort zone: The feeling of coming home to one’s own family is the definition of comfort zone for both a man and woman. For example, if the work day has been a taxing one, there is nothing greater than the joy of sitting and having a cup of tea with one's spouse, simply having a chat, watching TV together, or discussing the school day with the children. These are great ways to unwind and can become a family tradition.
  • No parenting conflicts: Parenting is tough and more so in a joint family set-up as parents are often bombarded with opinions and suggestions by other family members. This makes it difficult for the parents to find or fine-tune their own style of parenting and letting it evolve. In a nuclear family, such issues do not crop up. It is easier for a couple to co-parent and come up with their own unique way of bringing up their children. They seek opinions when they really need them and they value each other's contribution.

Disadvantages of a nuclear family

While there are certain advantages of a nuclear family, the system also has some disadvantages. Some of the demerits of a nuclear family are:

  • Problems with work–life balance: This is the biggest issue faced by couples aiming for growth in the personal and professional sphere. Many a time, working couples face difficult situations such as the child falling sick, working to meet a deadline, or school/daycare declaring a holiday when it is a working day for the parents. They struggle to face such situations and usually, it is the mother who shoulders the burden, because when it comes to children, she tends to be the primary caregiver. During such times, the lack of support from extended family is felt acutely in many nuclear families.
  • Feelings of loneliness and isolation: When parents have hectic work schedules, they find little or no time to spend with their children. As a result, some children may feel lonely. Some of them resort to spending too much time watching TV or using gadgets to fill the void. During such times too, the presence of an extended family member such as a grandparent or an aunt is sorely missed.
  • Difficulty resolving conflicts: A nuclear family is a closely-knit group. When the children are young, they do what their parents tell them to. But, once the children step into teenage, they begin developing their own ideas which often differ from that of their parents. This gives rise to conflicts between parents and children. Then, if each family member is unwilling to consider the views of the other or change their stand, conflicts don't get resolved.

Characteristics of a nuclear family

  • Consists of a married couple and their biological (or adopted) child living under one roof
  • Free from control of the eldest member (as in a joint family)
  • Modern in outlook
  • All responsibilities shared equally between the man and the woman
  • Economically and socially independent
  • Usually, after the children get married, they leave their parents' home and move into a separate dwelling to establish another nuclear family

As per info from the last Indian census data, the percentage of nuclear families has actually declined from 70.34 per cent in 2001 to 70.11 per cent in 2011. However, in absolute terms, the number of nuclear families has increased from 135 million in 2001 to 172 million in 2011.

Reasons for the increase in the number of nuclear families

In the past couple of decades, more and more families in urban India have turned into nuclear families. Some of the reasons for this trend are:

  • Desire for improved lifestyle: Young Indians aspire to earn more, seek financial stability and lead a better life. All this is more easily achieved in a nuclear family set-up.
  • Desire for freedom: Couples in a nuclear family enjoy more freedom because there is less interference from the elders of the family.
  • Desire to raise responsible children: In a nuclear family, every member has to contribute to doing the household chores. This makes children self-reliant, independent and responsible.
  • Desire to lower the levels of stress: Sharing the living space with more family members can increase stress and lead to unpleasant situations. However, the chances of this happening in a nuclear family is very low.

Importance of nuclear family

It is often argued that a nuclear family has a vital role to play in the development of the personality of individuals. In this type of family system, the children have an opportunity to be closer to their parents and discuss their problems with their parents in a free manner.

Nuclear family examples

The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Living In A Nuclear Family

Preferred family structure

Of course, every family structure is unique in itself. There can be a nuclear family that is very accommodating of every member's point of view; similarly, there can be a joint family where couples are also able to find privacy and comfort. After all, it depends on the individuals who make up the family — whether the joint or nuclear family system. 

About the author:

Written by Moina Memon on 3 March 2019.

Moina Memon is a writer and founder of Mommy Mojo blog. 

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