A Family Affair: The Culture Of Kinship Around The World

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A Family Affair: The Culture Of Kinship Around The World

The family is an integral unit of the human experience; as much as some of us might want to separate ourselves from the people who raised us and grew up with us, it’s nearly impossible to ignore our overlapping genetics and interwoven legacies. A family embodies a shared history and a common set of values that its members carry forward as they navigate the world. But families come in all shapes and sizes, especially as you travel from community to community and from country to country. Around the world, people’s concepts of family culture and what even defines a family vary widely. 

How much daily life revolves around the family depends in large part on geographies and the cultures that are embedded within them. Read on to find out more about family culture in different parts of the planet.

The Ins And Outs Of International Family Culture

It’s unproductive to generalize about the behaviors and habits of entire groups of people across the planet, but looking at some data can provide insights into overall trends in family culture and structure around the globe. 

Holy Matrimony!

To start, take a look at the statistics and attitudes around marriage, for one. There are some countries where marriage is viewed as a normative and sacred tradition meant to last a lifetime — places like India, Egypt, Indonesia, China and Malaysia. Here, marriage rates are among the highest in the world, and adults rarely live together if they’re not married. Families often play an active role in helping choose and vet potential partners, and marriages happen earlier in adulthood as a means for setting up a partnership that will see practical and tangible success for both families.

In places like Sweden, France, Canada, and spread throughout South America, you’ll find these marriage rates almost slashed in half, owing not to a lack of love in these places but rather to a sort of flexibility in companionship: cohabitation without marriage. Many more unmarried people live together in Western countries like these than in their Eastern counterparts, a reflection of what some might see as a less conservative societal outlook when it comes to following age-old institutions and traditions. It’s much more common for people in countries like these to not marry until they’ve sorted out their professional goals and established themselves as independent young adults — that is, if they marry at all.

Having a child out of wedlock also sparks widely varying levels of shock and moral outrage. In much of Western Europe, there’s little or no social taboo about a child’s being born to an unmarried couple; very few people would bat an eye in countries like Iceland, France and Germany. But that’s not so much the case in Eastern countries like India, Taiwan, and Singapore, which have a much more conservative family culture in this regard and have stricter notions of what defines a family to begin with.

The More, The Merrier

So if two people are going to live together (married or not), just how big should their family be? There doesn’t seem to be a clear answer as you move around the globe. According to the United Nations, countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America have the highest average number of family members living in one household. In Senegal and Oman, for example, the estimate is that the typical household has roughly eight or nine people! Smaller household sizes of three or fewer are much more common in Europe and North America, as well as more economically developed countries like Japan. Countries like these are less likely to even have kids living in them at all, meaning children have aged and moved out or that members of a household never had offspring to begin with. 

On the other side of the age spectrum, there are norms and traditions surrounding older family members such as grandparents (and even great grandparents). Elders have to live somewhere, and it’s much more common for them to be considered part of the main household in some parts of the world. The UN report puts the number of multigenerational households — that is, those households with members of three or more generations living in them — at around 15 percent of all households in Africa and Asia, with some countries like Senegal even reaching almost 40 percent. But the number sits at only about 8 percent in Latin America and 2 percent in Europe and the United States, where most people think of a “family” as parents and their children, rarely more. 

The Birdies Leave The Nest

The age at which children leave home is very distinct in family culture across the world. It’s not uncommon for Spaniards and Italians to live with their parents until age 25 or 26. In Croatia and Slovakia, those ages can be as high as 29 or 30. If the rent’s free, they’re not married and they can (or are expected to) help their families out with responsibilities around the house, why leave? Of course, many Americans might consider living at home with their parents during or after their college years to be their worst nightmare. 

Why is that? Well, the dominance of the United States in the global economy might have something to do with it, as well-off and wealthy American families can often afford to send their children off to private secondary schools and universities across the country or even around the world — and they often don’t need them back at home contributing to the family’s economic success. In agricultural- or manufacturing-heavy societies where family culture is tied up with the need for labor, it’s less likely that kids will leave home so early or that they’ll even have the chance to do so, especially if their families can’t afford it or need the extra help at home. 

It also might have to do with the capitalistic, work-obsessed culture of the Americans, many of whom want to make a lot of money and figure they need to leave home to get a head start on their careers in cities. There also might be elements of a rugged, pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps American individualism that drives kids away from home early to make a name for themselves by struggling and making their way on their own. Either way, whether you’re from Europe, Asia, Africa or the Americas, there are plenty of people who choose to live at home for whatever reason, and that number is rising globally in most of the world’s societies.

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