Since the beginning of human civilization, people belonged to special groups that they belonged either by virtue of marriage or by virtue of blood. Early civilizations saw human beings stay in nucleus families where marriage was mainly for procreation and different genders played different roles in the family. For instance, there were some feminine roles like home keeping and masculine roles like breadwinners. Since the earliest times, man played roles of looking for food as women stayed behind to watch after the young ones and the family. The earliest economic activities as hunting were dangerous. Consequently, the society forbade women from participation. However, with the turn of the 19th century, introduction of industrial revolution, economic depression and several changes in social structure like education and affirmative acts among others, the perception of family and family structures have greatly changed. This paper shall discuss on changes in family structures, factors that have led to this changes and the role of families today to both children and the society.

In the early times, the society perceived family as an institution formed after marriage. The families that existed were pure nuclear and extended.  These families had fathers, mothers and children. The extended families had father mother children and included other relatives like uncles and aunts. There was also possibility of stepfamilies, which was because of death of a parent and forced the young parents to remarry. Cherlin (849) contends that family structures have greatly changed over the years. The first change is the people’s perceptions about the families. Earlier on, the society believed that families were only places that the people would go, give birth, and raise children. During this period, the families protected the roles of husbands and wives were very clear. Furthermore, the family was formed after marriage. The second stage of family was during the industrial revolution. During this stage, the roles of husbands and wives changed. The industries employed both women and children labor and the role of man as breadwinner changed. The public perception of marriage changed. The family was bigger than sex and having children. The family also included love between the spouses and satisfaction of the spouses. Moreover, the definition of family shifted from procreation and formation through marriage as other groups stated cohabiting and women had children out of marriage. The cohabitation also increased cases of stepfamilies. The third stage of family is the modern times where it is difficult to distinguish between cohabitation and marriage because both play very important roles in family formation. Today, there many family structures like the single-parents families, nuclear families, stepfamilies and same-sex families (Cherlin 850). In the families today, the roles of husbands and wives are interchanged.

The industrial revolution

Some of the factors that led to change in family structures included the industrial revolution. As most countries underwent the industrial revolution, the industries demanded more labor. The men who were solely breadwinners and workers in the industries were not enough for dozens of the industries. To make matters worse, there were the world wars where men from most societies participated. In the First World War, the governments did not allow women to participate in the active wars. Therefore, women stayed at home to watch children. The only problem was lack of food and opportunities to provide for the families through working in the industries. Consequently, women began working in the industries and took over men’s role of providing for the families, changing the roles of genders in the family (Cherlin 849). From the industries, the women joined female labor unions that advocated for their labor right. Later, they joined human rights institutions and demanded for equal rights as those of their male companions leading to companionship and sharing of some roles in the families.

Education and persuasion of careers

Most young people preferred going for studies, after the studies, get good jobs, and then marry. However, during this period some cohabited with their female partners and even gave birth outside marriage leading to change of meaning of marriages. Apart from education and careers, the culture of expressive individualism also played a major role in changing the structures of the families. This is the belief that everyone is unique and has the right to feel differently. This led to introduction of same-sex marriage as people of the same-sex have affection to each other as opposed to the past where the society felt that was impossible.


Despite these changes, families still play important roles in the society today. The family plays a major role in attaching prestige and status to the partners. The women assumed the status of wives and the men assumed the role of husbands (Cherlin 854). When they adopt or give birth to children, the members of the family assume the status of fathers and mothers or parents. The parents play the role of protecting their children from hunger, ignorance and other social harm like rape, sexual abuse, and drugs among others. The family also plays an important role in guidance of the children and molding them into responsible adults. Thus, family plays an important role in creation of future generation and protection of future society. The family also provides emotional satisfaction for both partners and children. The family offers shoulder and consolation in times of distress and encouragement apart from building the self-confidence of the members. To sum up, family structures have changed due to many social factors. Nonetheless, the family still plays its roles in the society today.