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J Prim Prev. 1996 Sep;17(1):31-46. doi: 10.1007/BF02262737.

What is a normal family? Common assumptions and current evidence.

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Department of Psychology, Colorado State University, 80523, Fort Collins, CO.


The social and applied human sciences have been built upon the assumption that the "normal" family consists of a first-marriage conjugal couple cohabiting with biological children. It is taken for granted that the wife should be responsible for child and domestic work, and that the husband should be the family's economic provider and ultimate authority. In the professional literature such "traditional" family structure is often described as normal in the sense of most common, as well as normal in the sense of well-functioning. Current psychological, sociological, anthropological and historical studies, however, do not support the assumption that the "traditional" nuclear family is the most "natural," "common," and/or "healthy" form of family arrangement. The idealization of the "traditional" nuclear family has had implications for theory, research, mental health practice, and social policy. Scientists and practitioners have been slow to recognize pathology in "traditional" nuclear families. Families other than "traditional" nuclear ones have been rendered invisible or pathologized. It is time for contemporary social and applied human sciences to recognize that the "traditional" nuclear family is a culturally- and historically-specific construct. It is also time for contemporary social and applied human sciences to develop an account of, and a research agenda about, families that take into consideration their variations across time, place, social class, ethnicity, and culture.


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