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Forms Of The Family

( Originally Published 1915 )

THE family as an institution has varied greatly in its forms from age to age and from people to people. This is what we should expect, seeing that all organic structures are variable. Such variations in human institutions are due partially to the influences of the environment, partially to the state of knowledge, and partially to many other causes as yet not well understood. The family illustrates in greater or less degree the working of these causes of .variation and of change in human institutions.

The Maternal and Paternal Families. As regards the general form of the family we have to note first of all the two great forms which we may characterize respectively as "the maternal family" and "the paternal family." As we have already seen, Bachofen, Morgan, and others discovered a condition of human society in which relationship was traced through mothers only, and in which property or authority descended along the female line rather than along the male line. Further investigation and research have shown that up to recent times, say up to fifty years ago, one half of all the peoples of the world, if we reckon them by nations and tribes rather than by numbers, practiced this system of reckoning kinship through mothers only, and passed property and authority down along the female line. Ethnologists and sociologists have practically concluded, from the amount of evidence now collected, that this maternal or metronymic system was the primitive system of tracing relationships, and that it was succeeded among the European peoples by the paternal system so long ago that the transition from the one to the other has been forgotten, except as some trace of it has been preserved in customs, legends, and the like.

Among many tribes of the North American Indians this metronymic or maternal system was peculiarly well-developed. Children took their mother's name, not their father's name; belonged to their mother's clan, not their father's clan; and the chief transmitted his authority, if hereditary, not to his own son, but to his eldest sister's son. The relatives on the father's side, indeed, were quite ignored. Frequently the maternal uncle had more legal authority over the children than their own father, seeing that the children belonged to his clan, that is, to their mother's clan.

Now, Bachofen claimed not only that in this stage was kinship reckoned through mothers only, but that women were dominant socially and politically; that there existed a true matriarchy, or rule of the mothers. Do the facts support Bachofen's theory? Let us see. The Iroquois Indians, among whom Morgan lived, were a typical maternal or metronymic people. Among them, without any doubt, the women had a position of influence socially and even politically which often is not found among peoples of higher culture* For example, among the Iroquois the government of the clan was in the hands of four women councilors (Matrons), who were elected by all the adults in the clan. These four women councilors, however, elected a Peace Sachem, who carried out the will of the clan in all matters pertaining to peace generally, Moreover, the councilors of the several clans, four fifths of whom were women, met together to form the Tribal Council; but in this Tribal Council the women sat separate, not participating in the deliberations, but exercising only a veto power on the decisions of the men. In matters of war, however, government was intrusted to two war chiefs elected from the tribe generally, the women here only having the right to veto the decision of the tribe to enter upon the warpath. Thus we see that while the women of the Iroquois Indians had a great deal of social and political influence, the actual work of government was largely turned over by them to the men, and especially was this true of directing the affairs of the tribe in time of war. There is no doubt, however, that in the maternal stage of social evolution women had an influence in domestic, religious, and social matters much greater than they had at many later stages of social development. Among the Zuni of New Mexico, for example, another well-developed maternal people, marriage is always arranged by the bride's parents. The husband goes to live with his wife, and is practically a guest in his wife's house all his life long; she alone having the right of divorce. Indeed, among all maternal peoples the rule is that the husband goes to live with the wife, and not the wife with the husband, the children, as we have already seen, keeping the mother's name and belonging to her kindred or clan.

Nevertheless we cannot agree with Bachofen that a true matriarchy, or government by women, ever existed. On the contrary, among all of these maternal peoples, while the women may have much influence socially and politically, the men, on account of their superior strength, are intrusted with the work not only of protecting and providing for the families and driving away enemies, but also largely with the work of maintaining the internal government and order of the people. Strictly speaking, therefore, there has never been a matriarchal stage of social evolution, but rather a maternal or metronymic stage.

We have already said that this stage was probably the primitive one. How are we to explain, then, that primitive man reckoned kinship through mothers only? Was this due, as Morgan thought, to a primitive practice of promiscuity which prevented tracing relationships through fathers? The reply is, that among the many maternal peoples now well known, among whom relationships are traced through mothers only, we find no evidence of the practice of general promiscuity now or even in remote times. The North American Indians, for example, had quite definite forms of the family life and were very far removed from the practice of promiscuity, though they traced relationship through mothers only. It is evident that the causes of the maternal family and the maternal system of relationship are not so simple as Morgan sup-posed. What, then, were the causes of the maternal system? It is probable that man in the earliest times did not know the physiological connection between father and child. The physiological connection between mother and child, on the other hand, was an obvious fact which required no knowledge of physiology to establish; therefore, nothing was more natural than for primitive man to recognize that the child was of the mother's blood, but not of the father's blood. Therefore, the child belonged to the mother's people and not to the father's people. If it be asked whether it is possible that there could be any human beings so ignorant that they do not know the physiological connection between father and child, the reply is, that this is apparently the case among a number of very primitive peoples, even down to recent times. It is not infrequent among these peoples to find conception and childbirth attributed to the influence of the spirits, rather than to relations between male and female. While, therefore, a social connection between the father and the children was recognized, leading the father to provide in all ways for his children, as fathers do whether among civilized or uncivilized peoples, yet the blood relationship between the father and the child could not have been clear in the most primitive times.

Perhaps an even more efficient cause, however, of the maternal system was the fact that the mother in primitive times was the stable element in the family life, the constant center of the family. The husband was frequently away from home, hunting or fighting, and oftentimes failed to return. Nothing was more natural, therefore, than that the child should be reckoned as belonging to the mother, take her name and belong to her kindred or clan. More-over, after the custom of naming children from mothers and reckoning them as belonging to the mother's clan was established, it could not be displaced by the mere discovery of the physiological connection between the father and the child. On the contrary social habits, like habits in the individual, tend to persist until they work badly. We find, therefore, the maternal system persisting among peoples who for many generations had come fully to recognize the physiological connection of father and child. Indeed, the maternal system could never have been done away with if social evolution had not brought about new and complex conditions which caused the system to break down and to be replaced by the paternal system.

The Paternal or Patriarchal Family. At a certain stage we find, then, that a vast revolution took place in human society, especially in the family life, and the family and society generally came to be organized more definitely in regard to the male element. At a certain period, indeed, we find that the authority of the husband and father in the family has become supreme, and that he is practically owner of all persons and property of the family group, the wife and children being reduced, if not to the position of property, at least to the position of subject persons. This is the patriarchal family, classical pictures of which we find set forth in the pages of the Old Testament. How, then, did the transition take place from the maternal system, in which the mother was so important in the family, to the paternal system, in which the father was so all-important? What were the causes which brought about the break-down of the maternal system and the gradual development of the patriarchal family? Some of these causes we can clearly make out from the study of social history.

(1) War was unquestionably a cause of the breakdown of the maternal system through the fact that women were captured in war, held as slaves, and made wives or concubines by their captors. These captured wives were regarded as the property of the captor. Any children born to them were, therefore, also regarded as the property of the captor.

Furthermore, these captured wives were separated from their kindred, and their children could not possibly belong to any clan except their husband's. Manifestly this cause could not have worked in the earliest times, when slave captives were not valuable; but as soon as slavery became instituted in any form, then women slaves were particularly valued, not only for their labor, but because they might be either concubines or wives. It is evident, then, that war and slavery would thus indirectly tend to undermine the maternal system.

(2) Wife purchase would operate in the same way. Among peoples that had developed a commercial life as well as slavery it early became the practice to purchase wives. It is evident that these purchased wives would be regarded as a sort of property, and the husband would naturally claim the children as belonging to him. Among certain North American Indians we find exactly this state of affairs. If a man married a wife without paying the purchase price for her, then her children took her name and belonged to her clan; but if he had purchased her, say with a number of blankets, then the children took his name and belonged to his clan.

(3) The decisive cause, however, of the breakdown of the maternal system was the development of the pastoral stage of industry. Now, the grazing of flocks and herds requires considerable territory and necessitates small and compact groups widely separated from one another. Hence, in the pastoral stage the wife must go with the husband and be far removed from the influence and authority of her own kindred. This gave the husband greater power over his wife, Moreover, the care of flocks and herds accentuated the value of the male laborer, while primitively woman had been the chief laborer. In the pastoral stage the man had the main burden of caring for the flocks and herds. Under such circumstances nothing was more natural than that the authority of the owner of the family property should gradually become supreme in all matters, and we find, therefore, among all pastoral peoples that the family is itself a little political unit, the children taking the father's name, property and authority passing down along the male line, while the eldest living male is usually the ruler of the whole group.

(4) After all these causes came another factor ancestor worship. While ancestor worship exists to some extent among maternal peoples, it is usually not well-developed for some reason or other until the paternal stage is reached. Ancestor worship, being the worship of the departed ancestors as heroes, seems to develop more readily where the line of ancestors are males. It may be suggested that the male ancestor is apt to be a more heroic figure than the female ancestor. At any rate, when ancestor worship became fully developed it powerfully tended to reenforce the authority of the patriarch, because he was, as the eldest living ancestor, the representative of the gods upon earth, therefore his power became almost divine. Religion thus finally came in to place the patriarchal family upon a very firm basis.

Thus we see how each of these two great forms, the maternal family and the paternal family, arose out of natural conditions, and therefore they may be said to represent two great stages in the social evolution of man. It is hardly necessary to point out that civilized societies are now apparently entering upon a third stage, in which there will be relative equality given to the male and the female elements that go to make up the family.

Polyandry. We must notice now the various forms of marriage by which the family has been constituted among different peoples and in different ages. Marriage, like the family itself, is variable, and an indefinite number of forms may be found among various peoples. We shall notice, however, only the three leading forms, polyandry, polygyny, and monogamy, and attempt to show the natural conditions which favor each. It is evident that if we assume that the primitive form of the family was that of a simple pairing monogamy, the burden is laid upon us to show how such different types as polyandry and polygyny arose.

Polyandry, or the union of one woman with several men, is relatively rare form of marriage and the family, found only in certain isolated regions of the world. It is particularly found in Tibet, a barren and inhospitable plateau north of India and forming a part of the Chinese Empire. It is also found in certain other isolated mountainous regions in India, and down to recent times also in Arabia. In none of these places does it exist exclusively, but rather alongside of monogamy and perhaps other forms of the family. Thus in Tibet the upper classes practice polygyny and monogamy, while among the lower classes we find polyandry and monogamy. In all these regions where polyandry occurs, moreover, it is to be noted that the conditions of life are harsh and severe. Tibet is an exceptionally inhospitable region, with a climate of arctic rigor, the people living mainly by grazing.

Under such circumstances it is conceivably difficult for one man to support and protect a family. At any rate, the form of polyandry which we find in Tibet suggests that such economic conditions may have been the main cause of its existence. Ordinarily in Tibet a polyandrous family is formed by an older brother taking a wife, and then admitting his younger brothers into partnership with him. The older brother is frequently absent from home, looking after the flocks, and in his absence one of the younger brothers assumes the headship of the family. Under such circumstances we can see how the natural human instincts which would oppose polyandry under ordinary circumstances, namely, the jealousy of the male, might become greatly modified, or cease to act altogether. Certain other conditions besides economic ones might also favor the existence of polyandry, such as the scarcity of women. Summing up, we can say, then, that this rare form of the family seems to have as its causes: (r) In barren and inhospitable countries the labor of one man is sometimes found not sufficient to support a family. (2) Also there probably exists in such regions an excess of males. This might be due to one of two causes : First, the practice of exposing female infants might lead to a scarcity of women; secondly, in such regions it is found that from causes not well understood a larger number of males are born. It may be noted as a general fact that when the conditions of life are hard in human society, owing to famine, war, or barrenness of the soil, a larger number of male births take place. We may therefore infer that this would disturb the numerical proportion of the sexes in such regions. (3) A third cause may be suggested as having something to do with the matter, namely, that habits of close inbreeding, or intermarriage, might perhaps tend to overcome the natural repugnance to such a relation. Moreover, close inbreeding also, as the experiments of stock-breeders show, would tend to produce a surplus of male births, and so would act finally in the same way as the second cause.

Polygyny, or the union of one man with several women, is a much more common form of marriage. It is, in fact, to be found sporadically among all peoples and in all ages. It has perhaps existed at least sporadically from the most primitive times, because we find that at least one of the anthropoid apes, namely, the gorilla, practices it to some extent. It is manifest, however, that it could not have existed to any extent among primitive men, except where food supply was exceptionally abundant. In the main, polygyny is a later development, then, which comes in when some degree of wealth has been accumulated, that is, sufficient food supply to make it possible for one man to support several families. Polygyny came in especially after women came to be captured in war and kept as slaves or wives. The practice of wife capture, indeed, and the honor attached to the custom, had much to do in making the practice of polygyny common among certain peoples. Wherever slavery has existed, we may also note, polygyny, either in its legal form or in its illegal form of concubinage, has flourished. Polygyny, indeed, is closely related with the institution of slavery and is practically coextensive with it. In the ancient world it existed among the Hebrews and among practically all of the peoples of the Orient, and also sporadically among our own Teutonic ancestors. In modern times polygyny still exists among all the Mohammedan peoples and to a greater or less degree among all semicivilized peoples. It exists in China in the form of concubinage. It even exists in the United States, for all the evidence seems to show that the Utah Mormons still practice polygyny to some extent, although it may be doubted whether polygynous unions are being formed among them at the present time.

Two facts always need to be borne in mind regarding polygyny : First, that wherever it is practiced it is relatively confined to the upper and wealthy classes, for the reason that the support of more than one family is something which only the wealthy classes in a given society could assume. Secondly, it follows that under ordinary circumstances only a small minority of a given population practice polygyny, even in countries in which it is sanctioned. In Mohammedan countries like Turkey and Egypt, for example, it is estimated that not more than five per cent of the families are polygynous, while in other regions the percentage seems to be still smaller. The reason for this is not only the economic one just mentioned, but that everywhere the sexes are relatively equal in numbers, and therefore it is impossible for polygyny to become a widespread general custom. If some men have more than one wife it is evident that other men will probably have to forego marriage entirely. This is not saying that under certain circumstances, namely, the importation of large numbers of women, a higher per cent of polygynous families may not exist. It is said that among the negroes on the west coast of Africa the number of polygynous families reaches as high as fifty percent, owing to the fact that female slaves are largely imported into that district, and that they serve not only as wives, but do the bulk of the agricultural labor, the male negro preferring female slaves, who can do his work and be wives at the same time, to male slaves. But such cases as these are altogether exceptional and manifestly could not become general.

Summing up, we may say that the causes of polygyny are, then :

(1) First of all, the brutal lust of man. No doubt man's animal propensities have had much to do with the existence of this form of the family. Nevertheless, while male sensuality is at the basis of polygyny, it would be a mistake to think that sensuality is an adequate explanation in all cases. On the contrary, we find many other causes, chiefly, perhaps, economic, operating also to favor the development of polygyny.

(2) One of these is wife capture, as we have already seen. The captured women in war were held as trophies and slaves, and later became wives or concubines. Among all peoples at a certain stage the honor of wife capture has alone been a prolific cause of polygyny.

(3) Another cause, after slavery became developed, was the high value set on women as laborers. Among many barbarous peoples the women do the main part of the work. They are more tractable as slaves, and consequently a high value is set upon their labor. As we have already seen, these female slaves usually serve at the same time as concubines, if not legal wives of their masters.

(4) Another cause which we can perhaps hardly appreciate at the present time is the high valuation set on children. We see this cause operating particularly in the case of the patriarchs of the Old Testament. Under the patriarchal family great value was set upon children as necessary to continue the family line. Where the device of adoption was not resorted to, therefore, in case of barrenness or the birth exclusively of female children, nothing was more natural than that polygyny should be resorted to in order to insure the family succession. In the patriarchal family also a high valuation was necessarily set upon children, because the larger the family grew the stronger it was.

(5) Finally, religion came to sanction polygyny. The religious sanction of polygyny cannot be looked upon as one of its original causes, but when once established it re-acted powerfully to reenforce and maintain the institution. How the religious sanction came about we can readily see when we remember that very commonly religions confuse the practice of the nobility with what is noble or commendable morally. The polygynous practices of the nobility, therefore, under certain conditions came to receive the sanction of religion. When this took place polygyny became firmly established as a social institution, very difficult to uproot, as all the experience of Christian missionaries among peoples practicing polygyny goes to show. We may note also the general truth, that while religion does not originate human institutions or the forms of human association, it is preeminently that which gives fixity and stability to institutions through the supernatural sanction that it accords them.

Some judgment of the social value of polygyny may not be out of place in connection with this subject. Admitting, as all students of social history must, that in certain times and places the polygynous form of family has been advantageous, has served the interests of social survival and even of civilization, yet viewed from the standpoint of present society it seems that our judgment of polygyny must be wholly unfavorable. In the first place, as we have already seen, polygyny is essentially an institution of barbarism. It arose largely through the practice of wife capture and the keeping of female slaves. While often adjusted to the requirements of barbarous societies, it seems in no way adjusted to a high civilization. Polygyny, indeed, must necessarily rest upon the subjection and degradation of women. Necessarily the practice of polygyny must disregard the feelings of women, for women are jealous creatures as well as men. No high regard for the feelings of women, therefore, would be consistent with the practice of polygyny. Finally, all the evidence that we have goes to show that under polygyny children are neglected, and, at least from the standpoint of a high civilization, inadequately socialized. This must necessarily be so, because in the polygynous family the care of the children rests almost entirely with the mother. While we have no statistics of infant mortality from polygynous countries, it seems probable that infant mortality is high, and we know from experience with polygynous families in our own state of Utah, according to the testimony of those who have worked among them, that delinquent children are especially found in such households. Fatherhood, in the full sense of the word, can hardly be said to exist under polygyny.

Those philosophers, like Schopenhauer, who advocate the legalizing of polygyny in civilized countries, are hardly worth replying to. It is safe to say that any widespread practice of polygyny in civilized communities would lead to a reversion to the moral standards of barbarism in many if not in all matters. That polygyny is still a burning question in the United States of the twentieth century is merely good evidence that we are not very far removed yet from barbarism.

Monogamy, as we have already seen, has been the prevalent form of marriage in all ages and in all countries. Wherever other forms have existed monogamy has existed alongside of them as the dominant, even though perhaps not the socially honored, form. All other forms of the family must be regarded as sporadic variations, on the whole unsuited to long survival, because essentially inconsistent with the nature of human society. In civilized Europe monogamy has been the only form of the family sanctioned for ages by law, custom, and religion. The leading peoples of the world, therefore, practice monogamy, and it is safe to say that the connection between monogamy and progressive forms of civilization is not an accident.

What, then, are the social advantages of monogamy which favor the development of a higher type of culture? These advantages are numerous, but perhaps the most important of them can be grouped under six heads.

(1) The number of the two sexes, as we have already seen, is everywhere approximately equal. This means that monogamy is in harmony with the biological conditions that exist in the human species. The equal number of the two sexes has probably been brought about through natural selection. Why nature should favor this proportion of the sexes can perhaps be in part understood when we reflect that with such proportion there can be the largest number of family groups, and hence the best possible conditions for the rearing of offspring.

(2) Monogamy secures the superior care of children in at least two respects. First, it very greatly decreases mortality in children, because under monogamy both husband and wife unite in their care. Again, monogamy secures the superior upbringing and, therefore, the superior socialization of the child. In the monogamous family much greater attention can be given to the training of children by both parents. In other forms of the family not only is the death rate higher among children, but from the point of view of modern civilization, at least, they are inferiorly socialized.

(3) The monogamic family alone produces affections and emotions of the higher type. It is only in the monogamic family that the highest type of altruistic affection can be cultivated. It is difficult to understand, for example, how anything like unselfish affection between husband and wife can exist under polygyny. Under monogamy, husband and wife are called upon to sacrifice selfish desires in the mutual care of children. Monogamy is, therefore, fitted as a form of the family to foster altruism in the highest degree, and, as we have seen, the higher the type of altruism produced by the family life, the higher the type of the social life generally, other things being equal. It is especially to the credit of monogamy that it has created fatherhood in the fullest sense of the term, and therefore taught the male element in human society the value of service and self sacrifice. Under polygynous conditions the father cannot devote himself to any extent to his children or to any one wife, since he is really the head of several households, and therefore, as we have already noted, father-hood in the fullest sense scarcely exists under polygyny.

(4) Under monogamy, moreover, all family relation-ships are more definite and strong, and thus family bonds, and ultimately social bonds, are stronger. In the polygynous household the children of the different wives are half brothers and half sisters, hence family affection has little chance to develop among them, and as a matter of fact between children of different wives there is constant pulling and hauling. Moreover, because the children in a polygynous family are only half brothers this immensely complicates relationships, and even the line of ancestors. Legal relations and all blood relationships are,. therefore, more entangled. It is no inconsiderable social merit of monogamy that it makes blood relationships simple and usually perfectly definite. All of this has an effect upon society at large, because the cohesive power of blood relationship, even in modern societies, is something still worth taking into account. But of course the main influence of all this is to be found in the family group itself, because it is only under such simple and definite relations as we find in the monogamous family that there is ample stimulus to develop the higher family affections.

(5) From all this it follows that monogamy favors the development of high types of religion and morals, family affection being an indispensable root of any high type of ethical religion. That form of the family which favors the development of the highest type of this affection will, therefore, favor the development of the highest type of religion. We see this even more plainly, perhaps, in ancient times than in the present time, because it was monogamy that favored the development of ancestor worship through making the line of ancestors clear and definite, and thus monogamy helped to develop this type of religion, which became the basis of still higher types.

(6) Monogamy not only favors the preservation of the lives of the children, but also favors the preservation of the lives of the parents, because it is only under monogamy that we find aged parents cared for by their children to any extent. Under polygyny the wife who has grown old is discarded for a young wife, and usually ends her days in bitterness. The father, too, under polygyny is rarely cared for by the children, because the polygynous household has never given the opportunity for close affections between parents and children. That monogamy, therefore, helps to lengthen life through favoring care of parents by children in old age is an element in its favor, for it adds not a little to the happiness of life, and so to the strength of social bonds, that people do not have to look forward to a cheerless and friendless old age.

In brief, the monogamic family presents such superior unity and harmony from every point of view that it is much more fitted to produce a higher type of culture. From whatever point of view we may look at it, therefore, there are many reasons why civilized societies cannot afford to sanction any other form of the family than that of monogamy.

The Relation of the Form of the Family to the Form of Industry. As we have already seen, the form of the family is undoubtedly greatly influenced by the form of industry. This is so markedly the case that some sociologists and economists have claimed that the form of the family life is but a reflection of the form of the industrial life; that the family in its changes and variations slavishly follows the changes in economic conditions. That such an extreme view as this is a mistake can readily be seen from a brief review of the causes which have produced certain types of family life in certain periods. Thus, the maternal type of the family cannot be said by any means to have been determined by economic conditions. On the contrary, primarily the maternal family, as we have seen, was determined by certain intellectual conceptions, namely, the absence of knowledge of the physiological connection between father and child, though the economic conditions of primitive life tended powerfully to continue the maternal family long after intellectual conditions had changed. Again, it has been said that the patriarchal family owed its existence entirely to a form of industry, namely, pastoral industry, but, as we have seen, other factors also operated to produce the patriarchal type of the family, such as war, religion, and perhaps man's inherent desire to dominate. Moreover, religion continued the patriarchal family in many cases long after pastoral industry had ceased to be the chief economic form.

So too with the forms of marriage. While polygyny has been claimed to be due entirely to economic causes, we have seen that thee so-called economic causes have only been the opportunities for the polygynous instincts of man to assert themselves. These polygynous instincts of man have asserted themselves more or less under all conditions of society, but under certain conditions, when there was an accumulation of wealth, and especially with the institution of slavery, they had greater opportunity to assert themselves than elsewhere. Thus the basic cause of polygyny is not economic, but psychological; and given certain moral and economic conditions of society, these polygynous tendencies assert themselves. Monogamy, on the other hand, has in no sense been deter-mined by economic conditions but is fundamentally deter-mined by the biological fact of the numerical equality of the sexes. This is doubtless the main reason why monogamy has been the prevalent form of the family everywhere. Certain moral and psychological factors which go along with the development of higher types of culture have, however, powerfully reenforced monogamy. It is doubtful if economic conditions can to any extent be shown to have equally reenforced the monogamic life.

Our conclusion must be, then, that while the form of the family and the form of industry are closely related, so closely that the form of industry continually affects more or less the family life, yet there is no reason for concluding that the form of the family is wholly or even chiefly determined by the form of industry.

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