Academic journal article Ethnology

Nuclear and Joint Family Households in West Bengal Villages

Academic journal article Ethnology

Nuclear and Joint Family Households in West Bengal Villages

Article excerpt

Studies on the joint family household in India have revolved around two major questions. (1) Does the joint family household represent the typical household in rural India and, if so, is it being replaced by the nuclear family household as it gains ground with increasing urbanization and industrialization? (2) Which segments of the rural Indian population are more prone than others to live in nuclear or joint family households? The answers to these questions so far have remained inconclusive and contradictory. Whether or not the rural population in India typically lives in a joint family household, for example, is a matter of interpretation of the available data. Based on her comparison of 26 studies on family types in India, Kolenda (1968:390) observed that while most of the rural people live in joint family households of one type or another the majority of the households in rural India are nuclear in structure. This fact thus can be used to support the arguments on "either side of the question of whether or not the joint family is typical of India" (Freed and Freed 1969:346). Kolenda (1968:390-91) also reported wide regional variations in the incidence of joint family households with the states in the Gangetic Plain having a significantly higher proportion than those in Central India and the state of West Bengal where nuclear family households tend to be predominant, and explained these regional differences in terms of the differences in the "customary time of break-up of the joint family."

There are at least three identifiable views regarding whether or not nuclear family households are gaining ground at the expense of joint family households. According to one view (Gould 1968; Mukherjee 1977), the incidence of joint family households in India has remained relatively stable and the nuclear family household is a "structural contingent" (Cohn 1961:1055), a "transitional form" (Mukherjee 1977:175), or a "mere milestone" in the pathway of the developmental cycle of the joint family and their "occurrence has nothing to do with the disintegration of the joint family system; on the contrary they are a part of the system" (Gould 1968:418). The second view is derived from Goode's (1963:19) thesis that urbanization and industrialization lead to the increase of nuclear family units at the expense of joint family units, for the former is better suited to the demands of spatial and social mobility of the modern economy as well its ideology emphasizing individualism rather than familism. Yadava (1966:27-28), based on his finding in a village near Delhi that individuals holding a nontraditional job with cash income tended to head nuclear family households, predicted a trend toward an increase in the number of nuclear family households in India with the rise of nontraditional jobs with cash income as a result of increasing urbanization and industrialization. In a study of family types in another village near Delhi, Stanley and Ruth Freed (1969:352), however, found that the apparent relationship between a household head's occupation and the household type was more a function of his age rather than his occupation. The Freeds also failed to find any difference in the household types headed by urban-oriented and village-oriented individuals. The third view, put forward by Sen (1965), accepts Dube's (1961:261) assertion that the nuclear family household is the basic unit of rural social organization in India, and explains its numerical preponderance not in terms of increasing urban and industrial influences but in terms of prevalent subsistence patterns and related economic activities in village societies. Sen (1965:15) demonstrated a significant relationship between household type and two variables relating to subsistence - occupation and land ownership - in four relatively isolated West Bengal villages and interpreted it as evidence supporting his argument that prevailing household types in Indian villages are a function of factors internal to the village society such as the predominant subsistence patterns. …

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