Throughout history, the family has been a central—some would argue the central—institution in human society. Historically, the family has been involved in almost all activities of human life, including, but not limited to, production, consumption, reproduction, parenting, social relations, governance, religion, and leisure. As a collective unit, the family has provided its members a common environment within which to interact, care for each other, and share resources. Although the precise role of the family in organizing specific social activities has changed over time, the centrality of the family to human society remains in place. Today, as has been true for thousands of years, the family is still a primary unit of human interaction, providing the basis for both generational renewal and individual linkage to the larger society.
Throughout most of the recorded history of the Western world, a family consisting of a wife, a husband, and children was the main social institution that structured the lives, activities, and relationships of women, men, and children. In the Western world, marriage governed the essential processes of mate selection and sexual expression; it was also the place for childbearing and childrearing. The marriage and family unit was the primary economic locus of society, being the main place of production, consumption, and the distribution of property within and between gener-