How important is the family

society : What is family today?


But yes, it still exists. The old-school head of the family, as Thomas Mann described him in the Buddenbrooks. Louis van Gaal, the Bayern coach, is one of them: he lets his daughters address him as you. And finds that quite normal, after all, he is a person to be respected. For most of us this doesn't seem so normal; on the contrary, it seems rather out of date. After all, family is less associated with the idea of ​​domination than with a love relationship.

This has not always been the case in the past. Until well into the middle of the 19th century, the family was a form of coexistence that was shaped more by economic than social ties. This is also to be found in the origin of the term family, which comes from Latin. Derived from famulus (the house slave), it referred to the property of a man, the pater familias. Of course, his property included not only women and children, but also cattle and slaves.

The traditional family as we know it, like love marriage, is an invention of the middle class in the 19th century. It emerged as the classic model to the extent that, with advancing industrialization, children were no longer used as workers. A pattern based on traditional roles developed more and more: the father is the breadwinner of the family and is therefore responsible for the outside world. He earns the money and takes care of the social contacts. His wife, who does not have a job, is responsible for the internal family area. This includes the cozy home and the upbringing of the children.


The traditional small family has often been declared obsolete. The facts seem clear: Almost one in five young people between the ages of 14 and 18 lived with their mother or father in 2008, although the proportion of single mothers is significantly higher. That means a 37 percent increase in the number of single parents compared to 1996. In addition, there are young people who grow up within an alternative family model such as unmarried partnerships. Their share has increased by 56 percent since 1996.

But these facts are deceptive. Three quarters of all children and young people still grow up with married couples. However, in addition to the norm family, this also includes alternative forms, which in addition to step, adoptive and foster families also include the blended family. But the rainbow family, i.e. families in which children live with two same-sex parents, or the multi-generational family can also be counted among them. The family as such has not survived - but its manifestations have become more diverse. After the family comes the family! Only she appears in multi-faceted robes. This can be the one-person household, the shared flat, the childless marriage, the long-distance relationship or a polyamorous partnership.

The reason for this development can be found primarily in the tendency towards individualization, with which people have been offered completely new choices and decision-making options since the late sixties - which also brought the family into wild waters.

As early as the mid-1980s, the sociologist Ulrich Beck described in his book Risk Society how all previous models lost their validity with the surge of individualization. The centrifugal forces of modernity catapulted people out of a tight and tight corset of life into the infinite and auspicious diversity that society offered them.

The introduction of the pill in the early sixties allowed women and married couples to make a much more conscious choice for or against having children. The emancipation movement of women with their desire to participate in social and professional life offered them more opportunities on the one hand. At the same time, however, they suffered from the constraints and complications that resulted from them. The educational expansion and the associated long training periods were also not insignificantly involved. Because that had the consequence that youth prolonged, the entry into the phase of responsibility shifted to a later point in time. In addition, a complete career history was no longer the norm until retirement. That had to do not only with risks such as unemployment, but also partly with the self-determined change to different employers.

And how did politics react to this change? In the 1950s and 1960s, family policy was still based on the single-earner model. Then it became an experimental field. Because while a fundamental social change was taking place, on the one hand the pillars on which the old model could rest in a stable manner remained on many levels. In addition to the splitting of the spouses, the adherence to the half-day school contributed to this. Likewise, the need for parents to need daycare places has been ignored for years. On the other hand, with the change in divorce law in 1976 and the reform of maintenance law, people were freed from traditional constraints. Family policy in this country has for years followed a rolling course and has maneuvered between different models. The result was a contradicting mix, euphemistically referred to as freedom of choice.

It was only with the introduction of the day-care center extension, the legal right to a daycare place, the payment of childcare allowance and the possibility of taking parental leave that parents were given reliable opportunities to combine family and work.


Family is a universe of its own. First of all, it is a social space. If this is reasonably intact, everyone in it, whether child or adult, can develop and grow appropriately. Can experience security, trust, closeness and intimacy. This is elementary for children in order to develop skills and acquire the potential for action that enables them to participate in social life. In addition to the material care of the parents for their children, the conveyance of values ​​plays an important role.

Most families not only maintain the usual or their own rituals at Easter. And their value - not only for children - is by no means to be underestimated. Dinner together, reading aloud before going to bed, and also the flea market stroll on Sunday afternoons provide support. These recurring actions provide orientation and structure, which has a stabilizing effect, especially in times of crisis.

Anyone who asks children what is most important to them will in most cases get the answer: family and friends. They are more important than money and possessions. At least that's what a study presented by Unicef ​​and the magazine "Geolino" says. For six to 14 year olds, friendship, security and honesty are the most important values. For the elderly, friends and family come first.

However, this picture cannot hide the fact that, due to demographic change, more and more people are living in single households, i.e. navigating through everyday life without a family compass. Therefore, they often look for a surrogate family in which they can find recognition. This can be an association, a political group, a religious or spiritual community. Especially in crises and difficult economic times, people emphasize the value of the family.


Leo Tolstoy's social novel Anna Karenina begins with the sentence: “All happy families are like one another; every unhappy family, however, is unhappy in its own way. ”While several factors must always be coherent for something to happen, a single factor is enough to seal its failure.

In the long run, the family is threatened by the falling birth rate. Statistically speaking, this is currently 1.4 children per woman. If you remember that with the beginning of industrialization, around 140 years ago, a woman in this country gave birth to an average of 4.7 children, the whole drama of this development becomes clear. A large part of which has taken place in the past 40 years: Between 1964 and 2006, the number of births in Germany almost halved. Even if, contrary to the national trend, more children are being born in Berlin, there are also the most childless people here.

The low birth rate is often blamed on women, especially in the educated classes: Their striving for self-realization in their job is at the expense of motherhood. In fact, there seem to be more and more young men who suffer from fear of commitment and who shy away from accepting the lifelong commitment that goes with fatherhood.

These are all consequences of individualization tendencies: The pursuit of happiness and freedom, in which caring for a family is perceived as a limitation of one's own individuality, collides with the lifelong responsibility that the family brings with it. How much people struggle with this dilemma can also be seen in the high divorce rates. Every third marriage is now ended in court.

But external factors such as livelihood worries and unemployment can also threaten the family's success. Children are proven to be at risk of poverty. The readiness for unlimited mobility, which is now assumed by many companies, also leaves many people at a loss. Because where there are partners and children, it is not so easy to move every year and leave school and friends behind.


Blood is thicker than water. Some say. You can't choose relatives, but friends can, say the others. Christian Lindner, 31 years old and General Secretary of the FDP, says: "For me, family is (...) all those people where I can go to the fridge without being asked."

Some also say: “My mother is my best friend.” This shows how much the parent-child relationship has developed into a more partnership-based relationship based on mutual respect. The generational conflicts have been defused, big rebellions have become small ones. When the parents listen to pop music themselves or go out in the evening, there is little left for the children to rebel against. Nevertheless: Even if very few parents let themselves be addressed as you - it remains a relationship of dependency.

This is not the case with friends. If they lack care, respect, and love, or if they abuse trust, they can be separated from them. But you remain the child of your parents and the parents of your children for a lifetime.

To home page