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Rural Families

Defining Rurality, Changes In Rural Life, Poverty And Economic Struggle, Changes In Gender Roles


The concept of rural families is, at best, a slippery one. This is because both aspects—family and rural—are today continuously being redefined. Further, in taking an international perspective, how family is defined varies regionally and from nation to nation. How family and rurality are defined differs depending on the theoretical context as well. For example, feminist thinkers have reconstructed what constitutes a family and what rural work for women involves.

Even the U.S. Census Bureau had to rethink its 1990 definition of family, "a domestic group of two or more people united by bonds of blood, adoption or marriage" (U.S. Bureau of Census 1990). In the 2000 census, families were allowed much more freedom to self-define; even the overall designation of "Households and Families" changed to "Families and Living Arrangements."

Janet Bokemeier (1997), president of the Rural Sociology Society, says of families: "Families live together; share economic resources; act as cooperative, caring social units; and provide environments for the emotional, social and economic well being of family members." She goes on to talk about how families share a space—the home or domicile or unit of co-residence. This allows for the wide variety of new forms of families, which range from single-parent households including fathers as primary caregivers, cohabitating families, blended families, gay and lesbian families, foster families, and traditional nuclear and extended families (Gottfried and Gottfried 1994).

Whichever definition is used to describe rural families, it becomes clear that the rural family that was defined in the mid-twentieth century—the intact, large, hardworking, dirt-smudged, patriarchal farm family—if it exists at all today, is only one of a diverse and rich variety of families that live in rural regions of all countries.

The factors that seem to define families in most nations are economic, social, and emotional support among several individuals who live together in a household (or even a tribal village). Judith Stacey (1991), who has studied postmodern families, says it very well: "No longer is there a single culturally dominant family pattern, like the modern one, to which the majority of Americans conform and most of the rest aspires. Instead Americans today have crafted a multiplicity of family and household arrangements that we inhabit uneasily and reconstitute frequently in response to changing personal and occupational circumstances."


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural Aspects