Family is a background of every society. Family is a social institution that can be presented either by the simple structure ”“ a married couple and one child ”“ or by the complex structure ”“ a family, which includes a few generations living in one or more households. It goes without saying that the structure of an average family differs in different countries, depending on the historical background, social peculiarities, economic circumstances and cultural values of the country. India and the USA are two absolutely different countries, and that is why family structure differs greatly in these two countries.
India and America present two fundamentally different cultural, political and social systems.Â They present two opposite poles of the world and these poles are East and West. Two different systems present different mentalities.
These differences, in their turn, can explain differences in family structure.
Before speaking about family life in the USA and India, it is necessary to present some important facts about two countries and their social structure. Despite India has made considerable steps towards the globalization and participates in the global market, the mentality of the people who live in this country significantly differs from the mentality of the American people. Indian society is very diverse and includes the representatives of different nationalities, religions and social layers. “The ethnic and linguistic diversity of Indian civilization is more like the diversity of an area as variable as Europe than like that of any other single nation-state. Living within the embrace of the Indian nation are vast numbers of different regional, social, and economic groups, each with different cultural practices“(Chatterjee, 1993, pp. 24-25).
North and South of India differ greatly from each other in social structure and governing systems. India has centuries of social stratification. Varnes and Castes made a traditional social structure of India for centuries and, of course, it has always had a great impact on the structure of the family. There is not such a division nowadays but the memory about Castes division is still alive in the minds of people and has great influence on the social structure of the country. Social inequality is presented in America, as well, but it does not have such a hereditary source, as in India.Â There is no analogy of the Caste system in any other country of the world. Slave trade or serfdom, partially presented in the United States several centuries ago, now became the past. Families in America are based on equality and free will and social status does not play a significant role. On the other handl national origin, race and social background still are the factors of social discrimination in the USA even now, in the era of democracy.
Despite great transformations in the social structure and mentality of Indian people, Caste system is not fully overcome in India. Caste system in India survived not only because it was promoted and supported by the elite class but also because it served social purposes as it helped to organize the education and successful production (Banga, 1996). This factors have a strong influence on the family system of India.
In India marriage is the act of unity of two families, so it is not an individual decision and it is not taken by the bride or the groom, marriages are usually arranged by parents. Religious background and caste are two the most important points while creating a new family. Taking into account these criteria, family partners can be found by parents, with the help of newspaper advertisements or in special marriage bureaus.
In America such situation is impossible. A man and a woman take a decision to marry, and then they tell their parents about their decision, ask for a blessing from them or sometime even do not do it and get married. It is person’s own choice and free will. Â The marriage is made under the agreement of both sides.
Although traditions loose their significant meaning in India, especially in urban regions, there are traditional values in India common for almost all Indian families. Indians are used to have big families, in which every member has his own duties and responsibilities. Warm attitude, support and family unity are very important and all parents try to foster these values among their children. Older people are always ready to help younger generations and share their experience and wisdom with them. Young generations, in their turn, respect their families. Big family, which consists of several generations, who live under one root, is a common situation for India. Children prefer to live in gig family houses together with their parents.
American families have another values because of the another mentality. Family is an individual unity, it is the own world of the married couple and this couple creates this world. Children are more independent, they try not to ask their parents for help and to overcome all the difficulties. Men usually marry in their thirties and forties, when they already earn enough money and give their families all the necessary things. Another value in American families is equality: a husband and a wife have equal rights and take decisions together. American families are also characterized by dual-earners.
Most people, both men and women in our era of democracy and equal possibilities try to realize their potential and so make a career. While climbing the ladder under natural conditions of competition dual-earner couples tend to forget about their family and housekeeping. Today investigation of relations in dual-earner couples is of current importance because recent researches have shown that such couples have problems and conflicts and their relations are strained (cited in Mintz, 1988).
“The U.S. Labor Department reports that, in 57 percent of married couples, husbands and wives work. Coping with two jobs and rearing children leaves many couples hard-pressed to find time together”ť (Haddock, 2006, p. 229).
On the one hand dual-earner couples help maintaining living standards; they earn more in comparison with the situation when only one member of the family works. By the year 2006 wives earn 81 % of what men earn in the United States of America; wives’ salaries contribute 35 % of family income and it is a significant value. In one-third of dual-earner couples wives earn more than their husbands (cited in Moorehead, 1998).
In India the system of duel-earners is not spread and in most cases men are responsible for family’s income, although women sometimes can make some contributions too. Women are responsible for their family, they usually maintain the household, bring up children and take care of aged people in their family.
Speaking about family structure in India and America, it is also necessary to take into account economic peculiarities of these countries. America is a developed country with high average salaries, low level of unemployment and high level of life. India is a developing country with low average salaries. The rate of unemployment is rather high and 17 per cent of Indian citizens are under low-income poverty threshold. Such economic situation explains multigenerational organization of families in India: all the members of the family help each other and parents’ support is necessary for their children because young families are just not able to survive living by their own. Such structure is also determined by historical and cultural peculiarities but economic factor plays an important role. In the USA men marry later, when they become able to keep their own families without their parents’ support (U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Information Programs).
Gender distinction is the question of special interest when it comes to the Indian mentality, especially speaking about families. Probably there is no area of life, which would differ more in India and America.Â Prescribed during the centuries gender roles still have dominating influence in the Indian society. Oppression of women, which existed during all the Indian history, is not totally overcome yet. Despite some progress has been made in this field, women still feel much discrimination in India. Man is the head of the family, his decision is the only possible one, wife’s opinion is often not taken into account.
Some progress has been made on this field during the last decades, though. In India women take active part in political and social life nowadays. It is worth to remember the notable example of Indira Gandhi – a woman who became an example for millions of Indian women.Â There are a number of state programs, which are developed in order to increase the number of women in the Indian government (cited in Das, 1998).
Women in the United States, who have never been in such a discriminated position as in India, nowadays possess same right and freedoms as men do. In the fields where the equality has not been achieved yet American women persistently fight for their rights.
It is just time to speak about the future of the American and India family. Besharov, a professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Affairs, states that in the future there will be less marriages in the States than nowadays.
Marriage becomes less important but, nevertheless, the significance of the family does not fall. Family is not so strong, as it used to be, it has changed. “You can’t have three-and-a-half decades of high divorce rates ”” as we have ”” and as many as five decades of rising out-of-wedlock births and not see change”ť (Besharov, 1989). The real problem of the contemporary American society is unintended pregnancy among teenagers. Nowadays the rates of unintended pregnancy at high schools are extremely high and they become even higher and higher every year.
Most high school students are not ready to become parents and they do not plan their families at the age of 16 or 18.
If the girl decides not to make an abortion and have a child, the couple usually marries, although they did not intent to do it before. Such marriage is often unhappy, although sometimes there are expectations.Â Family planning is very important but high school students often are not ready to create families.
American society is now adapting new types of family structure, leaving the traditional structure behind. Such new practices, as stepparenting, adoptive households, single parenthood, stay-at-home fathers, grandparents raising children have become widespread in America. Of course, they differ from the traditional families and have a lot of disadvantages but they are often much better than the practice of teenagers bringing up an unexpected child.
India’s main aim in the future is to save the traditional family with all its values. There are a lot of special governmental programs, which help to do it. The principle rule for the Indian family is the following:Â “it is in the family that life begins, develops itself and matures – the one who attacks the family also attacks life; the one who defends the family also defends human life”ť (Chatterjee, 1993, p. 81). The governmental main aim in the contemporary Indian society is to decrease threats to the family, protect family values and to increase the number of traditional families in India. Strong family ties, traditions and values will definitely make a family institution stronger.Â In the nineteenth century wives were their husbands’ property, and so were treated accordingly. Of course, in the 21st century the situation has changed but the structure of family is still patriarchal. Women have rights they did not have in the 19th century but it is early to speak about equality between men and women in India.
To sum up, the structure of the family differs greatly in the United States of America and India. It can be explained by such factors, as different historical background, economic circumstances, social atmosphere in the countries, different traditions and systems of values.