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Main Family Functions Explained

Gabrielle Applebury
Happy family enjoying lunch while kids playing

Essential family functions will vary depending on which theory you are exploring. In general, family functions include meeting basic needs to all of its members, as well as providing warmth, comfort, and socialization.

Family Function

Family function refers to the ways in which a family system operates, as well as what the system, as a whole, provides to each member of the family. Keep in mind that families are all unique and what one individual may consider being family may not apply to others. Examples of families include:

  • A two-parent household (mother and mother, mother and father, father and father) with one or more biological children
  • A one-parent household with one or more biological children
  • A one-parent household with one or more adopted children
  • A two-parent household with one or more adopted children
  • A committed couple with no children
  • A married couple with no children
  • A multi-generational family household with adopted children, no children, or biological children
  • A couple or group of friends who create their own familial structure with no biological ties to each other
  • A blended family

What Are the Six Functions of the Family?

According to Family Function: a historical and research review, sociologists Lidz, Schwab, Bell, and Stephenson note the six functions as:

  • Procreation
  • Fulfill the adults' sexual and emotional needs
  • Teach the family norms so they can be active members of society
  • Maintenance of the family system
  • Passing along values and beliefs
  • Provide support to each other
Family hanging laundry together

What Is the Major Function of Family?

According to a sociological perspective, the major function of a family is to ensure that society continues through procreation. It is important to remember that not all families want to have children, or are able to have children. Families who adopt children are also invalidated through this model, making it an incomplete picture of what the major function of a family is. From a more psychological perspective, the major function of a family is to ensure all basic needs (food, shelter, clothing, education) are met within a loving and healthy familial environment where the child (if applicable) has a secure attachment with their caregiver(s) within a system that fosters emotional and social growth.

What Are the Four Basic Functions of a Family?

According to a sociological perspective, the four functions of a family include:

  • Fulfilling the adults' sexual needs
  • Procreation
  • Fulfilling the family's economic needs
  • Fostering socialization of the parents' offspring

What Are the Five Functions of the Family?

According to Schwab, Bell, and Stephenson in Family Function: a historical research review, the five functions of the family include:

  • Maintaining the family system
  • Procreation
  • Fulfilling the adults' sexual needs
  • Emotional support for those within the family system
  • Passing along and teaching skills and values
Little girl is sitting with her grandmother

Other Important Family Functions

Other sociological perspectives note that teaching children about appropriate sexual relationships is also an important aspect of the family system. From a psychological perspective, the function of family, if there is a child or children involved is to not only meet all the basic needs of the children, but to provide an environment conducive to healthy (secure) attachment, so the child or children can grow up and create their own meaningful and healthy adult relationships. Healthy or secure attachments lead to:

  • Better social and emotional adjustment as children grow up and become adults
  • Lower risk of mental health disorder diagnoses later on in life (adolescence and adulthood)

Essential Functions of Family

Essential functions of a family will vary based on the sociological perspective, but in general the functions tend to focus on meeting the adults' sexual and emotional needs, as well as providing a supportive environment to rear children. From a psychological perspective, in a healthy family system, all members within the family get their basic needs met within an empathetic and nurturing environment that promotes secure attachments between the parent(s) and child(ren) if applicable.

Main Family Functions Explained