Contrary to the perception that urban Indian families are going nuclear, data released by the central government Tuesday show that the proportional share of nuclear households has dipped in urban areas, with people choosing to live in extended families. Instead, it is in rural areas where there are greater signs of fragmentation of families with nuclear families rising and joint families declining at a faster pace than in urban areas.
Over the years, various sociologists have affirmed in their studies that the rise of nuclear families — consisting of a couple and their unmarried children — is consistent with rapid urbanisation. At the same time, lack of adequate housing may be forcing more urban people to stay together. The new data could, therefore, be a pointer to this challenge from urbanisation. According to the 2001 census, out of 19.31 crore households, 9.98 crore or 51.7% were nuclear households. In the 2011 census, the share grew to 52.1% — 12.97 crore nuclear out of 24.88 crore households.
What is striking is the decline in the proportional share of nuclear households in urban areas. From 54.3% of the urban households of 2001, nuclear families have fallen to 52.3% of all urban households. In contrast, in rural areas, the share of nuclear families has risen from 50.7% to 52.1%. Joint families, meanwhile, fell substantially to from 19.1% (3.69 crore) to 16.1% (4 crore) across India. In rural areas, the dip was sharper – from 20.1% to 16.8% – than in urban India where it fell from 16.5% to 14.6%.
According to the government yardstick for classifying family size, a subnuclear family is a fragment of a nuclear family, such as a widow with unmarried children, or siblings living together. Supplemented nuclear families include a nuclear family’s members plus other relations, without spouses. Broken extended nuclear families comprise a head without a spouse with other relations, of whom only one has a spouse. A joint family can be of various compositions, including parents with married children.
Analysts feel the declining share of urban nuclear families is due to increased migration as well as lack of housing. “When you look at people who are migrating en masse, they are mainly the labour class… It is usually the extended family that shifts,” said Dr Kaushalendra Kumar, of the Indian Institute for Population Sciences. Sociologists say the breaking up of joint families in rural areas is a normal process of socialisation. “The human socialisation process generally percolates from urban to rural areas,” said Dr Abdul Shaban, deputy director of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. “Some of the studies that we have conducted have shown that there is a fragmentation of the joint family system with increasing nuclear families in rural areas.”