Since time immemorial the joint family has been one of the salient features of the Indian society. But the twentieth century brought enormous changes in the family system. Changes in the traditional family system have been so enormous that it is steadily on the wane from the urban scene. There is absolutely no chance of reversal of this trend. In villages, the size of the joint family has been substantially reduced or is found in its fragmented form. Some have split into several nuclear families, while others have taken the form of extended or stem families. Extended family is, in fact, a transitory phase between joint and nuclear family system.
The joint family or extended family in rural areas is surviving in its skeleton or nominal form as a kinship group. The adults have migrated to cities either to pursue higher education or to secure more lucrative jobs or to eke out their living outside their traditional callings, ensuing from the availability of better opportunities elsewhere as well as the rising pressure of population on the limited land base. Many of the urban households are really offshoots of rural extended or joint families. A joint family in the native village is the fountainhead of nuclear families in towns.
These days in most cases two brothers tend to form two independent households even within the same city owing to the rising spirit of individualism, regardless of similarity in occupation, even when the ancestral property is not formally partitioned at their native place.
The nuclear family, same as elsewhere, is now the characteristic feature of the Indian society. According to the census of India data, of all the households nuclear family constituted 70 percent and single member or more than one member households without spouse (or eroded families) comprised about 11 percent. The extended and joint family or households together claim merely 20 percent of all households.
This is the overall picture of the entire country, whereas in the case of urban areas the proportion of nuclear family is somewhat higher still. An extended family, which includes a couple with married sons or daughters and their spouses as well as 3 household head without spouse but with at least two married sons, daughters, and their spouses, constitute a little less than one-fifth of the total households.
With further industrial development, rural to urban migration, the nuclearization of families and rise of divorce rate and the proportion of single-member household is likely to increase steadily on the line of industrial West. This is believed to be so because the states, which have got a higher level of urbanization, tend to have a higher proportion of single-member households. Similarly, about a couple of decades ago almost 20 percent households contained only one person in the USA. More or less, a similar situation exists in other developed countries as well, and above all, not a single country has recorded decline in the proportion of single-member household during the last three decades. In fact, the tendency is more towards the increase in the proportion of single-member households.
As the process of family formation and dissolution has become relatively faster now than before, households are progressively more headed by relatively younger people. Census data from 1971 onward have clearly borne out that at the national level over three-fifths of the households are headed by persons aged less than 50.
There is every reason to believe that proportion of households headed by younger persons is likely to constitute a larger proportion than this in urban areas where the proportion of extended family, not to speak of joint family, is much smaller than that of rural areas. The emergence of financially independent, career-oriented men and women, who are confident of taking their own decisions and crave to have a sense of individual achievement, has greatly contributed to the disintegration of the joint family. The disintegration of joint family has led to closer bonds between spouses, but the reverse is also true in certain cases. For many, nuclear family is a safer matrimonial home to a woman. In bygone days people generally lived in joint families, yet familial discord never escalated into extreme physical violence or death, as we so often come across such instances in our day-to-day life and also know through national dailies, both electronic and print media.