Broken extended households may be 4% of the total, but these have grown by 180%  in a decade

Family living on the street on Strand Rd., Jorabagan, Kolkata, India.

By Sheshu Babu*

Though the trend towards ‘nuclear’ families, where the family unit is mainly parents and children, is increasing, there are indications of increase in families which are neither nuclear nor joint. These may be called ‘broken extended ‘ families. Over half of India’s households have been recorded as nuclear families since 1990s. Joint families make just 16% of all house-holds. About a third of households are neither ‘nuclear’ nor ‘ joint’.

The 2011 census data show that there is a whole range of households between nuclear and joint. Numerically biggest among these is ‘supplemented nuclear’ households making up 16% of the 25 crore families in India.  These households are households where an unmarried relative of husband or wife or an elderly aunt stays along with them.

Curiously, the share of ‘broken extended’ households in terms of total households is 4% or 1 crore households. These have grown about 180%  in a decade. ‘Broken extended’ households are defined as those with a head of the household without a spouse, and some other relatives in residence, not more than one of whom is married. For example, an elderly widowed woman staying with her elderly widowed sister-in-law and their married nephew and spouse.

Female headed households of such types have increased seven times in the past decade.  This may be due to increased life expectancy of women and people migrating to work. The total number of households increased by 29% between 2001-2011 while joint family system showed just about 9% increase. This may indicate breakdown of joint family system. Significantly, joint families are increasing in cities and reducing in rural areas. They rose by 29% in urban areas and just 2% in rural areas in the decade.

Economic factors are mainly responsible for increase of such families. The young are migrating to cities in search of jobs as the agriculture sector is declining due to lack of proper policies that assist growth of this sector. Along with the young, their family members who depend economically are forced to migrate.

The expensive urban life in urban areas is also contributing for the rapid increase of combined living. Housing facilities in urban areas are lacking and thus, nuclear families are forced to accommodate other members or relatives.

More women working in urban areas may also contribute to rise in some form of joint families in cities. But data show women participation in work is pathetic. Despite higher education levels, women drop out from work after marriage. A survey of 1,000 women in Delhi found that 18-34 percent women work after having a child. (“Where are Indian Working Women”, by Mandakini Devasher Surie , March 9, 2016,

According to statistics of government, woman labour participation rate fell from 29.4% from 2004-2005 to 22.5% in 2011-12. But analysis shows that woman participation in work in urban areas is on the rise.(“Urban India and its Female Demographic Dividend”, Shriya Anand and Jyothi Koduganti,  July 30, 2015, The number of women working and seeking work grew by 14.4% annually between 1991 and 2011, even though the population of urban women grew at only 4.5% during the same period.

The trend of extended families in urban area and towns may rise due to various factors. Cities are becoming overpopulated as people are deserting villages in search of jobs. The agriculture sector is being slowly wiped out due to fast growing industrialisation.

Hence, rural employment should be addressed so that migration might be reduced. The cities are becoming cramped and environmentally hazardous. Balanced development is crucial for preservation of healthy family system in the country.

*Writer from anywhere and everywhere, supports healthy living 


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