Geography and Family Structure

Mark Altaweel


Households and families are often affected by our cultural backgrounds. Across the globe, family structures often include nuclear, extended, and multiple family households that may consist of three generations or even more. Factors outside of culture, however, have influenced modern household makeup. For instance, dense urban environments force smaller families to become the norm in urban settings in most regions today.[1]

Family also has a strong influence on migration patterns, both within and outside of a country. In particular, non-Western migrants often show a strong relationship with their migration choices, both international and within country migration, based on the presence of extended family. Even if family members could not reside in the same residence, living in proximity is found to be advantageous for work and life opportunities.[2]

In addition to migration, more modern influences of divorce, longer-lived individuals, cohabitation, and other forms of social factors have rearranged household composition, forcing family-based analyses to look at networks for understanding meaningful social and economic relationships people form, as traditional structures are not sufficient to explain how people not only create their households but also how they are utilized in a social context.[3]

One recent trend has been the role of migration, particularly for education opportunities, in affecting how children are now sent to urban regions from rural areas, such as in China and east Asia, so that they have better opportunities. One or both parents may reside in the primary residence, but a child might be sent to a more distant city.[4]

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This has created many households that are complex, including multiple children from different families living together, as a response to economic and geographic factors in affecting migration patterns. The distribution of resources and desire to climb a competitive social latter has created new forms of mixed households as well as households that are divided.

Factors of geography, economics, social trends, and different attitudes towards traditional households have contributed to diverse ranges of household formation.


[1] For more on the role of urban setting and family structure, see:  Blunt, Alison. 2005. “Cultural Geography: Cultural Geographies of Home.” Progress in Human Geography 29 (4): 505–15.

[2] For more on the role of families in migration, see:  Hedman, Lina. 2013. “Moving Near Family? The Influence of Extended Family on Neighbourhood Choice in an Intra-Urban Context: Moving Near Family?” Population, Space and Place 19 (1): 32–45. doi:10.1002/psp.1703.

[3] For more on non-traditional household formation and relationship networks, see:  Ramos, Vasco, Rita Gouveia, and Karin Wall. 2017. “Coresidence as a Mechanism of Relational Proximity: The Impact of Household Trajectories on the Diversification of Personal Networks.” In Family Continuity and Change, edited by Vida Česnuitytė, Detlev Lück, and Eric D. Widmer, 187–210. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.

[4] For more on household child migration in east Asia, see:  Waters, Johanna. 2015. “Educational Imperatives and the Compulsion for Credentials: Family Migration and Children’s Education in East Asia.” Children’s Geographies 13 (3): 280–93. doi:10.1080/14733285.2015.972646.


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About the author
Mark Altaweel
Mark Altaweel is a Reader in Near Eastern Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, having held previous appointments and joint appointments at the University of Chicago, University of Alaska, and Argonne National Laboratory. Mark has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Masters and PhD degrees from the University of Chicago’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.