Jamaican Research: Caribbean Family Diversity – Part 1

The various family forms found in the Caribbean

Jamaican couple in bed

By: Denise N. Fyffe.
Copyright © 2015, Denise N. Fyffe


The family, in many ways, is the birthplace of society. It is our most basic economic, political, and social unit. It is within the Caribbean family that individuals first learn the value of work and the worth of their possessions. It is within the Caribbean family that individuals first experience authority, co-operation, and governance. Families teach individuals how to relate to and treat one another. Families provide an appropriate space for nurturing, growth, and education. They are truly the schools where social and emotional skills are acquired. Clearly, families provide an invaluable service to society. In fact, without families, society as we know it could disappear (Mehrotra, 2005). Each unit within every nation, ethnic group or society differs and so too fashions who we become

What is a family? Mehrotra (2005) states that frequently the answer describes the physical and formal composition of a black familyfamily: a mother, a father, children, possibly grandparents, or other members of the extended family. The role of each member is often defined by gender. The man is considered responsible for the material well being of his wife, their children and elderly dependants. The woman is considered responsible for the emotional and spiritual welfare of the family unit.

Functions of a Family

Although families differ in form according to the society, they nevertheless are responsible for carrying out similar functions. The primary function of the family is to reproduce society, either biologically, socially, or both (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family). Family functions are more or less universal, in that families throughout the world are expected to perform these functions for the benefit chiefly of their family members and the community. According to Thelma M. Stewart PhD., of the Ministry of Education, the chief functions of the family are:

  1. Procreation or reproduction – for continuation of the species.
  2. Socialization this includes – education, religion, learning social relationships, being a responsible citizen.
  3. Providing the basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, health care and love.
  4. Transmitting the culture: that is, passing on the language, beliefs and attitudes, goals and values.
  5. Preventing incest, by regulating kinship relationships
  6. Conferring Status:  Status may be: derived (e.g. family name) or acquired (e.g. earned from society).

More in Part 2….




  1. Barrow, C., (1998). Family in the Caribbean: Themes and Perspectives. Jamaica, Ian Randle Publishers, 1998. p. 1 – 46
  2. Barrow, C., Reddock, R., (2001). Caribbean Sociology: Introductory Readings. Jamaica, Ian Randle Publishers, 2001. p. 418-425.
  3. Booth, R., (2003). Jamaica’s family structure is creating huge societal problems’ – Friday July 4, 2003. Jamaica Gleaner Online. Retrieved on March 5, 2005 from http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20030704/business/business10.html
  4. Family Life, Retrieved on March 5, 2005 from http://www.settlement.org/cp/english/jamaica/family.html
  5. Guyana National Development Strategy 2001-2010, Chapter 26 – The Family and Its Most Vulnerable Members. Retrieved on March 5, 2005 from http://www.sdnp.org.gy/nds/chapter26.html
  6. Mehrotra, A., (2005). Gender and Family, Retrieved on March 5, 2005 from www.undp.org/rblac/gender/legislation/family.htm
  7. Simey, T.S. (1998). Welfare and Planning in the West Indies
  8.  Smith, R., T., (1973). Family, Household, & Gender: Some Quotes – Matrifocality: The Matrifocal Family. Retrieved on March 5, 2005 from http://instruct.uwo.ca/anthro/211/family.htm
  9. Stewart, M., (2002). 4th Caribbean Early Childhood Development Conference, CHANGING ROLE OF FATHERS Retrieved on March 9, 2005 from http://www.caribecd.org.jm/2002CONF/guyanaconf/PARENTING%20issues/Fatherhood%20Lecture%20-Micheal%20Stewart.htm
  10. Stewart, T., M., (2005). The Family – Family Life Education Project, Ministry of Education, Kingston, Jamaica
  11. Types of Families, Retrieved on March 5, 2005 from http://www.hhs.wash.k12.ut.us/department/health/masters/ch5l1/type.htm

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