Changing Meanings of Family in Personal Relationships: A Comparative Perspective

Part of the Palgrave Macmillan Studies in Family and Intimate Life book series (PSFL)


Family relationships in late modernity are considered to be embedded in wider processes of closeness and commitment, which go beyond blood and alliance principles. The aim of this chapter is to identify who is perceived as family in personal relationships and to examine the overlap between personal configurations and family networks. Despite some blurring of ties, findings show that there continue to be fairly clear boundaries between kin and non-kin ties in the predominant meanings of family. The salience of close kin ties emerges in all three countries, as well as the focus on long-lasting friendship; but there are country-specific aspects with regard to the categories and number of ties imbued with family meaning, the degree of overlap, and the types of family network.


Family Family meanings Family networks Overlap Kin ties Non-kinties Comparative analysis Portugal Switzerland Lithuania 



The authors of the chapter wish to acknowledge sponsors that made it possible to carry out this investigation, the results of which are presented in the chapter. In Switzerland, the research was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES Overcoming Vulnerability: Life-Course Perspectives. In Portugal, the research was carried out within the national survey, “Family Trajectories and Social Networks”, coordinated by Professor K. Wall from the Institute of Social Sciences (ICS) from the University of Lisbon. In Lithuania, the research was carried out based on data collected within the research project, “Trajectories of Family Models and Personal Networks: Intergenerational Perspective”, coordinated by Professor V. Kanopiené from Mykolas Romeris University (Lithuania) and funded by the Research Council of Lithuania.


  1. Aboim, S., & Vasconcelos, P. (2009). Differential and cumulative effects of life course events in an intergenerational perspective: Social trajectories of three-generation family lineages. Swiss Journal of Sociology, 35(2), 297–319.Google Scholar
  2. Allan, G. (1998). Friendship, sociology and social structure. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 15, 685–702.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Allan, G. (2001). Personal relationships in late modernity. Personal Relationships, 8, 325–339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Allan, G. (2008). Flexibility, friendship, and family. Personal Relationships, 15, 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Attias-Donfut, C. (Dir.). (1995). Les Solidarités entre Générations. Paris: Nathan.Google Scholar
  6. Beck-Gernsheim, E. (1998). On the way to a post-familial family: From a community of need to elective affinities. Theory, Culture and Society, 15(3–4), 53–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bengtson, V. L. (2001). Beyond the nuclear family: The increasing importance of multigenerational ties. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 63, 1–16.Google Scholar
  8. Bernotas, D., & Guogis, A. (2009). Globalization, social security and the Baltic states. Vilnius: Mykolo Romerio universiteto leidybos centras.Google Scholar
  9. Bertozzi, F., Bonoli, G., & Gay-des-Combes, B. (2008). La réforme de l’Etat social en Suisse: vieillissement. Emploi. Conflit travail–famille (2ème éd. mise à jour ed.). Lausanne: Presses polytechniques et universitaires romandes.Google Scholar
  10. Castles, F. G., & Mitchell, D. (1993). Worlds of welfare and families of nations. In F. G. Castles (Ed.), Families of nations: Patterns of public policy in Western democracies. Aldershot: Dartmouth Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  11. Cherlin, A. J., & Furstenberg, F. (1994). Stepfamilies in the United States: A reconsideration. Annual Review of Sociology, 20, 359–381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Coenen-Huther, J., Kellerhals, J., & von Allmen, M. (1994). Les réseaux de solidarité dans la famille. Lausanne: Éditions Réalités Sociales.Google Scholar
  13. Déchaux, J.-H. (2009). Sociologie de la famille. Paris: La Découverte.Google Scholar
  14. Edwards, R., & Gillies, V. (2012). Farewell to family? Notes on an argument for retaining the concept. Families, relationships and societies, 1(1), 63–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Esping-Andersen, G. (1999). Social foundations of post–industrial economies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Ferrera, M. (1996). Modèles de solidarité, divergences, convergences: perspectives pour l’Europe. Swiss Political Science Review, 2(1), 118. Scholar
  17. Finch, J. (2007). Displaying families. Sociology, 41(1), 65–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Godelier, M. (2010). Métamorphoses de la parenté. Paris: Flammarion.Google Scholar
  19. Guerreiro, M. D., Torres, A., & Capucha, L. (2009). Welfare and everyday life: Portugal in the European context (Vol. 3). Lisbon: Celta.Google Scholar
  20. Hantrais, L., & Letablier, M. T. (1996). Families and family policies in Europe. London/New York: Longman.Google Scholar
  21. Jamieson, L., Simpson, R., & Lewis, R. (Eds.). (2011). Researching families and relationships: Reflections on process. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  22. Kanopiene, V. (1995). Women’s work and family: Attitudes and behaviour. InLithuanian society in social transition (pp. 75–83). Vilnius: Institute of Philosophy, Sociology and Law.Google Scholar
  23. Kanopiene, V. (1999). Combining family and professional roles: Gender differences. In V. Stankuniene, P. Eglite, & V. Kanopiene (Eds.), Revue Baltique. Special issue “demographic development in the countries of transition”, 13, 97–110.Google Scholar
  24. Kellerhals, J., Widmer, E., & Lévy, R. (2004). Mesure et démesure du couple. Paris: Payot.Google Scholar
  25. Leitner, S. (2003). Varieties of familialism: The caring functions of the family in comparative perspective. European Societies, 5(4), 353–375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lévy, R., & Widmer, E. (Eds.). (2013). Gendered life courses between standardization and individualization: A European approach applied to Switzerland. Wien: LIT Verlag.Google Scholar
  27. Mitrikas, A. A. (2000). Changes of family values in recent decades. Filosofija. Sociologija, 4, 66–73.Google Scholar
  28. Mitrikas, A. A. (2007). Lithuanian family: Changes of values in 1990–2005. In R. Žiliukaitė (Ed.), Development of cultural trends in nowadays Lithuania. Value research. Vilnius: Kultūros, filosofijos ir meno institutas.Google Scholar
  29. Milardo, R. M. (2010). The forgotten kin: Aunts and uncles. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Morgan, D. (2010). Acquaintances: The space between intimates and strangers. Maidenhead: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Morgan, D. H. J. (2011). Rethinking family practices. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pahl, R., & Pevalin, D. J. (2005). Between family and friends: A longitudinal study of friendship choice. British Journal of Sociology, 56(3), 433–450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Pahl, R., & Spencer, L. (2004). Personal communities: Not simply families of “fate” or “choice”. Current Sociology, 52(2), 199–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Roseneil, S., & Budgeon, S. (2004). Beyond the conventional family: Intimacy, care and community in the 21st century. Current Sociology, 52(2), 135–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Šaulauskas, M. P. (2000). Social change: Methodology and general trends. In D. Ulčinskaitė (Ed.), Social changes: Lithuania. 1990–1998 (pp. 9–36). Vilnius: Garnelis.Google Scholar
  36. Schulman, N. (1975). Life cycle variations in patterns of close relationships. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 37, 492–499.Google Scholar
  37. Stankūnienė, V. (1995). Demographic changes and population policy in Lithuania. Vilnius: Lietuvos filosofijos ir sociologijos institutas.Google Scholar
  38. Stankuniene, V., & Maslauskaite, A. (2008). Family transformation in the post-communist countries: Attitudes towards changes. In C. Höhn, A. Avramov, & I. Kotowska (Eds.), People. Population change and policies. Lessons from the population policy acceptance study 1 (pp. 113–140). The Hague: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Stankūnienė, V., & Maslauskaitė, A. (Eds.). (2009). The Lithuanian family: Between traditions and new realities. Vilnius: Socialinių tyrimų institutas.Google Scholar
  40. Wall, K. (2011). A intervenção do Estado: políticas públicas de família. In A. N. de Almeida (Ed.), História da vida privada em Portugal: Os nossos dias (pp. 340–374). Lisboa: Círculo de leitores.Google Scholar
  41. Wall, K., & Gouveia, R. (2014). Changing meanings of family in personal relationships. Current Sociology, 62(3), 352–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wall, K., Aboim, S., Cunha, V., & Vasconcelos, P. (2001). Families and informal support networks in Portugal. Journal of European Social Policy, 11(3), 213–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Weeks, J., Heaphy, B., & Donovan, C. (2001). Same sex intimacies: Families of choice and other life experiments. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Widmer, E. D. (2006). Who are my family members? Bridging and bonding social capital in family configurations. Journal of Personal and Social Relationships, 23(6), 979–998.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Widmer, E. (2010). Family configurations. A structural approach to family diversity. London: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  46. Widmer, E., & Jallinoja, R. (Eds.). (2008). Beyond the nuclear family: Families in a configurational perspective. Bern: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  47. Williams, F. (2004). Rethinking families. London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Social Sciences (ICS)University of LisbonLisbonPortugal
  2. 2.Life Course and Inequality Research CentreUniversity of LausanneLausanneSwitzerland
  3. 3.Sociological Research LaboratoryMykolas Romeris UniversityVilniusLithuania

Personalised recommendations