Family structure and composition are social determinants that can affect health behaviors and outcomes. In Georgia, individuals living together with their parents or parents in law report that they are happier, healthier and more involved in cultural activities than those living without them.
Extended family is usually defined as a type of family in which relatives beyond parents and children (such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins) live in a single household, while a nuclear household consists of only a couple and their dependent children.
Talcott Parsons, a prominent sociologist and the father of structural functionalism, believed that the nuclear family developed mainly as a result of industrialization. He thought of families as extended units of production, before industry took over the family’s functions. This means that work and home lives were combined in a way which allowed family members to teach one another different skills for life.
Parsons thought that the extended family stayed together so they could provide health care for one another and look after the old people whilst the elderly looked after the young children while the parents were out working. In contrast to pre-industrial society, in industrial society (from the 1800s in the UK) the isolated “nuclear family” consisting of only parents and children becomes the norm.
This trend is well demonstrated in the results of the European Value Study, a large multinational survey research program that has been studying basic human values for almost 40 years. GORBI has been part of the project since 2008 and is the data provider for Georgia and Azerbaijan for the most recent year.
When asked if they live with your parents or parents in law, in all of 16 countries surveyed by the EVS a majority of population reported living without a parent or parent in law. This trend strengthens Parson’s argument that there has been a shift from extended to nuclear family after pre-industrial society. In Georgia, 70% of the population reports that they live without a parent or parent in law, but even so, this number puts Georgia 2nd in the list, with biggest number of extended families after Armenia.
Graph1. Happy and Healthy by household composition (%)
Source: European Value Study, 2017-2018
According to a study conducted by the Graduate School of Tokyo Medical University, subjects living alone were significantly more likely to be in ill health, in comparison to those living in extended families. This finding is in line with Parson’s idea that the extended family stayed together so they could provide health care for one another. Results from the EVS also confirm this trend. When Georgian respondents were asked how they would describe their health these days, those living with parents or parents in law, reported to be in better health than those living in nuclear families. If 27% of Georgian respondents living without parents or parents in law reported to be in a good health, 40% of individuals living with parents in law and 50% of individuals living with their own parents reported to be in better health. So after all, maybe it is beneficial for your health to live with your mother in law?
The results from the EVS also demonstrate that individuals living with parents or parents in law in Georgia report being happier than those living without them. If 73% of individuals living without a parent or parent in law in Georgia report being happy, 87% of individuals living with parents in law consider themselves to be happy.
Graph2. Happy by household composition and countries (%)
Source: European Value Study, 2017-2018
As Graph 2 demonstrates, the trend of happiness by household composition is similar in other post-Soviet countries as well. Similar to Georgia, in Armenia, Belarus and Russia, those living with parents or parents in law report being happier than those living without them. This trend is analogous to all 16 countries surveyed by EVS, where individuals living in extended families report to be happier.
In addition, in Georgia, individuals living with parents or parents in law report more involvement in cultural activities than those in nuclear families. This could be due to division of household labor in the extended family, where due to support from the family members, individuals have more time to get involved in the cultural activities.
Finally, in Georgia, individuals living with parents or parents in law, report having less problems with foreign workers or Muslims living in their neighborhood, than those living without.
According to Will Durant, “The Family is the nucleus of civilization.” As noted by Pew Research, the vast majority of American adults (roughly 75 percent) consider their own family to be the most important and most satisfying element of their lives. Even though Europe is seeing a lot of nuclear families, as results from EVS demonstrate on Georgia’s example, it is more rewarding to live with parents or parents in law, as individuals feel happier and healthier. The more, the merrier.
GORBI is an exclusive member of the Gallup International research network and has more than two decades of experience in survey research (gorbi.com)