What Is a Family Culture? Definition and Examples

Published April 2, 2020
Multigenerational family preparing for family portrait

You may know what family values are and even know the different types of family structures, but defining your family culture is a little more complex. A family culture is basically defined as the set of customs and morals your family subscribes to, but it's also much more than that.

Definition of Family Culture

Family culture can relate to just your immediate family or be representative of your extended family and ancestors. To understand the definition of family culture, it's best to break apart these two words.

  • One broad definition of family is "a social group in society consisting of people related to each other by various means."
  • The definition of culture is "a particular set of customs, morals, codes and traditions from a specific time and place."
  • Put these words together and the definition of family culture is "a particular set of customs, morals, codes, and traditions shared by a social group of related people."

Characteristics of a Family Culture

Each family culture is as unique as the family who exemplifies it. While it's impossible to define uniform characteristics of a family culture, there are some things that typically make up family culture.

  • Unspoken - Families don't often discuss their culture, they just know what's expected and accepted.
  • Elder Expectations - Older generations have a high expectation that younger generations will keep the same values, customs, and overall family culture.
  • Reciprocal Relationships - All family members are held to the same standard and expected to reciprocate what's given to them or how they are treated.

Types of Family Cultures With Examples

In 2012, the University of Virginia completed a longitudinal study and identified four types of family cultures common in America. Each type of family culture is almost equally represented by American families from all walks of life, with roughly 20%-25% of families identifying with each type.

Faithful Family Culture

These families take their cues from church or religious communities, including Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.

  • They are defined by a strong moral compass that requires all members to have a powerful sense of right and wrong as defined by their belief system.
  • Individual happiness and success is not as important as reflecting your God's purpose.
  • An example would be a traditional Arab family where grandparents are always consulted for big decisions like marriage because the Koran says the elderly are esteemed.
Multi Generation Family eating

Engaged Progressive Family Culture

This type of family culture is all about personal responsibility and personal freedom.

  • Family members operate off The Golden Rule and what feels right to each person.
  • Kids from this type of family culture generally have more freedom at younger ages than other kids.
  • This type of family culture is the least religious of all four types.
  • A traditional Brazilian family could be an example of this family culture because personal values are important and people respect and expect honesty from each other.

Detached Family Culture

Detached families don't spend a lot of time together because they generally believe all the bad influences of the world will overshadow their influence.

  • Low income families are more likely to fall in this category.
  • This type of family culture includes a hands-off strategy to parenting and relationships where the belief is that whatever will be, will be.
  • Parents who don't keep tabs on their child's grades or school work and families that only eat together when they're watching TV are examples of detached family cultures.

American Dreamer Family Culture

American dreamer family cultures are the most common in the U.S., but only slightly more common than all the others.

  • This type of family culture features an optimistic attitude about the abilities of and opportunities for individual members.
  • These families have very close relationships where parents pour all their energy into helping their kids succeed in life and avoid as many negative social influences as possible.
  • A family where both parents attend every practice and game for their son's basketball team would be an example of American Dreamers.

Importance and Impact of Family Culture

Family culture influences the way each family member thinks, feels, and acts on a daily basis. Your family culture influences things like your moral compass, beliefs, values, and traditions. You might choose a career based on your family culture by picking something you know your family values. You might get really upset if your spouse doesn't get you a birthday gift because your family culture made a big deal out of each person's birthday. From big life choices and actions to small details, family culture is important because it is a big part of what makes you, you.

How to Determine Family Culture

Determining what type of family culture you're from could be simple or seem impossible. The trick is to look at similarities between the lives of the majority of your family members. Do many of you work in the same occupational field? Do you have certain family obligations that can never be missed? Do many of you act the same way when you're happy, sad, or angry? Do you view certain groups of people in an overly negative or positive way? These similarities in values, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and customs make up your family culture.

Define Your Family Culture

A healthy family culture highlights the importance of family values that are shared amongst the group. Those who veer away from the family culture may encounter culture and family issues. Families are influenced by all kinds of factors, so you'll find different family cultures around the world.

What Is a Family Culture? Definition and Examples