In primitive and rural societies, the family is the all important social focal point, providing food, clothing, shelter, education, acculturation and a social centre. In some of the sophisticated societies, the family may provide little more than food and basic acculturation. All other activities are partially or totally transferred to other groups, especially peers and educational institutions.
Family may be nuclear family (i.e., husband, and one or more children), single-parent family (i.e., one parent and at least one child), and extended family (nuclear family and one grandparent living within the household). In a society like the US, and Canada, the nuclear family is most common and it promotes individualism.
In China, Thailand, and India joint family (i.e., extended family in which brothers, sisters, uncles, and aunts may also live in the household) system is common. Children are taught to serve the group. Unity, loyalty, and harmony are highly valued. In Latin America, where the extended family is a common sight, everyone uses the surname of both the maternal side and paternal side, indicative of both the branches of family.
According to available statistics for 1995, in Europe, about 360 million people were living in 140 million households (average size being 3.6). About 70% of the households were made up of families, of which two-third were having children (average number of children per family being 1.8). Within Europe, the Mediterranean countries – Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain – have higher proportion of family households and fewer one-person households.
However, Scandinavian countries are more likely to have more non-family households and one-person households. On the other hand, in China, the nuclear family is not the norm. In China 67% of parents live with one of their children, and 80% of parents contact with their children once a week. Thus, in different cultures the composition and size of family differs and different values get inculcated.
The role of family members is different in different cultures. In patriarchal societies men make most purchasing decisions. In matriarchal societies, like Sub-Saharan Africa, women control the majority of decisions relating to daily consumption. In Asia and Latin America, the role of the male child is more dominant than the industrialised nations.
In India, even now a male child gets more attention in terms of education and upkeep compared to female child. The male dominance leads to differential treatment for women which includes poor access to basic safety, security, nutrition or health care resources, unequal pay and limited access to educational and promotional opportunities. In Canada, 55% of the college-going students are women – an indicator of gender equality.
The presence of women in workforce is different in different countries. The highest number of working women is in North America. In Italy very few women are in the workforce. Not all non- working women are housewives, but these include students and retired/disabled women who are out of mainstream.
Of all the active women – the ratio of working women to housewives is 65:35 in the US and 58:42 in Canada. Women work for reasons like necessity, second pay-cheque, broader horizons, and achievement. International manager must identify the women’s positions in life-cycle. Whether or not they are married and whether or not they have children affect their needs as consumers, their life styles and their market behavior.
There is need to understand as to how do they feel about their roles as women, as wives, and as mothers. How their family roles affect or restrain their entry into the workforce, and how husbands feel about all these issues and how their attitudes affect the family purchase decisions. Social units not based on kinship may be formed by age, sex, or common interests.
Societies also differ in their degree of social stratification. The British class structure and Indian Caste system do not allow free interaction and upward mobility. Business firms must tailor their HR and marketing policies accordingly.