Traditional Family Values in Urbanized Societies



This article presents a brief discussion about the importance of traditional cultural and family values in urbanized, industrialized societies. In order to illustrate succinct dynamics among social factors and practices Brazilian family models are presented. It also describes dynamics concerning values, beliefs, and elements of parent-child relationships.

This last century has witnessed a redefinition of the traditional model and structural relations of the family. Conditions caused by industrialization, modernization, globalization, migration, and new patterns of consumerism have influenced families and their perception of themselves. For example, Brazil like most of Latin America has been known for emphasizing the importance of family, conformity and the adaptation to social rules. In fact, Brazilians are significantly more collectivist in their attitudes than Americans and prefer a collectivist cultural pattern versus that of an individualist cultural pattern of social organization.

Traditional Brazilian culture places a high value on extended family ties, and regardless of social class family members customarily live in close proximity to one another. Adult sons and daughters almost always remain at home until they marry and usually live near their parents after marriage. They normally interact weekly, even daily, with members of their extended family group–cousins, aunts and uncles, married children, their spouses, and even in-laws. It is not uncommon for members of urban middle class families to live in separate apartments in the same building. Also, Brazilians trace their ancestry and inheritance through both maternal and paternal family lines. They typically have two surnames, that of their mother’s and father’s families. When a woman marries she usually adds her husband’s surname to her own, while her children are given the surnames of their mother’s family first followed by that of their father’s family. When Brazilians speak of family they are usually referring to a large extended group rather than the immediate nuclear family of spouse and children.

The organization of the African Brazilian family represents various types of social structure. Africans slaves, brought to Brazil from 1500 to 1850, came from several different African cultural groups representing various types of family organizations such as matriarchal, patriarchal, and polygamous. More important, these families had considerable differences in religion, language and tradition. However, political-institutional factors rather than cultural factors had a more direct impact on them. For example, the sale of slaves caused the separation of couples, parents, and their offspring. Today in Brazil, this pattern of loose family bonds can be seen in the low-income classes of African origin, mainly in families from the Northeast of the country. Another family model was characterized by a patriarchal system formed by people of Iberian origin. These families, whose differentiation depended on regional factors, lived peaceably alongside families of African origin. In the 1889 proclamation, the Republic of Brazil initiated a reorganization of the family. This “new family” structure placed a clear focus on morality and social order. Today in democratic Brazil, the family has gained a new place in political debate over service provisions and social inclusion. Part of this debate has emphasized the importance of a strong parental supporting role in children’s socialization especially in terms of exerting authority and setting limits. Accordingly, the model of a contemporary Brazilian family includes a hierarchical structure with the husband/father exerting authority and power over the wife and children, a work division separating ‘masculine’ from ‘feminine’ tasks, and attribution and proximity between the mother and the children.

Unfortunately, an increase in modernization has not necessarily been accompanied by an increase in adaptation, that is, a commitment to social change within the home. One example of this is the incorporation of women into the labor force that has produced a shift in the distribution of time and domestic work without a reallocation of tasks to men. This has resulted in added stress to the mother’s burden, which has not been alleviated by a shift in the man’s authority base. As a result, a fundamental tension in social relations has become evident in the home. Many times, domestic violence has been attributable to the man’s opposition to new economic roles that require sharing more of the domestic duties.

Also, serious economic crises have effects upon the Brazilian family. For example, families are forced to change their life styles to obtain a sustainable income; there is an increase in family separations due to migration; changes in the man’s role as family provider; an increase in families sustained by women alone; and an increase in illicit earning, delinquency, drug trafficking, corruption and other forms of violence and social exclusion have resulted.

During the early decades of the twentieth century, the traditional Brazilian family was larger, had more children and was extended with daily contact between family members who sometimes lived within the same dwelling. Children were provided with a wider social area for activities properly supervised by peers or siblings. There was a significant distinction between the world of the adult and the world of the child. Across generations, moral values were transmitted in a rigid way with an emphasis upon the importance of work. However within three decades, the child’s space gradually became smaller particularly in urban areas. This change was accompanied by a reduction of in-group family activities and an increase in solitary activity within the home. In the 1950s, the appearance of TV contributed to the acceptance of the ideas of modernity within the household. Later, the TV came to dominate the spacing and timing of family interactions, particularly in low status families. The predominant media images portrayed urban lifestyles of isolated nuclear families; even though in many households strong inter-generational links still persisted. The 1980s and 1990s were characterized by a further limiting of children’s freedom and by an emphasis upon developing independence and competitiveness to prepare children for adult life in urban cities. At the same time, activities like bathing children became private and mothers began allowing children to make more decisions in the home. Thus, as the child’s activity became more centralized within the home, children were given more independence within the household.

Some data suggests that during the period of 1890 to 1930, values concerning respect, honesty, obedience and the work ethic were transmitted to both sexes. It is also reported that notions of submission, the need to be pure, delicate and cooperative were inculcated predominantly upon young girls. The responsibility for domestic tasks was handed down from one female sibling to another. At that time, these traditional values showed clearly that the socialization processes employed by adults was directed primarily at young girls in order to ensure they were closely supervised and confined mainly to the home. Severe sanctions were employed for transgressions. In fact, higher education was seen to disrupt the woman’s preparation for her adult role as wife, homemaker and mother. However in middle class families, values shifted to allow secondary school girls to enter the professions, as long as such involvement did not interfere with their family responsibilities. The perception of women as naive, fragile and susceptible to the influence of others continued to persist. So even with higher education qualifications, a women’s priority remained domestic responsibilities, while the provider role continued to be firmly associated with the husband.

At the end of the twentieth century, data reveals a major increase in the number of middle class women entering into higher education and the professions. This facilitated their social contacts and brought attention to the persistence of sexual roles in the home and expectations about the submission of women. Even today in double income, no children families (DINK), the woman continues to be responsible for care of the house and her husband. In families with young girls, a daughter continues to be under close emotional control by her mother. Mothers continue to have license to exert strict control over their families and often express their irritation with children who do not obey clearly prescribed social roles.

Today, many families are concerned about the negative consequences of too much permissiveness towards children. As in all industrialized, urbanized societies at the end of the twentieth century, the Brazilian family also had to come to terms with an extension of the period of dependency into early adulthood. It thus seems certain that changes in values and belief systems especially in terms of independence and choice in one’s actions can have a direct impact on traditional family social structure.

Sources: Arriagada, I. (2000). Nuev familias para um nuevo siglo? [New families for a new century]. Cadernos de Psicologia e Educacão Paidéia, 10, 28-35; Carvalho (Ed.), A família contemporanea em debate (pp. 13-21). São Paulo, Brazil: EDUC/Cortez; Dessen, M. A. & Biasoli-Alves, Z. M. M. (2001). O estudo da família como base para a promocão da tolerancia [Family studies as a base of promoting the tolerance]. In Z. M. M. Biasoli-Alves & R. Fischmann (Eds.), Criancas e adolescentes: construindo uma cultura da tolerancia (pp. 183-193). São Paulo: EDUSP;Dessen, M. A., & Torres, C. V. (2002). Family and socialization factors in Brazil: An overview. In W. J. Lonner, D. L. Dinnel, S. A. Hayes, & D. N. Sattler (Eds.), Online Readings in Psychology and Culture (Unit 13, Chapter 2), (, Center for Cross-Cultural Research, Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington USA; Kaloustian, S. M. (Ed.). (1998). Família brasileira: a base de tudo [The Brazilian family as the basis of all]. São Paulo and Brasilia: Cortez and UNICEF; Neder, G. (1998). Ajustando o foco das lentes: um novo olhar sobre a organizacão das famílias no Brasil [Adjusting the focal point: A new glance at the family organization in Brazil]. In S. M. Kaloustian (Ed.), Familia brasileira: a base de tudo (pp. 26-46); Ribeiro, D. (1997). O povo brasileiro: a formacão e sentido do Brasil [Brazilian people: The formation and meaning of Brazil]. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras; Ribeiro, R. M., Sabóia, A. L., Branco, H. C., & Bregman, S. (1998). Estrutura familiar, trabalho e renda [Family structure, work, and income]. In S. M. Kaloustian (Ed.), Família brasileira: a base de tudo (pp. 135-158). São Paulo and Brasília: Cortez and UNICEF; Romanelli, G. (1997). Familias de classes populares: socializacão e identidade masculina [Families of working classes: Socialization and masculine identity]. Cadernos de Pesquisa-NEP, 1-2, 25-34; Romanelli, G. (1998). O relacionamento entre pais e filhos em famílias de camadas médias [Parents children relationships in middle class families]. Cadernos de Psicologia e Educacão Paidéia, 8, 123-136; Romanelli, G. & Bezerra, N. M. A. (1999). Estratégias de sobrevivencia em famílias de trabalhadores rurais [Surviving strategies in rural family workers]. Cadernos de Psicologia e Educacão Paidéia, 16, 77-87; Romanelli, G. (2000). Autoridade e poder na fam¡lia [Authority and power in the family]. In M. C. B. Carvalho (Ed.), A família contemporanea em debate (pp. 73-88). São Paulo: EDUC/Cortez; Triandis, H. C. (1995). Individualism and collectivism. Boulder, CO: Westview Press; Triandis, H. C., & Gelfand, M. J. (1998). Converging measurement of horizontal and vertical individualism and collectivism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 118-128; Torres, C. V., & Dessen, M. A. (2002). Brazilian culture, family, and its ethnic-cultural variety. Manuscript submitted for publication. Zago, N. (1998).

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