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The Local Family Circle - article ; n°1 ; vol.58, pg 9-42

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Population - Année 2003 - Volume 58 - Numéro 1 - Pages 9-42
Bonvalet Catherine.- El grupo familiar en el ámbito local A pesar del creciente individualismů, la familia extensa sigue présente en la sociedad urbana, pero el tipo de relaciones que los hijos adultos mantienen con sus padres son muy va- riadas. Mientras que algunos se han distanciado, otros siguen manteniendo relaciones muy estrechas. De la encuesta Entorno y parientes (Proches et parents) del INED se derivan varias formas de organización del parentesco. La imagen que ofrece el grupo familiar no es la de una tendencia generalizada al repliegue domestico: el 30% de los encuestados pertenecen a un grupo familiarlocal, es decir, viven en el mismo municipio que un panente que forma parte del entorno descrito como proximo о local, se comunican al menos una vez рог semana e inter- cambian ayuda y servicios. Las entrevistas han permitido comprender los procesos a través de los cuales se organiza la vida en familia. Se constata la coexistencia de varias modalidades: algunas responden a una logica de creación de hogar, sea reproduciendo el modelo familiar, adoptando a la familia del cónyuge o independizándose de las dos familias de ongen e inician- do tal modo de funcionamiento con hijos adultos. Algunas modalidades, sin embargo, no son producto de una elección deliberada. En estos casos, el recurso al grupo familiar en el ámbito local es más bien el resultado de restricciones económicas o patrimoniales. Esta constituye pues una nueva forma de vivir en familia respetando la independencia de cada individuo y de cada pareja y una adaptación de la familia extensa a la sociedad urbana.
Bonvalet Catherine.- The Local Family Circle Despite the rise of individualism, the extended family continues to exist in urban society. The relationship between adult children and their parents take on a great variety of forms. While some keep their distance, others on the contrary remain very close. The INED survey Proches et parents [Next of kin, close friends, and relatives] has made it possible to distinguish between several types of family organization. The existence of local family circles provides evidence that contradicts the notion of a decline of the family. In the survey, 30% of the respondents were said to belong to a local family circle, because they lived in the same commune as a parent considered close, were in contact at least once a week, and exchanged help and services with that person. Qualitative interviews provided insights into the processes underlying this type of family organization. They include several types; some are based on a family creation rationale, either by reproducing a family model, adopting the in-laws, or, if links have been broken with the two families of origin, by initiating this mode of functioning with one's adult children. Other forms are not the result of a genuine choice. In this case the local family circle is rather the result of economic constraints or the existence of the ownership of a capital asset. In fact, the local family circle appears to constitute a new family lifestyle, which respects the independence of each individual and couple, and an adaptation of the complex family to urban society.
Bonvalet Catherine.- La famille-entourage locale Si la famille étendue, malgré la montée de l'individualisme, continue à exister dans la société urbaine, les liens que les enfants adultes entretiennent avec leurs parents sont très divers. Certains ont pris leurs distances, d'autres au contraire maintiennent des relations très étroites. L'enquête Proches et parents de l'Ined a permis de dégager plusieurs modes de fonctionnement de la parenté. La famille-entourage locale correspond à une réalité qui ne va pas dans le sens d'une tendance générale au repli domestique : 30 % des enquêtes appartiennent à une famille-entourage locale, c'est-à-dire qu'ils habitent la même commune qu'un parent faisant partie des personnes citées comme proches, ont des contacts avec lui au moins une fois par semaine et échangent des services et des aides. Les entretiens ont permis de comprendre les processus par lesquels ces organisations de la vie en famille se sont mises en place. Plusieurs modalités coexistent : les unes correspondent à une logique de « création de maison », que ce soit en reproduisant le modèle familial, en adoptant la belle-famille ou lorsqu'il y a rupture avec les deux familles d'origine et initiation de ce mode de fonctionnement avec les enfants adultes; d'autres, au contraire, ne répondent pas à un choix réel. Dans ce cas, la famille-entourage locale est plutôt le résultat d'une contrainte économique ou patrimoniale. En fait, celle-ci apparaît à la fois comme une nouvelle manière de vivre en famille qui respecte l'indépendance de chaque individu et de chaque couple et comme une adaptation de la famille complexe à la société urbaine.
34 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.

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Catherine Bonvalet
The Local Family Circle
In: Population, 58e année, n°1, 2003 pp. 9-42.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Bonvalet Catherine. The Local Family Circle. In: Population, 58e année, n°1, 2003 pp. 9-42.
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/pop_1634-2941_2003_num_58_1_18430Resumen
Bonvalet Catherine.- El grupo familiar en el ámbito local A pesar del creciente individualismů, la familia
extensa sigue présente en la sociedad urbana, pero el tipo de relaciones que los hijos adultos
mantienen con sus padres son muy va- riadas. Mientras que algunos se han distanciado, otros siguen
manteniendo relaciones muy estrechas. De la encuesta Entorno y parientes (Proches et parents) del
INED se derivan varias formas de organización del parentesco. La imagen que ofrece el grupo familiar
no es la de una tendencia generalizada al repliegue domestico: el 30% de los encuestados pertenecen
a un grupo familiarlocal, es decir, viven en el mismo municipio que un panente que forma parte del
entorno descrito como proximo о local, se comunican al menos una vez рог semana e inter- cambian
ayuda y servicios. Las entrevistas han permitido comprender los procesos a través de los cuales se
organiza la vida en familia. Se constata la coexistencia de varias modalidades: algunas responden a
una logica de "creación de hogar", sea reproduciendo el modelo familiar, adoptando a la familia del
cónyuge o independizándose de las dos familias de ongen e inician- do tal modo de funcionamiento
con hijos adultos. Algunas modalidades, sin embargo, no son producto de una elección deliberada. En
estos casos, el recurso al grupo familiar en el ámbito local es más bien el resultado de restricciones
económicas o patrimoniales. Esta constituye pues una nueva forma de vivir en familia respetando la
independencia de cada individuo y de cada pareja y una adaptación de la familia extensa a la sociedad
urbana.
Abstract
Bonvalet Catherine.- The Local Family Circle Despite the rise of individualism, the extended family
continues to exist in urban society. The relationship between adult children and their parents take on a
great variety of forms. While some keep their distance, others on the contrary remain very close. The
INED survey Proches et parents [Next of kin, close friends, and relatives] has made it possible to
distinguish between several types of family organization. The existence of local family circles provides
evidence that contradicts the notion of a decline of the family. In the survey, 30% of the respondents
were said to belong to a local family circle, because they lived in the same commune as a parent
considered "close", were in contact at least once a week, and exchanged help and services with that
person. Qualitative interviews provided insights into the processes underlying this type of family
organization. They include several types; some are based on a "family creation" rationale, either by
reproducing a family model, adopting the in-laws, or, if links have been broken with the two families of
origin, by initiating this mode of functioning with one's adult children. Other forms are not the result of a
genuine choice. In this case the local family circle is rather the result of economic constraints or the
existence of the ownership of a capital asset. In fact, the local family circle appears to constitute a new
family lifestyle, which respects the independence of each individual and couple, and an adaptation of
the complex family to urban society.
Résumé
Bonvalet Catherine.- La famille-entourage locale Si la famille étendue, malgré la montée de
l'individualisme, continue à exister dans la société urbaine, les liens que les enfants adultes
entretiennent avec leurs parents sont très divers. Certains ont pris leurs distances, d'autres au contraire
maintiennent des relations très étroites. L'enquête Proches et parents de l'Ined a permis de dégager
plusieurs modes de fonctionnement de la parenté. La famille-entourage locale correspond à une réalité
qui ne va pas dans le sens d'une tendance générale au repli domestique : 30 % des enquêtes
appartiennent à une famille-entourage locale, c'est-à-dire qu'ils habitent la même commune qu'un
parent faisant partie des personnes citées comme proches, ont des contacts avec lui au moins une fois
par semaine et échangent des services et des aides. Les entretiens ont permis de comprendre les
processus par lesquels ces organisations de la vie en famille se sont mises en place. Plusieurs
modalités coexistent : les unes correspondent à une logique de « création de maison », que ce soit en
reproduisant le modèle familial, en adoptant la belle-famille ou lorsqu'il y a rupture avec les deux
familles d'origine et initiation de ce mode de fonctionnement avec les enfants adultes; d'autres, au
contraire, ne répondent pas à un choix réel. Dans ce cas, la famille-entourage locale est plutôt le
résultat d'une contrainte économique ou patrimoniale. En fait, celle-ci apparaît à la fois comme une
nouvelle manière de vivre en famille qui respecte l'indépendance de chaque individu et de chaquecouple et comme une adaptation de la famille complexe à la société urbaine.The Local Family Circle
Catherine BONVALET*
The continuous decrease in the average size of households is
often considered an indication that families are increasingly of
the nuclear type and that the extended family will inevitably dis
appear. In the past several decades, however, historians and
sociologists have consistently challenged this view. Historians
have pointed out that households limited to parents and children
were the norm in the past, and sociologists have shown that there
exist considerable flows of exchange and contacts between rela
tives that do not live together, and that these are not showing any
sign of decreasing. The article by Catherine Bonvalet offers an
operational definition of the "local family circle", a term which
designates a certain type of family system characterized by spatial
and emotional proximity, but also by frequent contacts and genu
ine mutual help between members of a family not living under the
same roof. The author combines a quantitative study with a qual
itative analysis, which reveals the diversity of the social and bio
graphical processes leading to this type of family organization.
This organization may represent a reproduction of a situation ex
perienced by the previous generation, but this is not always the
case. The process may be intentional or accepted by the persons
concerned; conversely, and more often than one might think, it
may be felt as an imposition, for lack of any alternative.
Current research on the sociology of the family tends to focus on
couples with children and on one-parent or blended families, i.e. on family
groups defined by co-residence. The notions used to describe the contem
porary family are those of individualization, autonomy and distancing
from one's relatives, and are thus based on a logic of contraction of the
family (de Singly, 1990 and 1993). However, in the past ten years, there
has been a great deal of research on the extended family, and large surveys
have been conducted on relations and exchanges within the kinship, in
cluding the Proches et parents survey^1* (Bonvalet et al., 1993).
* Institut National d'Études Démographiques, Paris.
Translated by Zoé Andreyev.
О The French word proche refers to both immediate relatives and very close friends.
Thus, the title of the survey might be rendered as "Next of kin, close friends, and relatives". We
preserved the original title when referring to the survey in the text. (Translator's note)
Population-E 2003, 58(1), 9-42 С. BONVALET 10
According to François de Singly, "the misunderstandings that exist
in the sociology of the family concerning the role of family and kinship in
contemporary societies is due to the fact that specialists reason in terms of
the alternative 'either... or '"(2). Even though intergenerational relations are
better acknowledged today, as witnessed by many studies (Segalen, 1993;
Attias-Donfut, 1995), the role of the family is often presented as instru
mental, and the family and kinship are reduced to the function of provider
of services and social capital. Even if we do know, thanks to L. Roussel's
(1976) and C. Gokalp's (1978) research, that family life lasts long after
the children have left home, we know little about the different types of re
lationships that exist between couples and their parents. The functioning
of the extended family is never studied as such. In order to grasp the diver
sity of families, individuals and households must be considered
in the context of their local, family and occupational environment.
The crisis of the welfare state, the decline of ideologies, and the de
velopment of new family forms have certainly encouraged a "new way of
looking at families", as called for by anthropologists, ethnologists and his
torians who have shown that families have always come in many shapes
and forms. Indeed, there is no reason to believe that the diversity of family
situations is limited to cases where parents and children live under the
same roof. The same diversity should necessarily be found in the study of
the extended family.
One of the most fruitful approaches to the study of extended families
is to look at the geographical area in which exchanges take place within
the kinship group. In the early 1960s<3), attempting to describe the break
up of families that according to Parsons was happening in urban environ
ments, Chombart de Lauwe and his team were surprised to discover that
family ties were on the contrary quite resilient in the cityW. At the same
time in Great Britain, Michael Young and Peter Willmott (1957) were ob
serving the same phenomenon, and described it in a book that has become
a classic.
Today — and this may be the foundation of a new approach — the in
dividuals can no longer be defined through conventional family relations,
since they shape their own environment of family and friends by manipul
ating space, distance, and proximity. To study how space is involved in
the dynamics of links of affinity is to understand the relationship that peo
ple establish with their family, the family they have chosen for themselves,
because geographical proximity contributes to the construction of social
<2) Either the traditional family has disappeared and been replaced by the "conjugal"
family and by other forms such as one-parent or blended families, or it has survived through relationships expressed through help, donations, and the frequency of visits (de Singly,
1993).
(3) See chapter 2, "En construisant une anthropologie urbaine, P.-H. Chombart de Lauwe
bute contre l'État" ["Constructing urban anthropology, P.-H. Chombart de Lauwe comes up
against the state"], in Amiot (1986).
(4) Michel Amiot describes this discovery in his book, op.cit. The Local Family Circle 1 1
ties by facilitating contacts and exchange (Bonvalet et al., 1999). The way
the family organizes its "territories" by concentrating in one area or, con
versely, by spreading out, tells a great deal about the links between rela
tives as well as about the strategies developed in order to reinforce or
loosen them.
Just as the "domestic group", in other words the household, is de
fined on the basis of dwelling units, we may assume that the location of re
lated persons in the same geographical area makes it possible to define and
analyse the composition of the kinship group consisting of several house
holds. Under what conditions does this aggregate of persons represent a
coherent and meaningful group? If this question is not relevant in the first
case<5), it is in the second. Geographical distance between households re
lated by kinship is not a sufficient indicator to measure the intensity of the
relationship. Conversely, the strength of some ties highlighted by the
large-scale surveys (Degenne and Lebeaux, 1997; Attias-Donfut, 1995;
Crenner, 1998; Ortalda, 2001) does not enable us to "conclude that a new
type of extended family exists" (Hammer et al., 2001). This is why Peter
Willmott, on the basis of survey results, suggested three large types of
family forms in contemporary urban England (Willmott, 1967 and 1991):
— the "local extended" family, consisting of two or three separate
households that live close by, meet almost daily and offer each other mut
ual support;
— the "dispersed extended" family is also made up of two or three
households, but they do not live close by. They meet less often, but con
tacts remain frequent, and they help each other out;
—the "attenuated extended" family, whose members are much less
in touch, independently of the households' location.
Now that we know that, contrary to Parsons' assertion, the nuclear
family is not isolated and maintains close ties with relatives, the central
question concerns the meaning of these family ties. Do they merely func
tion as a network, or is there a family community that transcends the
household? How can the autonomy of individuals and households that
many sociologists have described be reconciled with kinship relations
based on solidarity, but also on obligations? The aim of our investigation
is to provide some answers to these questions as well as some elements to
fuel an ongoing debate. Our study belongs to a current of research aiming
at re-inserting the household into the kinship group, in particular through
circle" (Lelièvre et al., 1998). the notion of "family
For this purpose, we will extend Peter Willmott's work by examining
how various types of families are operating, on the basis of the Proches et
parents survey. We will first use the quantitative part of the survey to de-
(5) It must be noted, however, that in Great Britain, a household implies not only that its
members share the same dwelling, but also share food expenses and the task of preparing meals.
A "household" is defined as: "a group of people who live in the same accommodation and share at
least some of the catering". 12 С. BONVALET
termine whether any strong family entities are standing out. In the second
part, we will attempt to understand, through interviews, the processes that
constituted these units, and how they operate.
I. A strong family entity:
the local circle
The "Proches et parents" survey, conducted by INED in 1990 on a
sample of 1,946 persons representative of the French population, enabled
us to study the strength of the ties that link individuals to their kinship net
work^). The aim of the survey was to improve our knowledge of the ex
tended family, to explore the networks of affinities and study the social
practices of the network of relatives and friends. The questionnaire is di
vided into three parts. The first concerns help received and offered by ego
during his or her lifetime, the second describes the universe of persons ego
considers as close relatives or friends, and the third lists all the members
of the family of ego and of ego's spouse. Thus three types of networks are
identified: the extended kinship network, the network of close relatives
and friends, and the mutual help and the three do not necessarily
coincide.
In this article, we focus on the persons considered close by the res
pondent, that is the relatives and friends with whom the respondent enter
tains ties of affinity. The information collected on every one enables us to
determine the types of relationships entertained by these persons with ego.
Exchanges, contacts, as well as affinity and spatial proximity reveal the
existence of specific family groups. Taken separately, such variables as
frequency of contact, providing help or not, geographical proximity or dis
tance do not mean anything. However, when these variables are cross-
tabulated, the specific configurations that appear become significant
(Gribaudi, 1999). The next step is to evaluate, through this array of indica
tors, the strength of the relations linking different households within a
family, and to isolate systemic elements. However, this analysis is limited
by the very nature of the survey. The respondent describes his or her
family universe from which we infer the existence of a family group by
cross-tabulating the indicators, instead of the members of the same family
reporting the way they live more or less together.
(6) Drawing our inspiration from Jacques Dupâquier's historical survey, we selected per
sons whose last name began with the letters TRA. With the help of the Minitel [the French elec
tronic phone book], we selected a representative sample of the adult population through quota
sampling. For this reason, the persons surveyed are either persons of reference or members of the
household (see Bonvalet et al., 1993 for a description of the survey). Local Family Circle 13 The
1. The different types of family organization
in the Proches et parents survey
In the Proches et parents survey, the relationships between ego and
his or her relatives were characterized on the basis of four indicators: be
ing mentioned as "close", living in the same commune or a bordering one,
being in contact at least once a week<7), being part of a mutual help net-
workW. We may note that these indicators correspond in fact to four types
of links out of the six in the micro-social model of intergenerational soli
darity developed by Vern Bengtson and his colleagues of the University of
Southern California in the 1970s (Bengtson et al., 1976; Bengtson and
Roberts, 1991): emotional solidarity (feelings of affection) which, to a
certain extent, can be assimilated to the feeling of being close to a person;
structural solidarity (living together or nearby); associative solidarity (fr
equency of contacts); and functional solidarity (the extent of help provided
or received). Consensual solidarity (sharing opinions) and normative soli
darity (values pertaining to intergenerational obligations) could not be
measured on the basis of this survey. In the present study, the family is
viewed as a "microcosm with a capacity to maintain an internal cohesion
through its commitment to these various elements of solidarity" (Hillcoat-
Nallétamby et al., 2002). Our aim is to understand the notion of solidarity
at the micro-social level.
Even if the goal is not to model solidarity links between elderly pa
rents and adult children, our approach is in the line of an English-language
body of research that is opposed to the theses on the primacy of the nu
clear family as the form that is most adapted to contemporary society, as
well as to the conclusion the family is declining (inferred from the in
crease in one-parent families, in divorce rates and female labour force par
ticipation), and tries to establish a typology of families.
circle" on the basis of the In a recent study, we defined the "family
combination of three criteria (Bonvalet and Maison, 1999):
— affinities (to be among relatives considered "close");
— frequency of contacts (at least once a week);
— mutual help (the close relative has been helped by ego, or has
helped ego).
circle" {famille-entourage) differs from the The notion of "family
concept of "contact circle" of family and friends {entourage) (Bonvalet
and Lelièvre, 1995; Lelièvre et al., 1998) tested in the Biographies et en
tourage survey (Lelièvre and Vivier, 2001). Although the family circle is
(?) Contacts include meetings, phone conversations and mail.
W The first part of the questionnaire included questions concerning help in the matter of
educational or occupational guidance, the search for employment or housing on the one hand, and
concerning help provided during difficult times or on a regular basis on the other hand. In the part
of the questionnaire devoted to close family and friends, one question for each of them asked
whether they had helped or been helped by ego and thus identified the persons belonging to the
mutual help network. С. BONVALET 14
limited to close relatives (parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren,
siblings), the concept of circle of family and friends is broader and takes
into account former spouses and their parents, as well as important
friends.
Among the 1,946 respondents, 904 or 46% of the total sample belong
to a family circle defined in these terms. However, it must be noted that
since the questionnaires are individual, the family circle is defined in refe
rence to the respondent, and not to the household as a wholeW.
Within this group, two family types can be distinguished on the basis
circle" and the "local of geographical distance: the "dispersed family
family circle". The first category corresponds to respondents who maintain
strong ties with a relative but do not live in the same commune or in an ad
jacent commune. They represent 17% of the total sample (see Table 1). In
the course of migration, families of origin were split, even though a subse
quent tendency to get back together mitigated these situations. Geographic
al distance does not necessarily mean a loosening of bonds: some
families, in spite of distance, continue to maintain strong relations by
keeping in contact with one or several close relatives at least once a week
and through mutual help.
Table 1.- Proportion of individuals belonging to a family circle according
to geographic proximity and type of relative involved (in %)
Children Total Mother Father Siblings In-laws Total living family separately
Dispersed family circle 7.5% 4.2% 4.8% 4.4% 15% 3.5% 16.7%
(146) (87) (93) (86) (291) (325) (68)
10.4% 6.9% 9.6% 6.5% 26% 5.4% 29.8% Local family circle^
(203) (187) (105) (579) (133) (127) (506)
— Including semi- 5.6% 2.8% 5.4% 2.3% 13% 2.1% 15.1%
cohabiting family circle (108) (55) (105) (45) (253) (41) (295)
Total family circle 17.9% 11.3% 14.4% 10.9% 41% 8.9% 46.5%
(349) (220) (280) (213) (797) (173) (904)
M The family circle is called "local family circle" if the respondent and his or her relatives live in the same
commune or in adjacent communes.
Reading: Numbers of respondents are between brackets. 146 respondents or 7.5% of the total sample live
within a dispersed family circle that includes their mother.
Source. INED, Proches et parents survey, 1990.
The second category includes respondents living near a close relative
with whom they have close ties. In this case, the criteria are intentionally
restrictive, since the objective is to identify a strong family cohesion. In
order to belong to a local family circle, the respondent must not only
maintain a relatively active relation (that is to say, consider that person to
be close) with at least one relative (father, mother, father-in-law, mother-
(9> For instance, a woman may have strong ties with her mother while her spouse is not as
close to his mother-in-law. The Local Family Circle 15
in-law, adult child not living at home, brother, sister, brother-in-law or
sister-in-law), but also live close by, be in regular contact, and have helped
or been helped by that person. Of the 1,946 respondents, 579 (30%)
belong to a local family circle defined according to these criteria. If one
takes into account the family of the spouse, the results are modified and
the proportion of individuals belonging to a local family circle increases
from 26% to 30% (Table 1). The concerned households are mainly those of
parents and of adult children. Only one quarter of the local family circles
include the household of a brother or sister. In this type of family, vertical
lineage is predominant (taking into account the fact that the only collateral
relatives taken into consideration were siblings, while cousins, nephews
and nieces were not(10)). The local family circle seems to be a kind of ex
tension in time and space of ego's own original nuclear family of origin,
since in-laws remain in the background (5.4%).
In approximately nine out of ten cases, this type of family is made up
of two households, including that of ego. The others are most often made
up of three with several possible configurations in addition to
the household of the respondent: the household of his or her parents and
that of a brother or a sister; of the parents and of a child; of a brother or a
sister and of a child. Family circles including ego, his or her parents, and
adult children and siblings are practically non-existent. In-laws may some
times be added to these configurations: 3% of the respondents include both
sets of parents in their family circle.
Among these families, there is a specific sub-group which we have
called the "semi-cohabiting family circle". These families enjoy daily cont
acts. Whereas cohabitation in the strict sense of the term among genera
tions has become quite rare in France, the fact of living nearby and
remaining in close contact remains true for 15% of the respondents of the
Proches et parents survey. This, given the chosen criteria, is considerable
for an almost totally urbanized society. This family lifestyle may be called
"living together at a distance". In fact, this type of semi-cohabitation may
well have replaced the domestic cohabitation of past generations.
In the end, it turns out that nearly half of the respondents enjoy rela
tionships with their relatives that involve relations on a weekly basis, emot
ional closeness and exchange of mutual services. The isolation of the
nuclear family or the decline of the family described by some sociologists
seems rather relative. This proportion is all the more striking as it is pro
bably underestimated. The qualitative interviews confirm that many re
spondents had not mentioned, in the part of the questionnaire devoted to
close relative and friends, that they had helped or had been helped by a or friend, whereas such help is mentioned in the section de
voted to difficult times or to mutual aid provided on a regular basis. For
(10) Uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces represent only 2.4% of close family memb
ers, whereas parents and in-laws represent 22%, children and grandchildren 32% and brothers,
sisters, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law 35%.