Whenever you ask people of the most essential and important things for their life, family ranks top. There might be differences in age groups, thus it is more important for the older than for the young, but generally: even if in some phases of your life friends are more important, family stays in the top field.

In nearly all of the European countries more than 80%, in some even more than 90% agree that family is very important. Only in the Baltic States and in Sweden it is significantly lower, in the first only about two-thirds and in Sweden a little bit more than the half of the population find family very important. Very – not only just – important.

So, as everyone agrees to the importance of family, is there consensus? Superficially yes, but different people(s) mean different things when they talk about family.

The different meaning of family

Why do we have, one might ask, a similar amount of agreement (between 80% and 90%) in so diverse countries like Greece, Germany, Romania, Poland and the Netherlands?

Does one really think that the people of Ireland, Cyprus, and Malta where more than 90% agree to the upper importance of family, have the same understanding of family? Are you sure that when a Danish person, someone from Poland, from Spain, from Italy use the word “family” they mean the same?

No, they do not.

Of course, not every country, not every region has its own understanding. We can group the countries in Europe.

The northern countries are the most individualistic. The image of the family is less being a homogeneous group but a relational network of individuals. I remember that I have been shown advertisements for family holidays a while ago. In a Swedish leaflet, the picture showed four adults, two men and women and four children. The text ran: friends making holidays. Friends! I bet in Italy the text would have been: families making holidays together.

In Southern countries, the extended family still plays a role, grandparents, but also uncles, aunts, and cousins appear more as a community than in the northern countries.

In Central Europe, the image of the nuclear family is predominant: parents with their children.

Both southern Europeans, Greeks, and Italians as well as Central Europeans, Germans and Dutch, will strongly agree to the importance of family. But in the South, they will have the extended family in mind, in middle Europe the nuclear one.  In contrast, in the northern countries, the image of a network of individual rather than the image of the family as a social group prevails.

Accept vagueness

In our language, we are using words pretending to have consent on. But they mean different things to different people. Concepts are vague and in everyday conversation, we need this vagueness. We cannot always explain in detail what we mean by a specific expression, we cannot always ask: what do you mean by „family“? Is it the couple? With children? Do you include second-grade relatives?

We take common understandings for granted but should accept that there is ambiguity in it.


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