Family disintegration: what is it and what effects it has

Family disintegration has been a phenomenon that has been particularly studied since the 1980s; moment when a major transformation of the social organization of the family takes place.

It is a complex process that is often analyzed from the negative psychological effects it can have on children. But it is also a phenomenon which provides a lot of information on the values ​​which organize our societies and on the changes which have taken place in them.

Following the above we will see what family disintegration is, What are some of its psychological effects and how the organization of families has evolved in recent decades.

    What is family disintegration?

    The family, understood as the intermediate social unit between the individual and the community (Ortiz, Louro, Jiménez, et al, 1999) is one of the protagonists of our cultural organization. Its role has traditionally been understood in terms of meeting economic, educational, subsidiary and cultural needs; through which values, beliefs, knowledge, criteria, roles are created, etc.

    The above occurs through an interactive and systematic relational dynamic between family members (Herrera, 1997), that is, between people who share some form of kinship. In this sense, we speak of “family disintegration” in the process by which the previously established organization of a related group is significantly changed.

    But does any change in family organization imply disintegration? We could quickly answer in the negative: not all rearrangements in the organization of a family involve their separation. For family disintegration to occur, the kinship or relational dynamics that bind its members must qualitatively change. Often the latter is posed as caused by the absence of one of the parents or guardians; which, among other things, means that the traditional family model has been seen as a unit of analysis.

    Family disintegration or dysfunctional family?

    Family modification or separation is not necessarily negative; that is, in many cases it is an agreement or situation that ensures the physical or psychological well-being of the members.

    In other words, the reorganization or disruption of a previously established family organization it can be the solution to the conflict situations caused within the family, And as such, can have positive effects on its members. Depending on family dynamics, their disintegration may have more positive effects than their maintenance.

    However, the concept of “family disintegration” usually refers specifically to the conflicting process of separation or modification, which as such generates negative effects for one or all of the parties involved.

    Diversity in family models

    As a form of organization and social group, the particular organization and dynamics of the family it responds to a series of norms and values ​​characteristic of a society and a specific historical moment.

    Traditionally, any parent who did not follow the traditional pattern was seen as dysfunctional or disintegrated. Currently, the above coexists with the recognition of single-parent families and families structured on the basis of the diversity of sexual identities (Bárcenas-Barajas, 2010), which makes it possible, among other things, to readjust the social organization of the family at a structural level.

    Studies on its psychological effects

    Particular attention has been paid to the negative effects of family breakdown on children. Generally speaking, research has shown that the disintegration of the family makes it difficult to meet the needs a family is supposed to meet.

    In the medium to long term, and at the psychological level, these studies have proposed, for example, that family disintegration results in low self-esteem, helpless feelings and behaviors, as well as difficulties in establishing sexual affective bonds ( Portillo and Torres, 2007; Herrera, 1997). Likewise, social behavior and its relation to family disintegration has been studied, e.g. in increasing violent behavior or excessive withdrawal.

    In the short term and especially in early childhood, it has been seen that family disintegration (by presenting it as an unforeseen event and a significant change in the daily structure) can lead to confusion, anxiety, guilt, anger, or self-harming behaviors.

    In any case, it is important to note that while studies have found relationships between variables (for example, between a low self-esteem score and an experience of family disintegration in childhood), this does not imply not necessarily causation: low self-esteem. it can be caused by many other variables.

    In fact, recent studies contradict traditional assumptions and suggest that in any case, the relationship between family disintegration and low self-esteem is not verified (Portillo and Torres, 2007). The latter leads us to consider that not everyone reacts in the same way, just as all families and all adults do not manage a process of disintegration on an equal basis or with the same resources.

    4 causes

    The causes traditionally studied and established as determining factors of family disintegration are as follows:

    1. Abandonment

    By “abandonment” we mean helplessness, recklessness, renunciation or estrangement. It is a situation that has been proposed as one of the main causes of family disintegration. In turn, this neglect, resignation or departure can be caused by different causes.

    For example, the absence of care or one of the main providers of care is in many cases a consequence of socio-economic conditions which do not allow to meet both domestic demand and supply demand. . In other cases, it may be due to an unequal distribution or a readjustment of responsibilities for care or provision within the family.

    2. Divorce

    In this context, a divorce is the legal dissolution of a marriage. As such, it involves significant changes in the family dynamic that supports a couple, with and without children. In turn, divorce can have many causes. For example, breach of the marriage fidelity contract, domestic and domestic violence, frequent disagreements between the people involved, among others.

    3. Death

    The death of one of the family members it is another major cause of family disintegration. In this case, the death of one of the parents or guardians does not necessarily lead to readjustment in the organization of the family. Especially if it is one of the children, a very significant disintegration process can be experienced.

    4. Migration

    In many cases, the separation or disintegration of a family is the consequence of migratory processes which lead one or both caregivers to move from the settlement town to another where they may aspire to improve their quality of life. . the same the deportation processes underway in many industrialized societies they produced the same effect.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Bárcenas-Barajas, K. (2010). Various families: from the institution to the movement. Structures and dynamics in the reconfiguration of the order. Master’s thesis, Master in communication of science and culture. Tlaquepaque, Jalisco: ITESO.
    • Portillo, C. and Torres, E. (2007). Effects on the education of single-parent families: self-esteem.
    • Luengo, J. and Luzón, A. (2001). The process of transformation of the traditional family and its educational implications. Academic research, 44: 55-68.
    • Ortiz, M., Louro, I., Jiménez, L. et al (1999). Health of the family: characterization in a health zone. Cuban Journal of Integral General Medicine. 15 (3): 303-309.
    • Herrera, PM (1997). The functional and dysfunctional family, an indicator of health. Cuban Journal of Integral General Medicine, 13 (6). Accessed July 30, 2018.Available at
    • Sampson, R. (1987). Black urban violence: the effect of male unemployment and family breakdown. American Journal of Sociology. 93 (2): 348-382.
    • McLanahan, S. and Bumpas, L. (1988). Intergenerational consequences of family breakdown. American Journal of Sociology. 130-152.

    Leave a Comment