Why study aging in families and indeed what is your family? Definitions of family vary with different cultures and with whether one is talking about a traditional definition or an official definition. Though not related by blood, marriage or adoption, fictive kin and urban tribes have characteristics of a family.

If viewing families from a historical perspective, one need not look far away to note the graying of America and of the globe to see changes in family structures and interactions. An individual in the latter years of a normal life cycle, for example, is not just considered “old,” as new categories of “old” now exist. The roles of families in the 21st century have demands on society that differ in nature from those in the 19th century. Families today are more ethnically diverse than a century ago.

Older family members, as evident both in the past and now, can make major contributions to the well-being of families. Individuals in family relations are connected to the larger social system, impacting social policies. A trend today is toward community-based care as our society ages and family structures change.