Family Instability – Causes And Consequences

Causes And Consequences Of Family Instability / Marital Instability : A Case Study Of Umuowa Community In Orlu Local Government  Area Of Imo State

Family Instability – Causes And Consequences

There are lots of institutions that make up the social system, but one that seems outstanding is the family, because of some vital functions, which it performs in the society.

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The family can be described as the basic unit, since it embraces all forms of interaction between individuals. Apart from the importance of the family to the members of the society, it serves as a semi-originator or controller of the existing institution in the social system, because without people who make up the society, there will be no existing social institution. The family provides the individual with an identity, with a social status and with economic well-being. The other institutions have only slowly emerged from the family and have for a long time been dependent on the family.

The family is universally regarded as the most sacred of the institutions and it is held so in the society. Similarly, Murdock (1949) postulated that such an institution is universally and functionally necessary because it performs those primary functions fundamental to human and social life. Without the sexual and reproductive functions of the family, society cannot continue to exist, and without the economic function, it will not be sustained and the lack of education will hinder the transfer of culture.

Family instability has become a thing associated with the contemporary family institution. This however, is not to say that it had never once occurred in family situation of the past but that the rate at which it occurs in our present society is quite alarming. Little (1973), posits that the rate of divorce in town depends on economic situation. He noted that in Ibadan, rich traders entice people’s wives with their money. This is common in our contemporary family institution than before.

The problem of family instability can be traced to the rapid growth rate of urbanization and industrialization in Nigeria. The economy is growing and it requires a lot of manpower (both skilled and unskilled). This has aroused every member of the family to become one way or the other involved in the economic growth of the nation. The involvement of women in wage carrying is a threat in the family solidarity; couples hardly find time to stay together for interaction purposes. Child care which should be the responsibility of the parents is now shifted to the school and house helps.

There are also some social factors that affect the instability of the family. The idea of managing more than one wife might lead to an end of the family. The habits that either the wife or the husband is involved in extra marital affairs which is perpetuated by some men and some women might lead to an end of the family. The habits that either the wife or the husband is addicted to smoking or drinking also lead to family dissolution. Lack of trust in many families amongst the couples is wrecking marriages today.

Peer influences also threatens the family solidarity if care is not taken by couples. As a result of outside influences, irrational decisions are made to the detriment of one’s wish and this might lead to a marital crisis. Other factors such as education, illegitimate children, religion and infertility of the wife also initiate instability in the family.

Children of separated parents often bears the consequences of family instability. They always serve as the “scape goat” to the vices of either the mother or the father. The tension and hostility of unsolved conflict between parents often gets back to the child. There are so many boys and girls and even adults roaming about the streets, many are delinquents, vandals and touts while some are mutually disturbed because of family instability.

Though a lot of people are still contracting marriages in Umuowa but there exist a lot of single parents which is a product of family instability. The problem of family instability is compounding due to lack of support from local government authorities for both marriages and children form dissolved homes.



Family instability is said to be a social problem because it affects a significant number of people especially in modern times. The motivation for this study, stems from the ways and manner in which family instability has threatened the existence of the social structure as a whole. So many people see family instability as a villain at the root of our social problem, especially juvenile delinquency which eventually lead to criminal acts.

The institution of marriage is virtually universal in human societies. These institutions contribute immensely in holding people together to cooperate with each other and with other relations in the maintenance of household. The family is supposed to produce children and security to maintain procreation.

Ideally, marriage is meant to be permanent but we know that marriage in societies including Nigeria is becoming increasingly fragile and unstable. This research work is concerned with the mounting rate of family instability and its consequences.

The causes of family instability depends on the type of family each spouse is born into, in this case negative family pressures might quicken the breakdown of the family. The ethnic barrier might also make the parents call for an end to the relationship of the family. It should be understood that these factors are common in Nigeria because of its multi-ethic composition. Since we have different ethnic groups, people from Eastern region found it difficult to propose marriage to people from Northern Nigeria or West. This kind of marriage when proposed could be terminated by both parents because of distance, differences in language and dressing code.

Another cause of family instability is interference of extended family. Stole (1957), said that marriage is an exclusive association of two people, and that if the men and women who marry do not disengage themselves from their parents, they will invariably fall into divorce.

Low income places strain on marriage especially on the husband, failure to live up to expected role lead to family instability. A husband who cannot provide for the need of the family (financial responsibility) might make his wife to engage in a promiscuous act.

The aim of marriage is procreation and without it, marriage is incomplete. Therefore childless marriage are bound to experience conflict and family instability. Any marriage without child lead to family instability.

Click (1979), stated that the age of marriage is an important factor when considering marriage instability. He believed that people who get married in early age are emotionally immature and not in position to assume the responsibilities of the family.

The consequences of family instability according to Goods (1964), is that the absence of one parent makes it impossible for a single parent to be an adequate role model, therefore a child who is not given parental love, guidance and personal attention often develop problems that hinder the child’s growth.

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Children from broken homes develop bitterness and hatred among themselves because of the foundation, which were laid by their parents. This may lead them to indulge in prostitution, armed robbery e.t.c.

May (1975), said that many delinquent acts, could be traced to broken homes. He said that many types of deviant behaviour are linked to disruption of good moral upbringing of the parents.

Divorce could inflict frustration on children and render them useless in life. The result of this factor leads to children becoming nuisance to the society if action is not taken to integrate them into the family.



1. Does addiction to alcohol of both couples lead to instability of the family?

2. Is the failure of married couples to bear children a reason for marital disharmony?

3. Is polygamy a reason for family instability?

4. Do extra marital affair of the couples lead to marital instability?

5. Is it true that parental influence on the couples lead to family instability?



The objectives of this study are to identify those factors associated with family instability, which are as follows:

To throw more light on the possible effects family instability has on the entire social structure. To highlight the best ways to avoid family disharmony. It is also to make probable recommendations on issues of family instability based on the outcome of the research. These objectives will be pursued with the help of field data and the literature review. It is in the light of these that the study will sought to find out facts about family instability.


One of the reasons people get married is that they have needs they seek to satisfy. Part of the needs that couples seek to fulfil in marriage include the following:

The needs for companionship and intimacy, the need for security, emotional security, financial security, recognition and acceptance of the society among others. Marriage is successful to the extent to which the husband and wife are mutually satisfied and both are able to fulfil their needs according to expectations. The unsuccessful marriage or unstable families are the ones in which the needs and expectations of the marriage are not met, which resultantly lead to family instability.

In this study, different categories of people will be benefited which include academia, government, individuals e.t.c.

For academic purposes, it will serve as literature review for students and researchers that want to further on this topic.

This study will also enable government to embark on programmes and also take adequate steps that will help in eliminating family instability.

Finally, it will help individuals to handle and take care of their families even when they are finding it difficult, since understanding is the best solution to problems.



1. Cases of Childlessness might possibly lead to family instability.

2. Cases of extra marital affairs lead to family instability.




This is a group of two or more persons related by blood, or adoption, marriage and residing together.


This is a means of reproducing its members and ensuring generational replacement.


This implies to the period when the marriage institution is threatened as a result of conflict in the value that guide the institution. It is the same as family instability.


This is when the husband and wife ceases to stay together and stopped being recognised as husband and wife.


This is when the relationship between the husband, wife and their children, which make up the family is intact. It means when there is peace in the home.


This is ether a husband or a wife.


This is the outcome of a broken home. This is when either the father or the mother solely caters for the upbringing and well-being of the children. The father or mother plays the roles of both parents alone with his/her children.


This is the marriage of one man or woman to more than one partner.


This is the marriage of a man to two or more wives


This is where a woman has more than one husband at the same time.


This is the same thing as marriage. This is a home of a married couple with or without children.


This is children or child that have lost his/her biological parents and is being taken care of by another parent(s).



Umuowa community in Orlu came to being from the creation of Imo-state in 1976, though all the communities that make up Orlu local government area have their history and ethnic group, but they still share so many features in common apart from indigenous titles and boundaries.

The original Umuowa was made up of such towns like Okwu, Umubu, Umudaduru, Umuojiinma, Ujah, Umuogu, Umudim, Umuezukwe, Umuokwaraebika, Odoejeku. The major occupation of Umuowa is subsistence farming and some establishments such as First Bank of Nigeria PLc, Nigeria Immigration Training School, Cooperative School, Health Centre, Umuowa Library, Mawatec Industry e.t.c. The nature of the occupation and the social economic status of the people in relation to the existing family structure has changed as a result of the awareness created by the influx of travellers from major cities like Owerri, Aba, Onitsha. Many people now turn to security men in the banks, gardeners , cleaners to the industries available.

Trading became one of the major occupation of Umuowa to provide services for the migrants and for the increasing population of the Umuowa community. Umuowa people practice monogamous system of marriage because of the predominance of the Christian religion marriage institution previously facilitated marriage stability and it has impact in maximisation of street or village gangsters among youths, for instance before a marriage is ever contracted, enquiries are made to both family background. Civilisation disrupted traditional social pursuits by extending interest of people. The social conditions in which children and people operate to a larger extent determines their behaviour. Regular attendance to movies and reading comic books are proven to be highly associated with street or village gangs among youths. We also practice new yam festival and Okonko festival which are our main cultural trait.





Family instability has become a problem associated with contemporary family institution and the rate at which it occurs in the modern world is very alarming. In a study on causes of divorce or separation in contemporary West Africa societies, Oke (1984) discovered that infertility and battery is a ground for divorce. But to Wells (1975), adultery does not really lead to family instability, in that, it is rarely used as a legal ground for divorce, and indicate that adultery is involved in less than 20 percent of broken homes.

Further studies carried out by Wells (1975), indicated that adultery is more often the symptom of a sick marriage or even an indication that a marriage has already gone through the process of disintegration.

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The UNESCO (1986) Courtier said, regarding the situation in Europe that since 1965, there has been a big increase in the number of divorces throughout the continent, and also there has been an increase in the number of single parents and their resultant families with evidence that something is radically wrong with the family and it can be found all over the world.

Shindi (1986), in a study said paternal and maternal losses are on the increase worldwide. In the United States of America, for example, approximately 12 percent of the families are single parents. With the findings of Shindi, it does not mean that parental loss only implies the death of a parent.

Bowlby’s (1986), findings shows the tendency to think that parental loss is only through death, but there are several ways apart from death by which children no longer live with parents and are permanently separated which includes separation, divorce, institutionalisation e.t.c. All these bring about a sense of loss in the child, about his/her parent.

Coleman (958), in his contribution explains that the high rate of divorce is not because people make foolish choice during their marriage, but because they allow issues that do not really matter to be their binding factor, and consequently any of the party could desert the other unceremoniously.

Stole (1955), explained that marriage is an exclusive association of two people and that if the men and women who marry do not disengage themselves from their parents, and friends, they will invariably fall into divorce. He further warned of the interference of relatives which he said lead to divorce. He is of the opinion that couples must finance their marriage and try to achieve independence as much as possible.

Little (1973), discovered that the rate of divorce in towns depends on economic situation. He noted that in Ibadan, rich traders entice people’s wives with their money. He asserted that this act by the rich traders has resulted in widespread divorce. In his own contribution, Hart (1976), said that the factors which must be considered in the explanation of marital breakdown are those which affect the degree of conflict between the husband and wife, those that affect the value attached to the marriage and those that affect the opportunity of the individual to run away from the marriage. In other words, Harts was emphasising on couples to adhere to the norms and values that regulate marriage, and that if this is not adhered to, the possibility of broken home is assured.

Haralombos (1980), observed that there is a relationship between income and marital breakdown and says that low income places strain on marriage especially on the husband who has failed to live up to his role as a father, husband the breadwinner of the family.

Southal (1957), advanced various reasons that can cause family instability. These reasons according to him includes – infertility on the part of women, inability to adequately support one’s wife, drunkenness and physical cruelty (wife battery) without justification, parental interference in private affairs of the couple and false account of one’s financial position to the wife.

Oke (1984), reported that causes of divorce also include failure to live up to expected roles, a husband who cannot provide for the needs of the family (financial responsibility or a wife who is too lazy to look after the house and take care of the children).

In the same study, Oke (1984), also saw quarrelling as a reason for divorce or separation in a contemporary West African society. He pointed out that quarrelling between the two spouses or with the relatives, his friends or her co-wives might find this leading to divorce.

According to the book “The secrets of families” quoted in the October 1994 edition of Watchtower Magazine”, at times attention and energy devoted to meeting the demands of work can also be a subtle enemy that erodes marital commitments. Also in the same magazine, the work place is seen as undermining family harmony. Many workers whom the magazine reported are drawn into illicit affairs with co-workers, still others become caught up in a vain quest for success and sacrifice their family life for career advancement.

In a similar study, Booth et al (1984) wrote on the effects of a wife’s employment on the marriage relationship; they found out that dual earner marriages do tend to be less stable than those with single earner.

Oke (1984), wrote on the importance of the other women to family instability. He concluded that among younger couples, particularly among the wives whose husbands are affluent, is an important reason for tensions in the family. These other women whom a generally single, young in age, promiscuous and independent are becoming menace as they pose a big threat to family instability in West African society.

Otite and Ogionwo (1979), equally contended that some of the causes of divorce ranges from childlessness, cruelty, infidelity to impotency. They also observed that women commanding more resources tend to make them win more power and influence. This they said easily enable to pay back the bride wealth without the knowledge of their parents.

Dike (1986), stressed the economic undertone of marital instability. According to him, the Nigerian civil war brought some changes to the Igbo’s culture in marital expectations. Immediately after the civil war when anomie in the Durkheim concept prevailed, many young wives were enticed away from their husbands by the rich people. He further said that in Igbo land, poor maintenance of wife, where a man neglects his responsibilities to his wife is a contributing factor in marital instability. The neglected wife may decide to quit and re-marry instead of being subjected to emotional and economic torture.

Aguene (1998), said that, for many traditional people, the aim of marriage is procreation and without it, marriage is incomplete. In begetting offspring the ruralities therefore, avert the threat of extinction of one’s lineage which is considered a calamity in all rural societies. Therefore childless marriage are bound to experience conflict in most cases.

Physical deformity can cause divorce because of non-performance of several duties. This breeds jealousy because, the partner who is now physically deformed may not allow the other partner to go out.

Finally, disorganisation is a universal phenomenon which cuts across most cultural settings but different environments have some distinguishing reasons, while some causes are generally applicable to most societies.


Having written a comprehensive literature on the causes of family instability, it is also important to write a detailed literature on the probable effect of broken homes and unstable families have on the child, family and society just to accomplish this study or to satisfy the purpose of this study.

The tension and hostility of unresolved conflict between the parents are projected on the child. This is because the family is the place where the child is first socialised in preparation for the larger society and any family instability and faulty socialisation process in the family will affect the child’s subsequent relationships in the society.

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Becker and Hill (1942), in their study, carried out on marriage concluded that we enter marriage with some expectation and if reality falls short of them, dissatisfaction follows. This can well be anticipated to conflict theory, in that, conflict in a marriage situation may arise from role differentiation.

Children do not have a particular stage in their life by which they can easily handle or escape the wrath of parental separation. On an article titled “help for children of divorce”, written in June (1995) edition of Awake magazine; it was pointed out that older children handle divorce little than younger ones. When adolescents witness their parents divorce, they may suffer a deep disillusionment that bitter their view of marriage and other institutions such as school. Some conclude that all relationship is unreliable, deemed to unravel someday in betrayal and infidelity. Some teenagers will go to the extremes when their parents divorce. Some turn to drugs, some descend to sexual promiscuity, some run away from home, and others turn to criminal acts.

In analysing the effects of broken homes, Donil (1993) in the article “Socio-legal consequences for child abuse,” posited that the divorce of child’s parents and the broken homes environments, are contributing factor in the problem of child abuse and neglect. A child may be emotionally abused by the mere fact of the divorce and may become neglected due to diminished parental care. All these usually affect the child adversely throughout his childhood or even beyond. He concluded by saying that some cruel step mothers would not hesitate to abuse children of the estranged or former wife.

In accessing the social consequences of family instability, some have compared the behaviour of children from intact homes. In a study in Awake magazine April (1994), edition titled “Help for children of divorce”, children of divorce were said to have high rate of delinquency and anti-social behaviours than those children from intact families, and the rate of admission of children of divorce to psychiatric hospitals may be twice as high as for children of intact families. It can therefore be asserted that divorce is the most leading cause of childhood depression.

Similarly, a national youth survey that was carried out in the United States of America in (1992), found out that youths from unstable families were more delinquent or had more delinquent acts within the society than youths from intact homes, it was also found that more than half of the offenders in that survey were living with a single parent.

Nobb’s (1984) statistics also indicated a close correlation between the increase in divorce and the increase in juvenile delinquency.

Nye (1968), found a small but significant difference between youths from broken homes and unbroken homes, he contributed to the loss of control over the children in single parent families and confusion where a step-parent is introduced into the home. He however made one striking discovery, that there is less delinquency in broken homes than in the unhappy homes. This led him to make the suggestion that happiness was found more closely related to delinquency than in the formal family status.

Nobbs, (1984), found evidence to suggest that rates of crimes amongst young people, and alcoholism amongst the middle-aged, which are likely to be higher among those from unstable families. In the study, he discovered a natural sequence resulting in people from unstable homes entering themselves into marriage which will later break up. The families itself have been regarded as a target in divorce. This can be measured in the effect broken homes have on spouses involved and the harmony in subsequent marriages that either or both of the spouses later engage in.

Nobbs (1984), posited that marital breakdown are rarely taken lightly by the spouses and it usually bring in its trait a greater deal of personal distress.

According to Kenneth Little (1958), cooking of food has a significance especially here in Africa. Any refusal by the wife to cook would not be taken kindly, for cooking by a wife is taken as a virtue.

Lloyd P.S. (1959) argued in his study of family instability among women in Africa that personality and economic factors are the function of family instability. In this claim, he was of the view that when a woman contributes more to domestic affair than the husband financially, then such a woman would assert for autonomy or independence. In a situation like this, the woman could initiate instability in the family. Instability of a home constitutes an official social recognition that the marriage is failing.

Nobbs (1984), posited, by stressing that one of the spouses usually suffers more than the other, the spouse who is emotionally involved, may feel that life without a spouse is not worth living. This is a loss of self esteem resulting from feeling of shame and guilt in family failing to live up to normative pattern of marriage as recognised by society.

Dike (1986) noted that divorce could inflict frustration on children and render them useless in life. He maintained that the result of these factors lead to children becoming nuisance to the society.

Russell (1983) identified that children suffer a great deal from divorce, they get nervous disorders and various kinds of upsets of one sort or another. They feel that they are living in a dangerous world. Furthermore, he said that it fills them probably first with horror, then with a kind of indifference and later on with an impulse to initiate.

Goods (1964), said that the absence of one parent makes it impossible for single parent to be adequate role model, therefore a child who is not given parental love, guidance and personal attention often develop problems that hinder the child’s growth.

Marculey (1974), said that the strain of separation, loneliness on the part of divorced mother coupled with a deep sense of failure make her nervous, and tend to overprotective, thereby giving the children opportunity to show problems in their behaviour.

Children from broken homes develop bitterness and hatred towards parents. This may lead them to indulge in prostitution, armed robbery or even street fighting. It may create financial problem, which makes it difficult for the good upbringing of the children. It leads to frustrate children and misdirect their destiny if adequate care is not taken.

Otite and Ogionwo (1979) emphasised that parents are the most important agents for the child at the very early stages of his development. They further said that family as a representative of the larger society is the place where the child learns the real behaviour patterns, values, attitudes, norms e.t.c of the society. Therefore, any form of disorder in the family will obstruct a child from gaining these advantages.

The relevance of all these studies lies in the ability to direct our mind to the various factors which causes and affects family instability.

Family Instability – Causes And Consequences

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  1. I need d complete material of this work….but how am I sure after av paid I won’t be scammed?

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