In my family, the concept of kinship takes on a unique form. Out of my five nieces and nephews, only two share biological ties with me. The rest belong to my “chosen family” – a tight-knit group of close friends who serve as a mutual support system. This arrangement is becoming increasingly common in today’s world, where the traditional nuclear family structure is giving way to smaller familial networks.

A recent international kinship study, published in December, shed light on the diminishing size of the nuclear family and its impact on children worldwide. As the number of relatives dwindles, chosen families step in to fill the void, offering support akin to that of extended family structures of the past. The decline in cousins is particularly striking, with projections indicating a significant decrease in the number of living cousins for future generations.

My own family tree exemplifies this trend. While my father hails from a lineage of robust Catholic women, resulting in around 140 first cousins for him, I have a mere 11 first cousins. The same trend is expected for my biological niece and nephew, who may have only a handful of cousins at most. This decline in extended family size is compounded by increased geographical separation, as mobility in search of employment has made families more dispersed.

The scarcity and separation of relatives underscore the growing importance of chosen family, especially for millennials and Gen Z. Coined by anthropologist Kath Western in 1991, the term “chosen family” originally referred to networks formed by queer and trans individuals rejected by their families of origin. Over time, this concept has gained traction among young adults of all backgrounds, offering a lifeline of support beyond biological ties.

Chosen families play multifaceted roles, offering not just affection but also practical support akin to that of biological relatives. They are there for each other in times of need, providing everything from rides to emotional support. Furthermore, chosen families often share similar life stages, enabling them to celebrate milestones together and offer understanding during life’s challenges.

In my own circle, friends who have become parents are raising their children alongside their chosen family, creating experiences akin to those of biological cousins. These children grow up together, forming bonds and navigating life’s ups and downs as if they were blood relatives. It’s a poignant reminder that while our families may be chosen, the love and support they provide are just as meaningful as those of biological kin.

By Impact Lab