Patriarchal Family Structure and Their Effects – Social Psychology

Patriarchal Family Structure

Abstract: Indian society is a combination of a variety of different social groups. But all or at least most of these social groups are compelled to follow a set of social norms that promotes patriarchy. To view patriarchy, one must dive into the fundamental unit of a society, that is, a family. Patriarchal Family structure is a result of a gender-biased and shame-based society. It impacts each individual belonging to a unique social group differently. This can lead to social evils like casual sexism, hypocritical behavior, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), social anxiety, inferiority complex, and maladaptive coping strategies. This paper discusses the dynamics of the patriarchal structure of an Indian family using concepts from Social Psychology like cognitive dissonance, Theory of Planned Behavior, self-concept, etc.

Keywords: Patriarchy, Indian society, family structure.

Patriarchal Family structure and their effects

India is a collectivist society that resonates with values such as interdependence, making the concept of family the core of its establishment. A pattern of power structure can be observed in most Indian families. In this pattern, the most powerful or influential individual in the family is the one that provides for the whole family which is usually a male. According to the Cultural Atlas, in a generic Indian family, the father (or eldest son) is usually the patriarch or the top of the hierarchy, meanwhile, his wife supervises the daughters or daughters-in-law in the household. This pattern is consistent with the nuclear families as well who reside in comparatively urban areas, as they are instilled with similar Indian values which encourages them to maintain strong connections with their extended families (Scroope, 2016). This could be because of social evils such as patriarchy and sexism as they are still two of the most widespread components constituting Indian society. These social evils are mostly sugar-coated-in Indian families by giving them a justification through religious beliefs. And as a result, forming a well-accepted power structure in Indian families dominated by males.

This socially accepted patriarchal behavior created a vicious cycle where women or less dominant men are not fully in charge of choosing their career or occupation(s), keeping the one who earns the most in power and at the top of the metaphorical food chain. According to the findings of Kavitha Murthi and Karen Whalley Hammell, “Patriarchal ideology perpetuates inequitable power dynamics within Indian society” (Murthi & Hammell, 2021). This adds up to a single person (mostly the father/provider) being the “leader” of the family, who gets to enjoy a veto power for any and all decisions that the members of the family.

This article attempts to look closely at the patriarchal structure of Indian families and its effects on society, especially women.

Relating the cultural issue of patriarchal family structure to concepts from Social Psychology:

While the West has more of a Guilt-based society, India has a Shame-based society where the motivation to change or correct one’s faulty behavior is proportional to the amount of shame caused to them due to that action. An average Indian is run by the society’s ideologies more than their own ideologies because it is important to them to create a socially accepted self-image even if there is a large discrepancy between their actual self-image and the one that they show to society. This discrepancy can lead to Cognitive Dissonance where the individual’s attitudes and behaviors are not consistent with each other. Cognitive Dissonance can build “increased left frontal cortical activity and attitude change” (Baron & Branscombe, 2011).

As stated by Pravin J. Patel in their paper on Shame and Guilt in India: Declining Social Control and The Role Of Education, “Contemporary Indian society struggles to arrest moral erosion, as traditional social control mechanisms backed by shame have declined” (Patel, 2018). The need to be socially accepted and validated (because the alternative lies in social exile or isolation) has ensured the permanence of patriarchy in Indian families for decades and it still does. Individuals have a tendency to lean towards behaviors that will have a positive outcome than the ones which have negative consequences, this phenomenon is called Risk-averse.

Since it is a male-dominated and patriarchal society, it leads the people (men and women alike) who desire to be socially validated to conform to the hierarchical structure in families where only a dominant male can be at the top. Mostly, the individuals who are under the patriarchal head of the family reinforce the position of the head in exchange for the fulfillment of psychological (food, water, and shelter) and safety (security) needs (Maslow’s hierarchy of Needs) even though it compromises the other needs (Deckers, 2018). This could be because of a concept called Surplus Powerlessness given by Michael Lerner, according to which individuals tend to add a level of their existing powerlessness “to the extent that our own emotional, intellectual, and spiritual makeup prevents us from actualizing possibilities that do exist… for us to actualize our Human Essence” (Lerner, 1999).

This system of structured patriarchy in families can be viewed from the Theory of Planned Behavior. The theory focuses on two major factors that determine intentions (Baron & Branscombe, 2011). One of the factors is the individual’s attitude towards the behavior, it determines whether or not the behavior will yield positive or negative outcomes. In this case, the behavior is any action or response to a stimulus by the individual that supports or promotes the tyrannical behavior of the dominant male in the family, and the individual’s attitude towards this behavior will depend on the outcomes of the patriarchal institution in the family. The other factor is based on subjective norms which are bound by the social perception of the behavior, if it will be socially acceptable or not. Since patriarchal behavior is socially accepted because anthropologically, in the majority of societies it is the male’s duty to protect the females in the society, it is followed by most Indian families as well.

Effect/impact on the family members:

Indian society consists of many religious and cultural groups but some gender stereotypes are consistent among the majority of these social groups. They distinguish the two genders from each other (Baron & Branscombe, 2011). Common traits stereotypically associated with women are that they are “nicer and warm,” whereas Men are seen more as “competent and independent” (Deaux & LaFrance, 1998). In patriarchal families, the distinction between the male and female social groups is very clear as its structure is based on the stereotypical roles of each gender. This creates a Prejudice between the two major social groups of men and women in the family. As a result, both show “Differential (usually negative) behaviors directed toward members of different social groups” (Baron & Branscombe, 2011). For instance, the leader of the family will expect household chores to be done by the females or less dominant males in the family, while the females will view this attitude of the dominant male as laziness or uncooperative behavior which will generate negative emotional responses. It can be identified as Casual sexism by the patriarchal heads towards the women in the family and have a dehumanizing effect on them.

The patriarchal family structure can result in Cognitive dissonance through Hypocrisy if the individual is endorsing attitudes or behaviors in public that are inconsistent with their cognition or perception of them due to personal or normative reasons (Baron & Branscombe, 2011). This can create double standards for the individual and result in unnecessary complications in their social and personal identity. Samuel Dickinson points out in a research paper on Grit and Flow as Prescriptions for Self-Actualization that psychologist Michael Lerner suggests that individuals who are deprived of opportunities to self-actualize and lead a path of detriment can develop maladaptive coping strategies (Dickinson, 2020).


The Cognitive Dissonance caused due to patriarchy on the individual can be reduced by directly changing our attitudes, by understanding the hypocritical behavior and inconsistency in the attitudes, by using indirect methods like Self-affirmation (Baron & Branscombe, 2011). Intention-behavior (social validation with personal identity intact) relationship can be exploited by giving it a well-defined plan to make individuals aware of their intentions and behaviors and understand the negative impact of it on themselves and others (Fyre et al., 2008).

Each member of the family belongs to different social identity and possesses a different self-concept. Each one of them is allowed and granted the same amount of freedom under the law although some have that freedom easily available to them whereas others have to ask for permission from the former group in a family. This hierarchical structure has multiple similarities to a monarchy, where one person is in charge of the other and enjoys a special status because of their power. A patriarchal structure in a family inhibits the psychological and physiological growth of each individual involved in the said family. The person at the top becomes extremely dependent on the other members of the family for their survival and the ones below them are prone to mental health issues such as Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), social anxiety, and inferiority complex. According to Maslow, they are unable to fulfill their Esteem and self-actualization needs which revolve around the feeling of accomplishment and to be able to reach one’s true potential (Maslow, 1942).


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I am Prerna Mathur, a 2nd-year undergraduate student at Christ (Deemed to be) University, Bangalore. I am pursuing a B.A. degree in Journalism, Psychology, and English. I have developed a keen interest in psychology and hence I want to become a clinical psychologist. I am curious and riveted to understand the overlap of psychology and biology. And, lastly, I have multiple hobbies like quilling, paper mache, origami, reading, and cooking.