Perspectives from ISB

The concept of family togetherness has changed considerably in the Indian context in the past few decades. India was a largely holistic society in which people lived in large joint families. They shared their roof, wealth, occupation and emotions with all other members of the family. The family was always held together by its trusted stewards who had shared vision, values and traditions. More importantly, individual members subjugated to the larger interests of the family, community and the society. The decision-making power was generally concentrated in the ‘Kartha’ – the family patriarch. The matriarch/mother operated as the family’s ‘CEO,’ i.e., the chief emotional officer – who ensured emotional bonding among family members. The family unit was primarily jointly held and its wealth, agrarian or other, was considered indivisible. To a great extent, it was a mix of survival and insecurity concerns along with the members’ need for affiliation that led to “togetherness.”

Changes in inheritance laws gave daughters also equal rights to family wealth. Simultaneously, the concept of Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) slowly disappeared. Parents started providing formal and professional education to their daughters. Attractive entrepreneurship/job opportunities made individuals economically self-reliant and socioeconomically more mobile. Material aspirations of individual family members grew with strong urge to decide own life style. They sought to be the stewards of the family but wanted to limit that role to their immediate family unit. As a result of this gradual shift, the power and dominance of the ‘kartha’ kept falling.

At the same time, the emotional glue provided by the mother also started losing its influence. The pace of these socio-economic changes increased even further since 1991, when India adopted economic reforms to integrate with global economy. In essence, post-independence India witnessed a gradual shift from ‘collectivism’ to ‘individualism’ in families, business or not. As shown in the Figure, this change was manifested in a number of ways.



  Figure: Factors leading to greater individual choice and affecting family togetherness

(Upward arrows denote rising trends and downward arrows denote receding trends)

 Source: Kavil, Ramachandran and Bhatnagar, Navneet, Thomas Schmidheiny Centre for Family Enterprise, Indian School of Business, 2014,