Family is considered to be the foundation of social life for most Thais. The Thai concept of family is often wide and inclusive, and whilst theis the core of the domestic unit, it may include members of the extended family or close neighbours or friends.
In Thailand, familial words are often used for other close members of the community and are used to indicate both closeness and respect. For example, it is common for Thais to use ‘phi’ before someone's nickname if they are like an older sibling and ‘nong’ to indicate affection for someone younger rather than the term ‘khun’ (see ‘Greetings’).
Household Structure and Interactions
The general structure of Thai families is, with the household deferring to the oldest living man. Often, several generations will live under the same roof, and grandparents, aunts and older siblings will help raise a child. It is common for Thais to live in the home of their parents until they are married, and some newlyweds live with their families until they have children of their own. Moreover, a pregnant mother often moves back to her mother's house or invites the future grandmothers to live with them.
There is a strong emphasis on familial connections in Thailand, and career paths are often determined by a parent's business connections. For example, Thai males often go into the business of their father. Greater international education at a tertiary level means this trend is shifting, with student aspirations playing a larger role in career pathways and choices, although family connections remain a central part of decision making.
There is a high level of respect bestowed upon one’s parents and the elderly of society, with many practices of etiquette and general interactions revolving around deference to the elderly. A sense of duty and responsibility towards the elderly is expected, and members of the family are often required to abide by the advice and requests of their elders. Thai children are expected to look after their parents in their old age. Often, the family home is passed down to the youngest daughter, and she will return home with her husband and family to care for her parents. Whilst suchattitudes are gradually changing in light of urbanisation, people are still expected to uphold their duty and respect towards the elderly of society.
Marriage and Dating
Marriage and dating practices differ between the cities and the rural areas, with Western dating attitudes and practices being popular in the cosmopolitan capital of Bangkok. Rural areas may be more conservative. For example, a male may be expected to become acquainted with the female’s entire family before gaining their approval to date and subsequently marry her.
Parents may try to instil traditional beliefs regarding marriage and dating, but individuals are ultimately autonomous in their decision making. Individuals have a significant level of freedom in terms of choosing marriage partners, although the choice of a spouse may be influenced by the preferences of the family. The ideal situation is for newlyweds to establish their own household as soon as possible. However, residing with the parents of the husband or wife is also common. Nonetheless, the younger generation are quite liberal in their practices and may live with their partner prior to being formally married.