Marriage. Marriages in Puerto Rico are usually recognized by the Catholic church. Common-law or consensual unions, once typical in peasant regions, have become less common. Marriage takes place at a young age, usually in the teens, and most Puerto Ricans desire children shortly after marriage. Both marriage and the birth of children are important events in terms of forming bonds between families and households, with well-established visiting patterns among related households and compadrazgo relations formed between households at the baptisms of children.
Domestic Unit. The Puerto Rican diaspora has had a strong influence on the character of the domestic unit. Households may or may not be units bounded by dwellings, plots of land, or even the boundaries of the commonwealth. The 1990 census reports 3.31 persons per household in Puerto Rico, a figure that is probably an underestimate because of the dispersed nature of Puerto Rican households. Interdependent groups of individuals residing in a number of different locations characterize most Puerto Ricans' domestic units. Individuals come together and part over the course of seasons, years, and phases of the life cycle. In Puerto Rico, the typical unit consists of a woman and man and their unmarried children, yet it is not uncommon for unmarried or widowed parents to live with their children, and visiting patterns among households and dwellings are such that the lines between households often become blurred. On the mainland, there is a much higher incidence of households headed by women with small children than there is on the island.
Inheritance. In principle, all possessions of the deceased are to be divided into three equal parts: the legitimá (legitimate), which is divided equally among the children; the mejora (best), which is divided among the children according to the decisions of the deceased; and the libre disposición (freely disposable), which is given to the spouse. In real terms, possessions are divided among surviving kin and heirs based on access and residence. Specifically, heirs who have direct access to family land or fishing equipment because they farm or fish nearby plots or waters are likely to benefit from the inheritance more than heirs who have migrated to an urban area in Puerto Rico or emigrated to the U.S. mainland. The extent to which inheritance causes legal disputes among surviving family members varies with the size of the inheritance. A small inheritance generates few disputes, whereas great wealth is likely to be transferred from the dead to the living by careful legal documentation.
Socialization. The socialization and enculturation of Puerto Rico's young occurs in the home and neighborhood, public and private schools, the Catholic church, and in the fluid social realms of the diaspora. In these varied social fields, Puerto Ricans are affectionate and loving toward their own and others' children. Much of the teaching is by example; corporal punishment is rare.
In the ghettos of the South Bronx, these ideals are difficult to uphold under the stress of poverty. Puerto Rican children on the mainland are as susceptible as any ghetto youth to the influences of the street: gangs, drugs, crime, the reification of sports as an escape, and pressures to leave school. Witnessing their children coming under these influences, many household heads choose to return to the island with their families or, failing that, send their children back to families still on the island once those children have reached adolescence. On the island, children from lower-class families who work in the informal sector, from fishing households, or from small farming households tend to learn the crafts of the household between the ages of 8 and 10.