Ethiopian society is built on cooperation. The majority of the population lives in the countryside, usually in small clusters of houses close to relatives and neighbours. Families usually operate farms with neighbours and friends. Every village and town also has mutual aid societies. People make weekly contributions, and the funds pay for marriage and funeral expenses and local road repairs. Society members who are ill can receive money from the fund for treatment. Even small business loans are handled by the local society, rather than by a bank. However, due to widespread poverty in the country, many people have been moving to cities in search of work.

Because Ethiopia has over 70 different ethnic groups, marriage and family practices vary widely. In general, families are patriarchal, with the male as the head and main decision maker. Parents usually arrange their children's marriages, and some girls undergo ritual infibulation, a controversial practice that removes parts of the female genitalia. Newlywed women come to live with their husbands' families.

Wedding settlements for all marriages include possessions and perhaps livestock. Divorce can be initiated by either party, though wedding dowries (telosh) are not returned. Women retain their names and possessions after marriage, and society expects husbands and wives to show equal respect for each other.

When a rural couple marries, everyone pitches in to build a house for the newlyweds; in urban areas, neighbours donate furniture and money. Throughout Ethiopia, neighbours feel responsible for the behaviour of each others' children; they commonly take care of them and may even informally adopt them. Ethiopian children are expected to respect their parents and adults, and obey their decisions.

Although cities like Addis Ababa have high-rises, most Ethiopians live in traditional houses. In rural areas, these are based on the tukul, a windowless, circular hut with a conical roof supported by a central pole. The walls are made by erecting a frame of poles, plastering them with mud, dung and straw, then covering this with branches and bundles of straw.

  Did you know?
Ethiopian people have some very creative hairstyles. Hamar, Geleb, Bume and Karo men mat a section of their hair with clay and insert feather decorations. Harar women part their hair in the middle and wind it into two buns behind their ears.