The household is an important and powerful unit in Laotian society. The average Laotian family has seven members: father, mother, four children and usually one other relative. Many people live in even larger extended families that include unmarried adults, and married sons and daughters. The head of the household is male.

The family is central to the socialization of children. Children learn discipline, patience and the need to compromise in keeping with the expectations of the household. Laotian adults tend to avoid giving direct guidance. They believe that children will gain wisdom through their contact with others and by observation.

Young people are free to choose their own spouses. Laotian parents seldom arrange marriages and usually accept their children's choices, because they believe that the couple may have been lovers in a previous life. Once a couple decides to get married, plans for elaborate ceremonies begin. Traditionally, the groom's parents give money or gifts to the bride's parents before the wedding takes place.

After marriage, the husband and wife do not move into a separate home right away. They begin married life as part of the wife's household, and remain there for two or three years. Their first child is usually born in this household. Both the husband and wife work diligently to meet the expectations of the family. After several years with the bride's parents, most young couples move to a new household close to the groom's family.

  Did you know?
In the past, Laotians used only their first names. They started using family names in 1943, when a law was passed making the use of surnames mandatory. However, Laotians may change their names to signify a new occupation or the move to a new place, to mark a stage in growing up, or to ward off evil spirits. 
The bride may take her husband's name or keep her own, but all children bear the father's family name. Descent is traced through the male line. At the same time, strong kinship ties with the mother's family are acknowledged. Close relations with both families continue after marriage.

Shortly after the birth of a child, there is an important naming ceremony. Traditionally, a bonze, or astrologer, is given the task of selecting a meaningful name. Most names refer to natural objects such as flowers, trees, stars or gems.

 Divorce is uncommon. Laziness and adultery are the two most common reasons for divorce. Monogamy is encouraged but polygamy is not illegal.

  Did you know?
There are about 40 ethnic groups in Laos. The Lao include three main cultural groups: the Lao Sung (Lao of the mountains), the Lao Theung (Lao of the lower mountain areas), and the Lao Loum (Lao of the lowlands). Within these large groups are various ethnic cultures, such as the Hmong and the Mien (both part of the Lao Sung).