The Changing Family
What Is a Family? How Are Families Similar Across Societies? How Do Families Differ Across Societies? Family Structure and Social Change Some Myths About the Family Family Values: Three Perspectives on the Changing Family Trends in Changing Families Why Are Families Changing? A Cross-Cultural and Global Perspective on the Family
Two generations ago, the typical American family consisted of a father, a mother, and three or four children. In contrast, in a recent survey that asked respondents what constitutes a family, a woman in her 60s wrote the following: My boyfriend and I have lived together with my youngest son for several years. However, our family (with whom we spend holidays and special events) also includes my ex-husband and his wife and child; my boyfriend’s ex-mother-in-law and her sister; his ex-wife and her boyfriend; my oldest son who lives on his own; my mom and stepfather; and my stepbrother and his wife, their biological child, adopted child, and “Big Sister” child. Needless to say, introductions to outsiders are confusing (Cole, 1996: 12, 14). Clearly, contemporary family arrangements are more fluid than they were in the past. Does this shift reflect changes in individual preferences, as people often assume? Or are other forces at work? As you will see in this chapter, individual choices have altered some family structures, but many of these changes reflect adaptations to larger societal transformations.
The “traditional” family (in which the husband is the breadwinner and the wife is a full-time homemaker) has declined from 60 percent of all U.S. families in 1972 to 29 percent in 2007. Almost 19 million American singles ages 30 to 44 have never been married, representing 31 percent of all people in that age group. Today, the median age at first marriage is higher than at any time since 1890: 27.5 years for men and 25.6 years for women. On average, first marriages that end in divorce last about...