Friday, August 21, 2009


We hear a good deal nowadays about the impending death of the family. Sociologist Kingsley Davis (1986) says that the state of marriage has become severely weakened in Western nations over the past forty years. He cites easy divorce, the postponement of marriage, a rise in the postponement of the never-married, an increase in nonmaterial cohabitation, and the ready availability of contraception as forces that have eroded the family and compromised its ultimate function – the licensing of reproduction. Should the trend continue, Davis warns, industrial societies will be impaired because they will not replace themselves. Many Americans likewise share a concern about the directions in which family life has been moving in recent decades. They view that family as an institution in crisis and cite many signs they take as evidence of decay and disintegration; Divorce rate have soared: birth rates have fallen; the proportion of unwed mothers has increased’ single-parent households have proliferated; mothers of young children have entered the labour force in large numbers; and the elderly are placing growing reliance on the government rather than the family for financial support.
Indisputably, the meaning of marriage has been changing and with it the family institution. But pronouncement concerning the death of the family, of at least its impending doom, seen greatly exaggerated. While its obituary continues to be written, the family itself has held on and, many believe, actually flourished. Some population experts say that “families are back in style”. And some sociologists insist that the family is a timeless entity, rooted in our social and animal nature. However, since society is always changing, the family must change to reflect this fact. As viewed from the family reorganization perspective, marriage and the family are simply changing to reflect personal lifestyle choices available in today’s society. Accordingly, the family is not only a resilient institution; it is a durable feature of the human experience.
Laments about the current condition of the family imply that at an earlier time in history the family was more stable and harmonious than it currently is. Yet, despite massive research, historians have not located a “golden age of the family”. For instance, the marriages of seventeenth-century England and New England were based on family and property needs, not on choice by affection. Families were often devastated by desertion and death. Loveless marriages, the tyranny of husbands, high death rates, and the beating and abuse of children add up to a grim image. Indeed, concerns about the family have a long history. Educators of the European medieval and Enlistment periods were worried about the strength and character of the family. In colonial and frontier times people expressed anxiety about the disruption of family life. And in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, worry about the family was clocked in recurrent public hysteria regarding the “peril” posed to the nation’s Anglo-American institutions by the arrival of immigrant groups with “alien cultures”. In sum, the “family question,” despite is many guises, is not new. So, given the lesson of history and the certainty that families will continue to adapt in unforeseen ways, it is safe to assume that debate will continue.


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