Ways of Thinking …: 3 SocStructure, Lesson 7: The Changing Family

Ways of Thinking ...: 3 SocStructure, Lesson 7: The Changing Family
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As students enter our class, please open the Google Form for today and answer questions 1 and 2 ONLY.

1. If I told you that I live with my family, who would you assume I mean?

2. What are some other ways to define a family different than above?

My family and I dressed up as the family from Despicable Me one Halloween. This was one of my favorite costumes but it is also an interesting example of the changing family in the US Now often, when Americans think of “family” they think of the nuclear family – two heterosexual partners, married and their children. Although this is an ideal in many Americans’ minds, sociologists question whether or not it was ever a reality. Most family researchers will trace this back to the post-WWII era when these types of families seeded to peak. However, the romanticized notion may be from the media that created an ideal image of this family even if the reality was much different then and certainly is now.

One sociologist who researched the American family extensively using historical methods is Stephanie Coontz who writes,

Leave It to Beaver was not a documentary, a man’s home has never been his castle, the ‘male breadwinner marriage’ is the least traditional family in history, and rape and sexual assault were far higher in the 1970s than they are today. In The Way We Never Were, acclaimed historian Stephanie Coontz provides a myth-shattering examination of two centuries of the American family, sweeping away misconceptions about the past that cloud current debate about domestic life. The 1950s do not present a workable model of how to conduct our personal lives today, Coontz argues, and neither does any other era from our cultural past. This revised edition includes a new introduction and epilogue, looking at what has and has not changed since the original publication in 1992, and exploring how the clash between growing gender equality and rising economic inequality is reshaping family life, marriage, and male-female relationships in our modern era.

Family Structure in the US is Changing

Americans’ lives at home are changing. Following a decades-long trend, just half of US adults were married in 2015, down from 70% in 1950. As marriage has declined, the number in cohabiting relationships (living with an unmarried partner) rose 29% between 2007 and 2016, from 14 million to 18 million. The increase was especially large among those ages 50 and older: 75% in the same period. The “gray divorce” rate – divorces among those 50 and older – roughly doubled between 1990 and 2015.

Also, a record number of Americans (nearly 61 million in 2014) were living in multigenerational households, that is, households that include two or more adult generations or grandparents and grandchildren. Growing racial and ethnic diversity in the US helps explain some of the rise in multigenerational living. The Asian and Hispanic populations overall are growing more rapidly than the white population, and those groups are more likely than whites to live in multigenerational family households.

Americans are more accepting of the changing structures than they have ever been.

Here is a graph showing different types of households by decade 1900-2017.

3. What conclusions can you make from the graph?

The share of adults who have lived with a romantic partner is now higher than the share who have ever been married; married adults are more satisfied with their relationships, more trusting of their partners

Wendy Manning, Susan Brown and Krista Payne find that, among young adults, cohabitation no longer offsets the decline in marriage because cohabitation has plateaued. This cohabitation stall portends a shift to lower levels of overall union formation during young adulthood and may presage declining levels of marriage and cohabitation into middle age. Further, our findings call into question the widely accepted notion that the US is on the path to reach the nearly universal levels of cohabitation observed in Western Europe. In the US, if current trends among young adults continue across age groups, cohabitation will no longer supplant marriage. Women will be less likely to form any union instead.Size of Households

The number of people in the average US household is going up for the first time in over 160 years. This decade’s likely upturn in average household size reflects several demographic trends:

  • A growing share of the population resides in multigenerational family households.
  • More Americans in the wake of the Great Recession are “doubled up” in shared living quarters.

Trends in Divorce

(Legal marriage age is determined by state laws see here for more and the graphic below)

4. What demographic is now likely to divorce according to the graphs above? What other conclusions can be made from the graphs above?

5. According to the graphs above, what demographic is now likely to divorce? What other conclusions can be made from the graphs above?

Americans and Interracial Marriage

Here is a graph from U. Maryland sociology professor Phil Cohen that shows the demographics of Americans entering into interracial marriages:

Sharing household chores is an important part of marriage for a majority of married adults. But among those who have children, there are notable differences in perceptions of who actually does more of the work around the house.

More than half of married couples in the United States say sharing household chores is “very important” to a successful marriage. But when it comes to grocery shopping and cooking, women tend to say they’re the ones usually doing the work, according to a time-use survey sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

C. How American parents balance work and family life when both work

Today’s American families are more likely than those of past decades to feature two full-time working parents. A new Pew Research Center report looks at how working moms and dads in two-parent households are balancing their jobs with their family responsibilities and how they view the dynamics of sharing child care and household responsibilities.

D. As Millennials Near 40, They’re Approaching Family Life Differently Than Previous Generations
A new analysis of government data by the Pew Research Center shows that Millennials are taking a different path in forming – or not forming – families. Millennials trail previous generations at the same age across three typical measures of family life: living in a family unit, marriage rates and birth rates.

E. School Outcomes of Children Raised by Same-Sex Parents: Evidence from Administrative Panel Data These data include 2,971 children with same-sex parents (2,786 lesbian couples and 185 gay male couples) and over a million children with different-sex parents followed from birth. The results indicate that children raised by same-sex parents from birth perform better than children raised by different-sex parents in both primary and secondary education. Full article here.

Choose one of the above articles from the PEW that looks interesting. Answer the questions below:

6. Which article did you choose?

7. After reading it, do you think the findings are interesting?

8. What is either one finding you think is interesting or one criticism of the article?

9. Is this true for your family or families that you know?

Extra Resources about the changing family:

Cohabitation in the Chicago Tribune
Seven percent of US adults are currently cohabitating, and among that 7%, the fastest growing cohort consists of people 50 and older. Kevin McElmurry, Indiana University Northwest quoted in Chicago Tribune (2019)

Professor Medley-Rath from Sociology In Focus

In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath discusses a few growing trends in family structure.

Medley-Rath covers data and changing families in these areas:

  • Cohabitation
  • Remaining Single Longer
  • Unmarried Parents
  • Living with Mom and Dad

Census Bureau and Changing Family
And from the Census Bureau, there is this data exercise which shows family changing. The Census Bureau published this news release explaining the data.

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