The American Family 50 years of change
Change… • The American family has undergone tremendous change in the last 50 years. • Some argue that family life has seriously deteriorated. • Others view family life as diverse, resilient and adaptive to change.
Causesof changes • Economy • Male/female roles • Civil rights • Cultural attitudes • Improvements in health and longevity
Economic Influences • Consider the life of a young woman reaching adulthood in the 1950s or early 1960s. Such a woman was likely to marry straight out of high school or to take a clerical or retail sales job until she married. She would have moved out of her parents' home only after she married, to form a new household with her husband. This young woman was likely to marry by age 20 and begin a family soon after. If she was working when she became pregnant, she would probably have quit her job and stayed home to care for her children while her husband had a steady job that paid enough to support the entire family.
Economic Influences, cont. • In the early 00’s, a young woman is not likely to marry before her 25th birthday. She will probably attend college and is likely to live by herself or with roommates before marrying. She may move in and out of her parents' house several times before she gets married. She is likely to marry and have at least one child, but the sequence of those events may be reversed. She probably will not drop out of the labor force after she has children, although she may curtail the number of hours she is employed to balance work and family. She is also much more likely to divorce and possibly even to remarry compared with a young woman in the 1950s or 1960s.
Economics Influences, cont. • In the 1970’s, changes in the economy (unemployment, recession) moved both parents into the labor force, creating a need for child care. • Success in the labor market became more dependent on education. Attaining this education increased the number of “singles” and moved the age of marrying and having children higher.
Male/Female Roles • Families today have increasingly equal roles for men and women. • The traditional, gender-based organization of home life (in which mothers have primary responsibility for care of the home and children, and fathers provide financial support) has not disappeared, but women today can expect to be employed while raising children, and men will likely be called upon to share in childrearing and household tasks.
Civil Rights • After 1960, with the civil rights movement and women's liberation movement, women and minorities gained legal protections in the workplace and discriminatory practices began to recede. • Attitudes toward family behaviors also changed. People became more accepting of divorce, cohabitation, and more tolerant of changed gender roles and of mothers working outside the home. • Society became more accepting of a variety of family configurations and lifestyles.
Cultural Changes • In the 1960’s and 70’s societal attitudes stressed personal freedom, self-fulfillment, and individual choice in family commitments. • People began to expect more out of marriage and to leave bad marriages if their expectations were not fulfilled. • Such cultural changes led to later marriage and more divorce.
Health and Longevity • For Americans born in 1900, the average life expectancy was just below 50 years. • Early decades of the 20th century brought such tremendous advances in the control of communicable diseases of childhood that life expectancy at birth increased to 70 years by 1960. • By 1998, life expectancy at birth was nearly 77 years. An American woman who reached age 65 in 1998 could expect to live an additional 19 years, on average, and a 65-year-old man would live another 16 years.
Health and Longevity, cont. • Increased life expectancy means extended years spent in family relationships. • Today’s couples are much less likely to experience the death of one spouse early in their older years. • All family members today have more years together as adults now than they did during the early 1900s. Mothers and daughters spend nearly two-thirds of their years together as adults. • Siblings will spend more of their relationship as adults than when life expectancy was shorter.
Health and Longevity, cont. • Longer lives (along with lower birth rates) mean people spend a smaller portion of their lives parenting young children. • More parents live long enough to be part of their grandchildren's and even great grandchildren's lives. • Adults often are faced with caring for extremely elderly parents about the time they are beginning to experience their own health difficulties.
Conclusions? • Recent years have seen a quieting of changes in the family, or at least of the pace of change • Family life is still evolving—and new norms may be emerging about the concept of “family”.
RESOURCE • “American Families” • Suzanne M. Bianchi and Lynne M. Casper • Population Bulletin, Vol. 55, No. 4, Dec. 2000 • http://www.ameristat.org/Content/NavigationMenu/PRB/AboutPRB/Popluation_Bulletin2/American_Families.htm