A family can be defined as domestic group of people linked together by either a common descent or ancestry or marriage (Avner, 2005, p. 1): “A family is also defined as two or more persons who are related by blood, marriage or adoption and who live together as one household “(Washington Post, 1998, p. 1).
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The identification of the family is based on two factors: first is blood relationship and two is genealogical ties and the first one is more concerned with the transmission of identity among its members while the second one concerns relations. The family is one of the greatest pillars of the society.
It is also a fundamental social institution and also an important agent of socialization and a source guidance, support and belonging (Eshleman, 2000, p. 1). Just like any other institution, the family has its own set of norms, roles and values which are tailored to meet the specific objectives of the society.
The family is both a social system and a social group. It is a social system in the sense that it consists of several interrelated parts which play certain functions; it is also a system because it forms part in the societal spectrum. The family as a social group primarily concerns the various individuals or persons that form the family and the roles played by these individuals.
Modern definition of the family totally contradicts the traditional definition. The lack of a modern and conventional definition of a family has been linked to dynamism of culture and the different form that the family has assumed.
Traditionally a family comprised of two parents and exceptionally single parent and this is no longer the case since there is emergence of preferred single parentages, adoptive families, same sex families, and blended families (Eshleman, 2000, p. 1).
Influence of Social factors and cultural changes on family transmission
The traditional perception of the family is vanishing at a faster rate. Modern family is characterized by fewer marriages, more divorces and increase in the number of children born to unmarried or single parents.
Consequently, increased lifestyles founded on practices like cohabitation, separation and homosexuality have changed family image. The ever-growing challenge is how to reinvent the family and its future (Beck-Gernsheim, 2002, p. 1).
According to Beck-Gernsheim (2002), the traditional family was community based; homosexuality was illegal and a condemned act. All this has been eroded by legalized use of modern medicines to substitute sexuality and reproduction and liberalized laws that permit same sex marriage.
The dynamism of culture and emerging social factors has changed the lifestyle, development and interaction of family as an institution. Among the factors that have been attributed to the family transformation range from economic to social-cultural and political. To begin with, hard economic times have weakened the social fabric of the family.
Parents have been forced to choose between love for the children and money or employment. This has led to the idea of parents employing nannies to look after their babies; these nannies characteristically are of different cultures that the children might adopt due to the reduced biological mothering and the several hours spend with the nanny.
This factor is attributed the deteriorating of the Filipino family as demonstrated by the Filipino president Fidel Ramos who considered it auctioning of the family solidarity (Parrenas, 2003, p.1).
Inadequate parental care and instability of the family has led to the increased cases of drug and substance abuse, gambling and drinking. Limited parentages have also resulted in several cases of rape and incest and subjected the children to emotional turmoil (Parrenas, 2003, p. 1).
According to kellarhals et al. (2002), changing family transformation has been increasing from 1960 as manifested by the increasing cases of divorce, increasing number of children born out of wedlock and also falling nuptialiy. Kellarhals (2002) and the research group identified several reference points that characterise family.
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This included factors that anchor family ties and kinships which include social class and religion, family symbols and the prescribed values; they classified this as normative factors. The other category of family reference is the transmission channels which may include patrimony or discipline.
The debate as to whether social or cultural factors have brought radical changes in family as an institution has been raging for years and has been accredited to several factors. Family structures and processes have undergone massive social and cultural transformation and transformation this have altered the functions and the forms of family establishment:
First is individualism: Increased Individualism has eroded the traditional bonds and the belief systems which defined the level of coexistence in the family setting. Individualism has altered the rules of coexistence from the family to the community, it has eliminated cooperation and gender roles, today, men and women make decisions for their own self and choose the destiny of their lives.
Individualism has been brought about by political dynamics, state bureaucracy, industrialisation and new labour laws which produce some demands that address individuals as opposed to the family or society at large. Individualism has led to the development of the principle that one lives own life which puts the family establishment in jeopardy (Beck-Gernsheim, 2002, p. 1)
Another social factor that has transformed family life is divorce. Divorce has been touted as the greatest modern factor that has transformed family lives especially in the United States of America where the rate of divorce is very high due to increased individualism, laxity of laws, religious decay and urbanization.
In traditional times, the death of a parent was considered a greatest loss and could cause parental disruption among the children and separation was prohibited by social and religious restrictions. This is opposed to the modern times where it has become rampant and a matter of choice.
Divorce often results in the division of the children, this makes the children not only separated from their parents but also among themselves. This reduces the link between the children and parents and also delinks them from the grandparents since one or all of the parents may try to wipe out reference to either of the divorce party.
Consequently, many divorced people get married to new partners who bring new children into the relationship leading a clash in values and habits and a situation where many children grow up with non biological parents. Divorce brings confusion since its consequence makes it complicated to identify who belongs to the family and more so makes it hard for children to trace their lineages.
Marriage, which is the basic institution that establishes family, is another social-cultural factor that has transformed family life. The dynamics that have characterized marriage have deteriorated family life.
Traditionally, the purpose of marriage was for procreation and perpetuation of generations, in this view a marriage was supposed to bear children and it involved people of different sexes.
The development of homosexuality or rather same sex marriages and adoptive families have rendered marriages useless. The popularity of child frees parentages or childless by choice syndrome is the greatest threat to procreation (Bohannan and Middleton et al., 1968, p. 1).
The emergence of immigrant families is one cultural factor that has transformed family life. Immigration is the movement of people from one state to another with the purpose of changing their residence permanently.
Immigration has led to a situation where children develop with at least one foreign –born parent (Lansford et al., 2007). Family is a fundamental unit of the society and it is entrusted with the duty of socializing and nurturing children. This is clearly manifested in the United States of America which is considered the melting pot of all cultures.
Increased cases of family stress have also been associated with increasing transformation of family life. Family stress is largely because of financial difficulties whereby working couples are trying to balance between having time for their children and family affairs and fending for themselves through employment.
Divorce and remarriages discourage young men from marrying and also failure of societal values. All these contribute to societal stress.
Industrial revolution led to family transformation where many economic factors were transferred from home to factory, also economic and social factors have pushed husbands away from home. Wives have also been employed away from their homes and hence leaving their children under the care of nannies or in the day care centers (Goode, 1964, p. 1).
Increase in gender violence and gender related violence has had an impact on marriage and family. Assault was in traditional family sanctioned as a corrective measure. In the modern family several laws and legislation have been enacted which provide punitive measure in case of any gender violence. This has strengthened the fact that the family has evolved.
Also social change and family structure has impacted the family. There has been strong reduction in the number of people who owe allegiance to the family. Nuclear family which was considered fundamental form of family establishment is today not common an evidence that family change has undergone transformation. Unwed motherhood and reversal of gender related roles is also on the rise.
The shrinking of the family in America has also transformed the family life. Parents no longer value procreation as the main item in marriage a sign that people have become non committal to the ancient principles of a family more so some couples have opted not to have children at all.
An example is the scenario where if this current trend continues in the USA, it will be extremely hard to replace the current population in the coming generations (Newman and Grauerholz, 2002, p. 1).
Reversal of gender roles has also transformed families. Traditionally, motherhood and household tasks were meant for women but with the emergence of division of labor and specialization women have taken an active role in economically productive tasks.
Women have also turned to be breadwinners of their families. This idea of women entering the labor force makes them less dependent on their husbands and more so in case of the wives income superseding that of the husband, then there develops high tendencies of divorce.
The demand for equality by women has piled pressure on the families. Modern women demand man does what woman can do and when they are restricted to performing household tasks, they choose to abandon babysitting to baby care centers and nannies and these impacts on the nurturing of the child.
The emergence of sexually transmitted diseases has transformed family life. The discovery of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases have created suspicion among family members. Several people have resolved to adoption of children out of fear of contracting these diseases.
In some societies, for example, people who suffer from the disease have been treated as outcasts.Modern medical technology has transformed family life. This specifically takes into account the test tube technology.
This has taken the place of marriages and biological births where those who don’t want to be married may opt to adopt or resort to having test tube babies. Test tube technology has also given hope to the barren population who could not have babies through the conventional ways.
Biomedical research has had effect on family establishment as exemplified by the story carried in the Washington post where “a surrogate mother was impregnated with an egg (fertilized by an unknown sperm donor) of a deceased woman whose parents had arranged for the production of a grand child” (Washington post, 1998, p. 1).
Several theories have been put forward to elaborate the importance of the family and it calls for our judgment to critically analyze the relationship between sociological theories and their influence on the social transformation. These theories are functionalist, feminist and new right perspective.
The functionalist approach considers the role of the family as an agent that socialize the children, the feminist theory consider the role of the family as agent that can reinforce men within the patriarchal realm of the society, the new right perspective consider the role of the family as a teacher that teaches the children dos and don’ts or what is right and wrong.
That many families are not traditional should not be interpreted to mean that the institution of family is diminishing in influence instead it should be acknowledged that a family just like any other institution undergoes political or demographic change.
It should be strongly argued that the collapse of traditional family has contributed largely to its decline and governments and policy makers should advocate for nuclear family to restore the image of family institution.
The government of the United States of America should rethink on the policies that can help safeguard the institution of the family. They should pay attention on how to curb the high rate of divorce, falling marriage rate and low birth rate.
Marriage is founded on long term issues like love, companionship and affection and this have shifted family expectations. A lot of young people have developed interest in marriage and have a growing sense of commitment of having children.
Many people argue that the small size of American family is detrimental and has adverse effect on the institution of marriage. This point is wrong and over exaggerated since we all understand the effects of overpopulation.
There can never be a relationship between small family size and degeneration of family values and the decline of family institution. Several indicators that support the point of declining family live are increasing single parenthood cases, divorce, and reversed gender roles.
Avner, G. (2005) Family Structure, Institutions, and Growth: The Origin and Implications of Western Corporatism. Web.
Beck-Gernsheim, E. (2002) The New Confusion about the Family, Reinventing the family. New York: Cengage.
Bohannan, P and Middleton, A. (1968) Marriage, Family, and Residence. New York: Prentice Hall.
Eshleman, J. (2000) The Family. New York: Allyn & Bacon.
Goode, W. (1964) Family. New York: Prentice Hall.
Lansford et al. (2007) Immigrant families in contemporary society. New York: Guilford Press.
Nicholson, L. W. (1997) The Myth of Traditional Families. Feminism and Families. New York: Rout ledge.
Parrenas, R. (2003) The Care Crisis in the Philippines: Children and Transnational Families in the New Global Economy. New York: Press, Thousand Oaks.
Newman, D and Grauerholz, E. (2002) Sociology of families. New York: Pine Forge Press, Thousand Oaks.
Washington Post. (1998) Special Report on Marriage and Divorce, 1867-1906, Bureau of the Census. Web.