For many years debate has been ongoing over the conditions and prospects of the American family. This means that many Americans are worried about the state of affairs in the family. This has seen many questions raised concerning the American family. The focus of this paper is to look at one of these questions which, is “Is the American family in a state of decline or just changing?” of which I strongly think that the American family is changing. If there is anything noticeable about the family in the last 60 years, then it is change.
Change in the American Family
There has been tremendous change in the traditional American family that has affected all races, ethnic groups, and all ages. This has seen changes in the structure and the living arrangements of families. Virtually every aspect of the American household has undergone some sort of change. This has been witnessed through the following manner:
The number of adults who marry, the number of households that are formed by married people, the number of children that are conceived, the economic role of mothers, the number of non-family households, and even the importance of marriage in accounting for total births. (Klein 2004, p. 1)
The United States has been shown to have many people who are not married: “A quarter of the women and a third of the men had never married at all” (Klein, 2004, p. 1). This was more pronounced in the black population than in the white population, although all showed rising numbers of unmarried adults. Traditionally, households made up of non-family members only made up a small share of all US households that mainly consisted of the elderly with no families of their own (Klein, 2004).
Non Family Households
Today many of the non-family households are formed by young adult Americans who have never married or by elderly people who are not staying with their children. The change has also been experienced in the number of two parent households, which has been slowly declining. Many of the American households are being replaced by single parent families as many parents prefer to raise children on their own.
The 2000 US census showed that only 53 percent of married families made up of all the households in the United States. This was a very big decline especially when you consider that married families made up three quarters of all US households in the 1960s. There has been a marked increase in the number of non-family households and single parent households. It was also noted that single parent families was increasing among the blacks (Teachman et al., 2000).
The American family has also seen older people opting to stay alone. The decrease in the morbidity and mortality rates, the emergence of social security and the many retirement benefit options have made it possible for older persons to live alone and sustain themselves financially.
They can also live healthier lives as compared to the 1960s where elderly persons had to depend on the younger generations for survival. The changing cultural values starting in the mid of the 20th century increased the sense of privacy among people including the elderly. It is said that early on in the 20th century, widowed adults in the 60s and above lived with their families. In contrast, only a small fraction of elderly widows stay with their families as many prefer to stay alone in recent times (Teachman et al., 2000).
There is also the issue of “empty nests” whereby many households do not have resident children. This means that today, many parents live alone not because they don’t have children, but because the children are either pursuing education or working far from homes. This has changed their lifestyles and hence their living arrangements.
Many couples are also living longer in their marriages meaning that many are finding themselves living alone as their children move out to start their families. Many of the viable women nowadays prefer to have fewer children whom they space further apart. Many stop childbearing at a very early age when compared to the 60s where you could find women in their 40s still giving birth.
The American family is also experiencing a situation where people spend more time together as family when they are adults than in the early years of the 20th century. It is said that today, an American mother and her girl child are likely to spend more of their years together as adults than when the daughter is still a child because life expectancy has improved (Teachman et al., 2000).
The American family has also experienced shifting roles of marriage partners. Today’s Americans share equal roles regardless of their gender. The role of many has experienced the most change. In the past people were used to single mother families, but today, single father families are on the rise as the issue of shared custody in cases of divorce become common.
Economic changes have also played a role in the changing American family. When one looks back to the early years of the 20th century and years just after WW II, the American economy was at its peak, people could easily get well being jobs to sustain their families. People tended to go into marriage in their early years.
Women generally accepted to stay at home as men worked. When this is compared to the 1970s, the years when the so called baby boomers had attained working age, the economy was not as promising as the 50s. This saw many people delay entering into marriage as jobs to sustain a family became scarce (Carrington, 2010).
The 1990s saw an increasing relationship between education and economic sustainability where those who excelled in their education lived to get better jobs to sustain a stable family. This meant that young men and women preferred to pursue educational attainments at the expense of marriage.
Today, many people live alone for many years; others leave their homes in pursuit of educational opportunities. Such people will only form a family if they get a stable income to sustain it. This has been a major contributor to the changing family roles where by women and men are obligated to share in childrearing responsibilities (Bianchi & Casper, 2000).
There is also the issue of young people becoming adults at an early age. In late 19th century, the marriage age for women was 22 and that for men was 26. This changed in the 1950s to 20 for women and 23 for men. However, towards the end of the 20th century, marriage age had changed to 25 and 26 for women and women respectively.
It would have appeared strange to find a 25 year old woman who had not married in the 1960s as it is now. This means that today young adults take long to pick up adult roles. This means that they enter into late marriages a fact that has changed the living arrangements. Delayed marriages are also responsible for increased cohabitation. Later marriages also affects one’s fertility especially women because it means they will become parents late.
In some cases, delayed marriages increase the likelihood of getting children out of marriage. Today, young Americans are likely to leave their parents early to seek independent living; they are also more likely to come back when the going gets tough. Traditionally, it was rare to find a son or daughter who had moved out of the parents whom for independence, returning back to his or her parents (Bianchi & Casper, 2000).
We have seen that there are many factors that cause families to change. These include changes in the economy, culture and human population. There is increased diversity in today’s family than the traditional family. In America today, economic fortunes play a critical role in shaping family relationships.
Family members are torn between work and childrearing. Parenting roles have changed and increased life expectance has changed family structures and arrangements. Young people today prefer to settle down economically before committing to any serious relationship or forming a family. This means that as long as these fluctuations keep happening, the American family will also keep changing. This can not be said to be a decline, but a change to conform to the prevailing circumstances.
Bianchi, B. & Casper, M. (2000). American Families. PRB. Web.
Carrington, M. (2010). The changing American Family. US Embassy. Web.
Klein, H. (2004). The changing American family. Hoover Publications. Web.
Teachman et al. (2000). The Changing Demography of America’s Families. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 62: 1234–1246.