UNIVERSITY OF PEDAGOGY
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH
HANDOUT # 5
THE AMERICAN FAMILY
6.1 Family Structures
What is the typical American family like? If Americans are asked to name the members of their families, family structure becomes clear. Married American adults will name their husband or wife and their children, if they have any, as their "immediate family." If they mention their father, mother, sisters, or brothers, they will define them as separate units, usually living in separate households. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents are considered "extended family."
The structure of the American family has undergone enormous changes since the 1950s. Traditionally, the American family has been a nuclear family, consisting of a husband, wife, and their children, living in a house or apartment. Grandparents rarely live in the same home with their married sons; and daughters, and uncles and aunts almost never do.
In the 1950s, 70 percent of American households were the "classic" American family--a husband, wife, and two children. The father was the "breadwinner" (the one who earned the money to support the family), the mother was a "homemaker' (the one who took care of the children and did not work outside the home), and they had two children under the age of 18. If you say the word "family" to Americans, this is probably the picture that comes to their minds.
Yet, in reality, in the 1990s, only 8 percent of American households consist of a working father, a stay-at-home mother, and two children under 18. An additional 18 percent of households consist of two parents who are both working and one or more children under the age of 18 living at home. That means that a total of only 26 percent of households in the United States consist of two parents and their children. The remaining households consist of the following: 30 percent are married couples without children; 8 percent are single parents and their children; 11 percent are unmarried couples and others living together. And, perhaps most startling, in 25 percent of the households, there is someone living alone. The American Home Economics Association has defined the family as "two or more persons who share resources, share responsibility for decisions, share values and goals, and have commitments to one another over a period of time." We also have to consider the United States Bureau of the Census's definition of a household (all the people living in a house), which includes single people and nonfamilies (unrelated people, childless couples, homosexual couples, etc). As you see, these definitions allow for many different forms of a family.
One reason that families have changed is
due to the continuous increase in the
number of divorces among Americans.
(see also 6.3 below.) The United States has
the highest divorce rate in the world. Over
one million divorces occur each year in the
country (half of them within the first seven
years of marriage), and it is predicted that
over 60% of the children born during the
1980s can expect their parents to divorce
or separate at some point. The increased
divorce rate is the result of several changes
Another reason the traditional idea of the family has
changed is due to the trend toward independent living
for both the younger and older generations. More and
more adults are remaining single, living together without
getting married, waiting longer to get married, delaying
having children, or not having children at all. The
average age for marriage in the United States has
increased to 26.5 for men and 24.5 for women from 23.2
and 20.8 in 1970. Many young adults move out of their
parents' home, establish their own households, and
attend college or start a career before getting married.
This attitude toward marriage and the fact that more
women are seeking further education and career
opportunities has resulted in more couples than ever
before deciding not to have children at...
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