The New Western Family
A white picket fence surrounding a red-brick house in which a doting wife, successful and hard-working husband, and two and one half children reside was, at one point in time, the epitome of North American life. Since the era of that belief has passed, North American society is being affected by various factors that act as catalysts for the fall of the American Dream and the subsequent rise in the embodiment of increasingly different family structures. Modern North American culture prides itself in its inclusiveness and adaptability, yet it is prepared to accept that the definition of a family is no longer one of concrete wording? According the Andrew Cherlin, “Marriage has undergone a process of deinstitutionalization—a weakening of the social norms that define partners’ behaviour—over the past few decades (2004: 848). Studies in divorce, cohabitation, remarriage, and the legalization of gay and lesbian unions have proven that the nuclear family no longer consists of a man, woman, and a reasonable number of children. This literature review not only explores and distinguishes various factors discussed in pieces of work that influence North American society to embrace demographically diverse structures both also discusses the potential for a future resurfacing of the American Dream.
Divorce and the Nuclear Family
A nuclear family is commonly defined as a father, mother, and dependent children. This definition is being deconstructed by many factors, primarily through divorce. The introduction of no-fault unilateral divorce laws in North America forms the query of whether divorce rates were affected or not. According to Justin Wolfers (2006:1806), author of ‘Did Unilateral Divorce Laws Raise Divorce Rates? A Reconciliation and New Results’, both types of divorce, consensual and otherwise, form a particular number of divorces each year. These subcategories of divorce, however, do not comprise the amount of divorces that occur annually though the simple process of marital unsuitability. Andrew Cherlin (2005:36) writes that in the early 1900s, “about 10 percent of all marriages ended in divorce, and the figure rose to about one-third for marriages begun in 1950. But the rise was particularly sharp during the 1960s and 1970s, when the likelihood that a married couple would divorce increased substantially.” This threat of divorce may have been, in fact, what prevented young adults from getting married in the first place. Rather than marry with the fear of divorce, a sense of security can be established by remaining single for longer periods of time. The age at which many individuals first marry has increased and now rests between 25 and 30 years of age (Cherlin 2005:40). The rate of divorce has seemingly plateaued as of recently. However, this does not indicate that the introduction of no fault unilateral divorce laws did not impact the rates of divorce in any way. The chain-reaction caused by these laws is one that directly influences marriage. Marriages have become less frequent, and their decline unequivocally results in an analogous fall in the number of divorces (Rasul 2003:28). Andrew Cherlin (2004:849) discusses that the decrease in marriages has much to do with its deinstitutionalization process. North American society is adopting new methods of living as family units, such as cohabitation and remarriage.
Cohabitation, Remarriage, and the Nuclear Family
Cohabitation is the act of living, unmarried, with a partner. According to Cherlin, a large number of couples cohabitate as a replacement for marriage. However, a similar amount of these relationships dissolve within twenty-four months, suggesting that it is not a strong alternative for a marital union (2005:35). During the twentieth century, typical beliefs surrounding marriage were again changing. Having children, living together, and maintaining sexual relationships are all facets of life...