Looking at the different perspectives on families, some might argue that over the past century the family as we know it is deteriorating. Those that believe the family is deteriorating blame people in society as becoming self-indulgence, having only a concern for their self rather than others, financial strain, and incompatible personalities. This type of attitude amongst other things, has increased the rate of divorce. Our society has changed it attitudes about divorce several times. Only becoming more and more accepting of the idea as the text explains “The law and public opinion have changed dramatically over the past centuries, greatly altering the way in which marriage is viewed.” (Cherlin, 2013, p376) We as a society have went from the era of restricted divorce, were divorce was only granted on the grounds of adultery or desertion, and usually only men were allowed this privilege as a way to protect his farm or who was to inherit the property he owned. Then there was the era of divorce tolerance in which jurisdictions in the U.S. became more sympathetic towards women. Allowing divorce for a woman on the grounds of a habitual drunken husband, failure to provide economic support and lastly “mental cruelty.” It was in the 1970’s that the era of unrestricted divorce started taking hold. Anyone, man or women, was now allowed to request and be granted a divorce simply due to “irreconcilable difference” with only a possible waiting period. Then there are children being born out of wedlock. The text refers to many different deviating demographics. One being the education of woman related to when they have children. “Among women without college degrees, however, and especially among women who have never attended college, far fewer wait until marriage to have children that was the say a half-century ago.” (Cherlin, 2013, p115) This is attributed to women with low income not believing they will find suitable marriage partners. Women who graduate college have a plan to finish college, marry and then have children. With continuous flux in our economy now both parents are force to work raising millions of what are referred to as latchkey children. Along with an alarming increase in the number of people deciding not to get married, unprecedented numbers of single-parent families, and a decline of parental authority in the home. One with all these views might think our society is falling apart and therefore have a solid argument that family as we know it is deteriorating.
Due to vast changes in our society it is understandable why someone might have this perspective. However, it is better to a step back and look not at the changes but why these changes have occurred. These changes that our society is experiencing, is due to different extensions of long-standing family patterns. For example, one major change that is a huge contributor is more women have entered the labor force. It is common and usually necessary for the woman to work outside the home.
There are also family problems such as desertion, out-of-wedlock birth, and child abuse, however these problem have always existed. Yes, families are changing but are remarkably resilient in spite of the numerous adversities they face. Families will cope with everyday stresses and protect their most vulnerable members such as their young, old, ill, or disabled at just about any cost. They do what is necessary to overcome financial hardships. No matter if a family consist of a single parent, married, gay or lesbian couple they are able handle everyday conflict and tension as they care for their children as they grow. Most families have stable and loving relationships despite constant harsh economic environments. Then there are the families that are in a constant struggle with society due to the ethnic background or sexual preference. These families despite rejection by conventional society, are resilient and resourceful in developing successful family relationships. One might say the main reason for marriage is to have and raise children. As conveyed in the text “many lesbian and gay couples are raising children together, though adoption or donor insemination. When courts examine the issue, they look the meaning heterosexuals give to marriage, and they often can find no compelling reason to uphold laws that restrict marriage to opposite sex partners.” (Cherlin, 2013, p455) These are just a few solid points that those who believe in the family is changing, not deteriorating, will gladly point out.
The perspective that I feel is the most accurate concerning families in America today is the viewpoint that our families are stronger than ever. When standing back and looking at what we know from our history and what we are accomplishing today it is astounding. It is important to realize we have advanced not only in technology, world economics, medicine and science but in our families as well. We still have far to go, however looking back at how we treated the ideas about gender, class and race we have come a long way. In the past women did not go to school past elementary. Their place was in the home raising children and doing household duties there was no need for education. Now the colleges and the work force is saturated with women. A women being the head of household is not uncommon and acceptable. Children were limited to what they learned and the environment they were exposed to. Now even though scary at times they are far more knowledgeable and diverse about the world than our grandparents. It is not uncommon for people to reach out hundreds of miles or even across the world and establish a relationship with someone. It was less than 60 years ago that there was prejudice against African Americans. They were not allowed to use the same bathrooms as those with skin of the opposite color. There were even laws against couples of different races not being able to marry. Now that we have made it over those hurdles (with still some growth needed) we are coming to terms with same-sex couples joining to form unions of marriage. Our society is in a constant state of change and growth. Families are proving to be the same rhythm as the society around them. It is all about growth, education, diversity and caring for one another. A hundred years ago whatever family you were born into that was it. Now, we have people that we consider family that are not even of blood relation and there is no stigma against that. We also have the capability for people to enjoy a longer life. It is not uncommon for several generations, up to four or five to be able to enjoy each other’s company. This allows our youngest generations to learn skills and hear the stories of time passed but not forgotten. In conclusion it is my strong opinion that families are transforming, not deteriorating or extinguishing themselves. There have been and always will be changes in the family units. The one thing that has not changes is families of all kinds seek caring, supportive, reassuring, and lasting relationships. There is nothing fundamentally better about one type of family than another. People will until the end of time continue to create families that meet their needs for love and security.
Question 2: Discuss how families in the United States both shape and are shaped by inequality, on the basis of characteristics such as race, class, and gender. This is a broad question, and there are many acceptable answers, but be sure to answer it thoroughly using insights from the text and reader.
Class, race, and gender organize society as a whole and create a variety of contexts for family living through their unequal distribution of social opportunities. There’s no doubt that shifts in the family structure play a role in inequality and shaping society. The resources such as money, social capital, and parental attention that are available to a child of two high-earning professionals differs from a single parent. Those available to a child raised by a working-class mom is much bigger than if the inequality in earnings weren’t intensified by the difference in family structure. Inequality changes who we are, individually and collectively. Families play a part due to being important role models. It starts with what are text refers to as parental socialization. “Researchers have argued that people first learn how women and men act through socialization during childhood.” (Cherlin, 2013, p88) Our experiences with others stem from what is first learned from family. Family will define relationships between our family members and non-family members. Through socialization, children acquire language; absorb the accumulated knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and values of their culture; and learn the social and interpersonal skills they need to function successfully in society. Some socialization is unintentional, such as teaching culturally accepted stereotypical gender traits. A majority of socialization is deliberate. As parents we carefully select playmates in preschool for our children to socialize with or we raise children in a specific religion. We are socialized through roles, the roles help us adapt to the obligations and expectations attached to a particular status or position in society. The media and peer groups also have a tremendous effect on our socialization. When further examining social classes or economic status it is not surprising that inequality is changing not only American family structures, but the roles men and women play and the decisions they make in pairing and establishing households. Inequality is changing the stakes for forming partnerships. If there are fewer men with stable economic circumstances for women to choose from as suitable long-term partners at both the lower and middle steps of the economic ladder. Those men with economic worth will have no reason to commit to a single women. Working-class and poor women who consider marrying men who has a high chance of being laid off or becoming a financial burden is less likely to commit themselves.
Race is a socially defined reality. Many might not realize it however, racial categories are the basis for allocating social resources and differential distribution of power, privilege, and prestige. Unfortunately, society is continually creating and transforming racial categories. An example would be that a Mexican American is considered Hispanic or a Japanese American would be Asian American. Race is mainly used to socially identify groups based on physical differences. Ethnicity identifies distinctive national origin, language, religion, culture or social differences. Racial-ethnic groups are socially subordinated and remain culturally distinct within America. Since these difference are defined by the American society it effects how parents teach their children to interact with society. As parents, you want your children to have as many opportunities as possible. A parent wants a child to be able to flourish and be successful in society sometimes no matter the cost. Therefore the parents will change their family culture (or way they were raised completely), to ensure the children of this generations have the least amount of struggles and “fit in” better with the American society ideals in order to succeed.
Gender, like race and class, is a basic organizing principle of society. Social and cultural definitions of masculinity and femininity are the basis for treating men and women differently. This allows for dividing labor, assigning roles, and allocating social rewards. The down fall of society using this gender system denies both women and men the full range of human and social possibilities. There are two different way to consider gender. There is the traditional gender roles which states the needs of society naturally separate women and men into distinctive roles. The woman stays home, is responsible for child rearing and household duties. The man is head of household and provides economic support. This perspective proves how inequality shapes the family and vice versa. With gender roles such as these both genders are unequal in power, resources, and opportunities. Structured gender inequality interacts with other inequalities such as race, class, and sexuality to sort women and men differently. These inequalities also work together to produce differences among women and differences among men. In general, men gain privileges at the expense of women. Domestic division of labor (kind and amount of work done in the home) limits women’s occupational opportunities. The American population today is a mosaic of many cultural, religious, ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic groups. Families in the United States both shape and are shaped by inequality, on the basis of characteristics such as race, class, and gender there is no denying this based on the different reasons above.
Question 3: Now that you have read a great deal of information on the family, do you feel that the original definitions of the private and public families given by Cherlin are adequate? Why or why not? There were some solid points in the definitions of the private and public families given by Cherlin. The definition is a good starting point however, there is no single definition of family that would satisfy everyone. The meaning of family differs from one group of people to another and may change over time. The public family’s definitions have important political and economic consequences, often determining family members’ rights and obligations. The private family definitions will vary greatly depending what family you asked based on ethnicity, race, class or even gender. No matter what the definition of family is there are important key aspects that the family unit provides people. Families are important in teaching roles and defining relationships between relatives and nonfamily members. A critical function of the family is a family delivers its members emotional support. As well as from birth to young adulthood families are an important economic unit that provides financial security and stability.
Cherlin, Andrew J. (2013). Public and Private Families, An Introduction. 7th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies.