A revolution has taken place in family life since the late 1960s. Today, two-thirds of all married women with children--and an even higher proportion of single mothers--work outside the home, compared to just 16 percent in 1950. Half of all marriages end in divorce--twice the rate in 1966 and three times the rate in 1950. Three children in ten are born out of wedlock. Over a quarter of all children now live with only one parent and fewer than half of live with both their biological mother and father. Meanwhile, the proportion of women who remain unmarried and childless has reached a record high; fully twenty percent of women between the ages of 30 and 34 have not married and over a quarter have had no children, compared to six and eight percent, respectively, in 1970.
These changes have produced alarm, anxiety, and apprehension. They have inspired family values crusaders to condemn careerist mothers, absent fathers, single parents, and unwed parents as the root cause of many of society's ills: persistent poverty, drug abuse, academic failure, and juvenile crime. This is a situation that begs for historical perspective.
Recent scholarship has demonstrated that diversity and change have been the only constants in the history of the American family. Far from signaling the family's imminent demise or an erosion of commitment to children, recent changes in family life are only the latest in a series of disjunctive transformations in family roles, functions, and dynamics that have occurred over the past three centuries.
Few subjects are more shrouded in myths, misconceptions, and misleading generalizations than the history of the family. Students will find the history of the family an eye-opening window on the past. They will discover that:
It was only in the 1920s that, for the first time, a majority of American families consisted of a breadwinner-husband, a home-maker wife, and children