Contemporary American Families Changes that Affect the Structure and Functioning




Contemporary American Families: Changes that Affect the Structure and Functioning



Did you know in a national study of high school seniors, 76 percent said it was "extremely important" to have a good marriage and family life? Did you know a husband-wife family in the U.S. may spend as much as a third of their annual income on a child? Did you know that in 1948, nearly half of the public said there were some racial or ethnic groups with whom they would prefer not to work, including African Americans, Mexicans, Filipinos, Chinese, Jews, and Italians; in 1993 only 9 percent felt this way? Did you know in 1997, only 17 percent of households conformed to the traditional model of a wage-earning father, a stay-at-home mother, and one or more children? Did you know that nationwide, between 1986 and 1995, the rate of reported child abuse or neglect increased 49 percent, from 33 per 1,000 children to 46 per 1,000? Did you know that 43 percent of all U.S. first marriages end in divorce, compared to two out of five marriages in Britain, Denmark, and Sweden and one in ten in France and other European countries? Did you know that one out of three Americans is now a stepparent, stepchild, a stepsibling, or some other member of a stepfamily? These are just the beginning of a wealth of facts and ideas found in our textbook, Marriages and Families, by Nijole V. Benokraitis. In this paper, I will use supporting details from our text to discuss the different choices, constraints, and challenges that are faced in many different issues regarding the family and its ever-changing structure and functioning in contemporary American society.
In chapter 18 of our text, many shocking realities and hypotheses are discussed involving the future of the American family structure. It is stated that eventually variations in the family structure will increase in number and forms. It is believed that society will begin to see more families that are multigenerational and made up of unrelated adults, more stepfamilies, a high number of divorces and remarriages, and more legal rights regarding homosexuals which may lead to more household being headed by gays and lesbians. Though, despite all of these inevitable changes, there has been no evidence that the institution of marriage will be replaced. It is estimated that about 95 percent of Americans marry at least once and that the family is still considered to be the primary group to provide nurturance, love, and emotional stability in which people need to achieve happiness, healthiness, and productivity in life.
Marriage is the first issue I would like to discuss. Many of us in American society today choose to get married to people we love, to build families, and to expand our growth as human beings. Some young people delay it, older people get out of it, and some just skip it all together. The biggest stress on marriage in the late 20th century has been the transition from a clear-cut gender-based division of labor to a much less focused one or the "symmetrical family." (Skolnick, 149-152) Men and women are now sharing roles that were once delegated to one sex or another. The old ideal has been hard to overcome, but as women have sought equal rights in regards to employment and social circumstances the shift has gotten a little easier and both men and women are shedding their old roles. Some positive things that can have been drawn out of marriage include that of married men and women having lower alcohol related problems and health risks then do divorced and widowed people. Men especially seem to reap health benefits from marriage and most experts believe this is because wives often monitor health behavior and also because marriage provides incentives for men to engage in less high-risk behaviors. Children growing up with both biological parents are likely to be more educated, have better job skills, seem to have a more secure sense of themselves, and thus enter adulthood with greater chances of success professionally and personally. (Skolnick, 151)
After marriage, parenthood becomes a new issue in itself for most couples. Most parents experience an unconditional love for their children because no aspect of childhood seems more natural, universal,