Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Morphing of the American Family

For the past century our society has been going through a kind of upheaval that is unrivalled in history. Remember, a hundred years ago American women weren't allowed to vote. Then, in short time, there was a tennis match between Billie Jean King and some male chauvinist pig, then the invention of skinny cigarettes, and now we expect women to receive equal treatment in all aspects of life.

Cynics theorize that men wanted to keep women dependent on them, as a matter of maintaining power. Maybe that's right, I don't know. But even though it's not perfect, things have definitely changed, in what amounts to a fundamental realignment of our entire social structure.

The institutions of marriage and family don't mean what they used to, either in the economic sense or, really, in the personal sense. Women no longer strictly have to depend on men to take care of them, and sexual behavior is no longer constrained by inflexible laws and the customs of marriage. The traditional nuclear family is now optional, whether you like it or not -- people can choose to live that way, if that's what makes them happy, but they don't have to. Women can wear the pants nowadays, if they fit.

You can think of these changes as disastrous, if you prefer. Like, you can form a group and call it Family Blah Blah something-or-other, and devote your days to putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. You can point to everything that is different today as a sign that the world is coming to an end. Or you can search for happiness in your own life under the new rules. Personally, I find that the nice little Leave-It-To-Beaver nuclear family is a good thing for me. It is certainly one of the options that are available.

The New York Times had a story yesterday that underlines the situation.
For what experts say is probably the first time, more American women are living without a husband than with one, according to a New York Times analysis of census results.

In 2005, 51 percent of women said they were living without a spouse, up from 35 percent in 1950 and 49 percent in 2000.

Coupled with the fact that in 2005 married couples became a minority of all American households for the first time, the trend could ultimately shape social and workplace policies, including the ways government and employers distribute benefits. 51% of Women Are Now Living Without Spouse (may require free subscription)

I tend to think that all of this can be traced back to The Pill, but of course that's not correct. The women's suffrage movement didn't have the pill, for instance. This is just a progression that started with the Enlightenment and has just kept going, as people got comfortable with the idea of using reason rather than tradition to inform their decisions.
Several factors are driving the statistical shift. At one end of the age spectrum, women are marrying later or living with unmarried partners more often and for longer periods. At the other end, women are living longer as widows and, after a divorce, are more likely than men to delay remarriage, sometimes delighting in their newfound freedom.

In addition, marriage rates among black women remain low. Only about 30 percent of black women are living with a spouse, according to the Census Bureau, compared with about 49 percent of Hispanic women, 55 percent of non-Hispanic white women and more than 60 percent of Asian women.

In a relatively small number of cases, the living arrangement is temporary, because the husbands are working out of town, are in the military or are institutionalized. But while most women eventually marry, the larger trend is unmistakable.

“This is yet another of the inexorable signs that there is no going back to a world where we can assume that marriage is the main institution that organizes people’s lives,” said Prof. Stephanie Coontz, director of public education for the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit research group. “Most of these women will marry, or have married. But on average, Americans now spend half their adult lives outside marriage.”

It's your patriotic duty to go read that whole article. We can moralize about it, sentimentalize over it, whatever. The world is changing, and we don't know where it's headed, but like the guys says, "there is no going back."


Blogger andrea said...

I read this article- the statement I am not sure about is that most women will eventually marry. I know quite a few women who never married and are now past 50(I am only counting hetero women here since I guess that is what this article is talking about). What does "most" mean? And I know women who were divorced or widowed who will never marry again(by choice or not). So that is the part of the article I don't get. Of course, if you could add in the serial marriers- you would up the number.

January 18, 2007 9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The world is changing, and we don't know where it's headed, but like the guys says, "there is no going back.""

Why not?

Because everyone likes the suffering produced by rootlessness?

People have said this same thing many times over the ages but revivals perk up community morale and the pendulum inevitably returns.

Read some American history. In addition to the revivals, you might also consider that the immigrant groups that succeed best and adapt quickest to our society when they come here are those with the strongest family structure.

Many studies have shown the economic impact on individuals who divorce who parent without a spouse.

Remember, years after attacking Dan Quayle for his ignorance, Canace Bergen announced, "Dan Quayle was right."

January 18, 2007 12:22 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

There was an article in the Atlantic about the Murphy Brown / Dan Quayle dust-up, titled "Dan Quayle Was Right." I don't believe Candice Bergen herself ever said it.


January 18, 2007 3:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I don't believe Candice Bergen herself ever said it."

She did indeed.

January 18, 2007 3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ten years ago, then-Vice President Quayle criticized Bergen's "Murphy Brown" TV character for "mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another 'lifestyle choice."'

Bergen said Tuesday. "his speech was a perfectly intelligent speech about fathers not being dispensable and nobody agreed with that more than I did."

Score Team Pruitt!

January 18, 2007 3:51 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

That's not what you said she said.


January 18, 2007 4:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

She said the other thing too. That was just elaboration of how misguided it is to dismiss the importance of families to a society. Most people don't find it a bunch of blah-blah.

Only lunatic fringe tolerance yada-yada wackos.

January 18, 2007 5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Bergen said Tuesday. "his speech was a perfectly intelligent speech about fathers not being dispensable and nobody agreed with that more than I did.""

Wow! Candice agrees with Jim Dobson.

January 18, 2007 8:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"small percentage of the population"

You men that 49% who aren't aged widows?

January 20, 2007 9:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

January 23, 2007 8:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice design of blog.

August 13, 2007 3:38 PM  

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