George Pere Murdock defined a family as a social group that was bound by common residence, reproduction and co-operation. In his definition a family included two adults from the opposite sex who has a socially approved sexual relationship, children who are owned or adopted. To many people a family consists of a man, a woman and children. There are two types of family, nuclear family which consist of a father, mother and children and extended family which consist of two generations of members of a family. There have been plenty of arguments suggesting that the family is on the decline. This essay aims to argue against the notion and the suggestion by several writers that the family is in decline.
Popenoes Argument that Family is in decline
Popenoe (1993) expresses his disappointment in the changes taking place in the American family by suggesting that the American society has changed from their way of life in the 1950s. According to the writer the American society has become a me-society which in other words means that everyone has become more interested in being successful and fulfilling their dreams at the expense of marriage. Normally people in America aimed to grow up; get married, have children and live together no matter the situation they would find their selves in. But all that has changed with more and more people aiming to focus on education and career rather than living under the constant constraints of marriage (Sweeney 2002).
The focus that was initially there in the 1950s has changed and the family has become more authoritative (Popenoe 1993). The family, according to Popenoe was more focus on having and raising children. It is no longer the case as many people in this generation see the child as a burden and requiring so much attention and would therefore keep them from focusing and achieving their desired objectives such as getting a degree and/or getting a promotion at work.
Another argument presented as evidence for the constant decline of the family is the increasing divorce rates and decreasing fertility rate. The number of American couples that get divorced has increased in recent years. The causes for divorce vary from infidelity, alcoholism, violence and so on. More and more couples do not value the society and religious views on divorce because they have become so concerned with their well-being that another persons judgement would not affect their lives. Divorce has been seen to lead to the reduction in the normal family to the rise of the step-family and single parent families a situation that Popenoe deems plaguing. It is considered by the author that step families and single parent families are chaotic and in most cases does not serve the best interest of the members of the family.
Due to the demanding and fast way of life in the United States, there has been a positive feeling surrounding the idea that being childless is the best option and having a child would drag someone behind. At the same time the negativity surrounding the idea of motherhood has kept many women and young girl in particular from embracing marriage and raising a family. Due to such perspective the normal view of a family in the 1950s which was a mother staying at home to clean the house, look after the children and taking care of the home has changed. There are more women who have careers and aim to be successful at work.
Despite numerous arguments by Popenoe about the decline of the family institution, it is fair to say that the authors view on the changes in the family institution is too conventional. The author has focused so much on the changes that the family has gone through so much that there is no consideration that the family could still be there and possibly on the rise, but has just taken a different dimension and has led to the introduction of new forms of families. It is therefore not true that the family is on the decline, but instead the family institution still exists but has taken a different form.
Stacey (1993) believes that one possible misjudgment that Popenoe had is his definition and view on the family. His definition of the family is simply narrow. The world and the society are constantly changing and with these changes there is a need for keen definition on what a family is. Popenoe sees the family as a symbol. He considers the family to be more of a unit. The family concept is much wider and Popenoe does not have the relevant statistics for the post 1960 period. Without the relevant statistics he cannot prove his claims that the family is in decline. Popenoe tries to bring out a picture of divorce being such a negative thing than fight for equality amongst women and men. Many women that struggle to be successful in life through working and having businesses are mostly motivated by the need to take care of their families.
There have been a lot of changes in the world today. The world has become a global village and there has been an increase in demands and competition is on the rise. With the increase in terms of competition, the economic atmosphere has made it necessary for everyone to work to have a means of income. Popenoe was so much nostalgic when talking about family decline because he did not consider so many factors such as the rise in need for both the mother and the father in order to sustain the family. Using the increase in the number of women who work and conduct business did not add any basis to his argument since both parents can still work and not affect the family like it is in many cases.
According to Cowan (1993), Popenoe did not justify his argument that there is an increase in negativity towards motherhood and a reduction in giving birth. The desire that parents have to be better parents to their children is one of the reasons why couples decide not to have many children than they can take care of. Why should any couple have five children when they cannot take care of them, especially with the difficult economic times? How would a couple take care of the children in terms of educating them, healthcare, insurance and finding a suitable shelter for the five children? Deciding to have one or two children does not mean that the family is on the decline, instead it means that couples value their families so much they would do the best for them by providing what they can to the available members and not adding more children and risk seeing them live in shelters, with no clothes, shoes, education and in poor health.
The Propenes argument that the family is on the decline does not consider the positive effect of the changes that affect the family constitution. It is clear that the family institution is changing due to the changing times, but it does not mean that the family institution is on the decline. There are different types of families emerging and that means that despite the constant changes, people are willing to accommodate family as an institution and still go ahead with their activities. Single parent families involve a single parent living with the children; this does not mean that the other parent does not care about the children. Under specific arrangement, some parents go to duties away from home and so leave one parent taking care of the children. The decision to go on duty far away from home is to ensure that one earns enough to take care of the family. If a person decides not to go on duty and stay at home and watch his or her family struggle and suffer is that the best move to justify how a family should live?
The answer is no. According to Popenoe there is an increase in the number of divorce cases compared to the 1950s which has led to the era of step family. This is not an indication of family being on the decline. There are instances when people divorce from their marriages and still go ahead and get married again. This is an indication that despite the family and marriage problems, people are still willing to form a new family instead of totally ignoring about having a new family due to the pain that the first marriage experience gave them.
Cowan, P. A. 1993. The Sky Is Falling, but Popenoe's Analysis Won't Help Us Do Anything about It. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 55, 548-53.
Sweeney M. M. 2002. Two Decades of Family Change: The Shifting Economic Foundations of Marriage, American Sociological Review, 67(1), 132-147.
Stacey, J. 1993. Good Riddance to "The Family": A Response to David Popenoe. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 55, 545-47.
Popenoe, D. 1993. American Family Decline, 1960-1990: A Review and Appraisal.
Journal of Marriage and Family. 55 (3). 527-542.
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