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Family Diversity

Family Diversity

Family diversity research papers discuss how marriage, family and relationships have evolved and changed over the years. Our sociology writers can custom write you a research paper with the most up to date statistics and data concerning family diversity.

If there is any one constant concerning the diversity of family and family structure in the United States over the past one hundred years or so, it is change. Almost every familial characteristic one would choose to study - from the median age at the time of first marriage, to the number of children per household, to the rate of divorce - has either risen significantly, declined dramatically, or both. What is certain is that the study of family diversity, and the evolution of such diversity in the United States is intriguing.

The American Family

The very structure and character of the American family has evolved significantly from 1900 to 2000. From a strong patriarchical start at the turn of the century, the American family evolved into what is now referred to as a companionate marriage up until the 1960s, when individualism began winning out over traditional family values.

  • The divorce rate first rose and later fell, but left in its wake a number of unmistakable trends.
  • From 1970 to 1992 the number of single-family households in the United States increased from 13% to 32%.
  • Cohabitation evolved from a fringe phenomenon reserved mostly for hippies to a mainstream trend, with the number of heterosexual couples cohabiting outside of marriage up ten-fold since 1960.
  • The number of households with children, in the mean time, has declined to just over a quarter of all households, falling from a high of 45% in 1972 to 26% in 1999.
  • The most common household composition in the United States today is an unmarried couple without children.

More than anything else, the very diversity in the types of families and households has increased by what seems like an order of magnitude.

Changes in the Family Structure

In what follows, I examine and discuss the changes that have occurred in the diversity of family and familial structure in the United States over the past century. I begin with an examination of the evolution of family form. Next, I examine the diversity in family typology. I conclude with an examination of a variety of trends in family diversity.

At the turn of the century, the typical family cell in the United States was one that was based on a patriarchical model.The patriarchical model was one that was based on male authority and sexual repression, where the male's role was that of the family's economic provider, while the female's role was to take care of the home.Beginning in the 1920s, however, a new model emerged.This familial model is known now as the companionate marriage.

The companionate marriage model began to evolve during the depression, and received a boost during the Second World War, when millions of women were asked to step into positions vacated by men who had been drafted into war. Once exposed to the benefits of employment - both material and non-material - many women found it difficult to return to their little household lives when the war ended.

This model had several important features - it leveled the playing field between men and women, who now shared household tasks as well as the making of decisions related to the family; it did away with sexual repression; and it allotted more freedom and independence to children (Strong et al., 2000).

These features harbored much of what would contribute to the disintegration of the familial cell from the 1960s on. However, prior to the onset of this deterioration, the "Golden Age" of American family life was to take over the country by storm. During the 1950s most of the trends that can be observed beginning in the 1920s - e.g. an increase in median age at time of marriage, an increase in the divorce rate, a decrease in the birthrate and an increase in cohabitation - reversed, as unprecedented economic boom allowed Americans to settle into a family life that allowed many households to purchase suburban homes based on the income of a single wage-earner. Typically, the female spouse remained home to take care of the house and nurture the children.

But then, beginning in the early 1960s, individualism began to take over. Basically, changes in family diversity and structure resumed the trends that began to take shape in the mid- to late-1920s. Ever since, family has become less and less important in the context of American life.

The most striking change in the diversity of the family over the past century has been in the growth of the various types of households. Even as recently as 1972, "Married, with Children" was the most common form of family in the United States, with fully 45% of households qualifying as such. More striking though is a glance at the decline in the family household as a defining structure of American society. In 1940, fully 90% of all households in the United States were family households. By 1960, the number of such households declined to 85%, dropping further to 74% by 1980 - and ending the century at 69%.

The drop in the percentage of such households led by a married couple is even more striking. In 1940, the Bureau of the Census found that 76% of all households self-identified as married-couple family households - fully 84% of all family households. This percentage declined to 74% by 1960, and then to 61% by 1980, ending the century at only 53%. Further, married-couple families now account for only 77% of all family households. By 1998, the most common type of household in the United States consisted of an unmarried couple without children (32% of all households). The second most common household, accounting for 30% of all households, consisted of a married couple with no children. Married couples with children were only the third most frequent, accounting for 26% of all households, with unmarried couples with no children accounting for the residual 12% - such households are referred to as cohabitation households. Some of the diversity in the types of family households now common in the United States can be expressed by the following list - households today include breadwinner-homemaker families with children, two-earner couples with children, single-parent households with children, marriages without children, cohabiting couples with or without children, blended families, role-reversed marriages, and gay and lesbian couples with or without children.

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