The Acceptance of Multifaceted Lifestyles The New Western Family A white picket fence surrounding a red-brick house in which a doting wife, successful and hard-working husband, and two and one half children reside was, at one point in time, the epitome of North American life. Since the era of that belief has passed, North American society is being affected by various factors that act as catalysts for the fall of the American Dream and the subsequent rise in the embodiment of increasingly different family structures.
Modern North American culture prides itself in its inclusiveness and adaptability, yet it is prepared to accept that the definition of a family is no longer one of concrete wording? According the Andrew Cherlin, “Marriage has undergone a process of deinstitutionalization—a weakening of the social norms that define partners’ behaviour—over the past few decades (2004: 848). Studies in divorce, cohabitation, remarriage, and the legalization of gay and lesbian unions have proven that the nuclear family no longer consists of a man, woman, and a reasonable number of children.
This literature review not only explores and distinguishes various factors discussed in pieces of work that influence North American society to embrace demographically diverse structures both also discusses the potential for a future resurfacing of the American Dream. Divorce and the Nuclear Family A nuclear family is commonly defined as a father, mother, and dependent children. This definition is being deconstructed by many factors, primarily through divorce. The introduction of no-fault unilateral divorce laws in North America forms the query of whether divorce rates were affected or not.
According to Justin Wolfers (2006:1806), author of ‘Did Unilateral Divorce Laws Raise Divorce Rates? A Reconciliation and New Results’, both types of divorce, consensual and otherwise, form a particular number of divorces each year. These subcategories of divorce, however, do not comprise the amount of divorces that occur annually though the simple process of marital unsuitability. Andrew Cherlin (2005:36) writes that in the early 1900s, “about 10 percent of all marriages ended in divorce, and the figure rose to about one-third for marriages begun in 1950.
But the rise was particularly sharp during the 1960s and 1970s, when the likelihood that a married couple would divorce increased substantially. ” This threat of divorce may have been, in fact, what prevented young adults from getting married in the first place. Rather than marry with the fear of divorce, a sense of security can be established by remaining single for longer periods of time. The age at which many individuals first marry has increased and now rests between 25 and 30 years of age (Cherlin 2005:40). The rate of divorce has seemingly plateaued as of recently.
However, this does not indicate that the introduction of no fault unilateral divorce laws did not impact the rates of divorce in any way. The chain-reaction caused by these laws is one that directly influences marriage. Marriages have become less frequent, and their decline unequivocally results in an analogous fall in the number of divorces (Rasul 2003:28). Andrew Cherlin (2004:849) discusses that the decrease in marriages has much to do with its deinstitutionalization process. North American society is adopting new methods of living as family units, such as cohabitation and remarriage.
Cohabitation, Remarriage, and the Nuclear Family Cohabitation is the act of living, unmarried, with a partner. According to Cherlin, a large number of couples cohabitate as a replacement for marriage. However, a similar amount of these relationships dissolve within twenty-four months, suggesting that it is not a strong alternative for a marital union (2005:35). During the twentieth century, typical beliefs surrounding marriage were again changing. Having children, living together, and maintaining sexual relationships are all facets of life that were beginning to fit the social norms established (Cherlin 2005:40).
Regarding the success of marriages associated with pre-marital cohabitation, indicators are not positive, as many unions fail shortly after being made legal (Rasul 2003:30). This being said, not all new marriages end in disaster. Remarriage is a new marriage to a new partner, and is an increasingly prevalent family structure in North American society. Following divorce, individuals who decide to marry again engage in remarriage. This type of marriage can involve parties who have children or who are childless. In the case that children are involved, step-families are created.
As quoted by Godina in the review of, ‘Understanding Stepfamilies: Their Structure and Dynamics’, fellow writer, Grinwald, believes that, “by the year 2000 the stepfamily will be the predominant family structure in the United States and will actually outnumber the nuclear family” (Godina cited Grinwald 2001:318). This statement is in accordance with others, all supporting the conviction that stepfamilies are becoming an increasingly dominant family structure and that many children will be members of one in their lifetimes (Godina 2001:318).
Individuals who do not remarry, or those who have not been previously married take on different family structures then those previously discussed. These forms are the single-parent household or a lone existence. Single Parents, Habitual Solitude, and the Nuclear Family Contrary to the nuclear family structure previously discussed are the family structures involving single parenthood and habitual solitude. There are two primary ways in which single-parent families are established, the first being through divorce.
A divorced parent who has children and makes the decision not to remarry establishes themself as a single-parent family unit. The second way is through unwed pregnancy. This lifestyle is not only growing in popularity for couples alone, but it is also adopting a sense of normalcy to incorporate the birth of children. According to Cherlin, as cohabitation is generally seen as equivalent to marriage in modern North American society, many children that would at first be deemed illegitimate are in actuality, not.
Rather, they are born of a cohabitating couple. (2004:849). The authors of, ‘Context and Inclusivity in Canada’s Evolving Definition of the Family’, Nicholas Bala and Rebecca Jaremko Bromwich concur with Cherlin’s hypothesis, stating that the increased number of children being raised by single parents can be explained not only by the increase in divorce rates and corresponding rise in couple separation and the births of children in cohabitating relationships rather than marriages (2002:148).
For individuals who have no children and no existing desire to wed or cohabitate, there is the option of living by oneself. This lifestyle choice is also increasing in North American society, even if only for part of a person’s life. Achieving success and happiness are often considered common goals shared by the majority of North American society. For many, this means acquiring a post-secondary education and procuring an enjoyable, rewarding career.
These two objectives, receiving an education and job position, are two things, according to Andrew Cherlin that young adults are completing before considering marriage (2004:852). Stefan Buzar, Philip E. Ogden, and Ray Hall’s article titled, ‘Households matter: the quiet demography of urban transformation’, is in accordance with Cherlin’s report, stating that the new trends being discovered in family demographics include evidence supporting the idea that not only are the traditions surrounding marriage devolving, but marriage itself is changing and is often being put off by adults (2005:416).
Not only are members of North American society delaying marriage, but some are assuming roles in an entirely different form of marriage than that historically accepted. This form is that of same-sex relationships. Homosexuality and the Nuclear Family Once prohibited, same-sex unions are no longer a thing of the past, as the lesbian-gay community has received and is continuing to receive support from North American society regarding both marriage legalization and lifestyle recognition (Bala and Bromwich 2002:148).
This statement is in agreement with Cherlin’s article, ‘The Deinstitutionalization of American Marriage’, in which he discusses how the deinstitutionalization of marriage was influenced not only by the acceptance of lifestyles such as cohabitation and non-marital conception, but also by the window of opportunity the aforementioned factors created for same-sex relationships to emerge as a new lifestyle choice (2004:852).
Same-sex unions, which are now accepted in many countries including Canada and a number of American States is the newest addition to the breakdown of marriage as an institution, yet despite its unspoken level of normalcy, organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church do not view it in positive light. In fact, “in January 2001, the Vatican released a document attacking homosexual unions as ‘a deplorable distortion’, signifying ‘a serious sign of the contemporary breakdown in the moral conscience” (Bala and Bromwich 2002:165). The disdain towards same-sex partnership however, is not seen in all religious communities.
Similar to legal institutions, they too are slowly changing their perspectives on gay and lesbian marriages. The shift from, at one point in time, displaying no support for same-sex unions whatsoever to showing an increasing amount annually suggests that there is new hope for the diversity of family demographics. The Future of Family Structures The out-dated, seemingly archaic beliefs that a family is comprised of a man, woman, and their dependent children is now steadily being replaced in North American society by the ideology that a family unit can consist of a number of combinations of men, women, and children.
From single parents with children to large step-families and from gay and lesbian couples to habitually single individuals, the information and knowledge discussed in this literature review is purposed to open the eyes of North American society and equip them with the ability to readily accept the new and more diverse family structures mentioned and prepare society for the new definition of family. As discussed in Andrew Cherlin’s article, the future of the North American family structure cannot be determined exactly.
Rather, it can be hypothesised that family demographics will continue to change and create more diverse structures, or the demographics will revert to the way they were during the era of the American Dream (2004:858). Studying family demographics and the factors that influence their changes is important to society because in order to be fully accepting of new family forms, the North American society must first understand them. In fact, Jean M.
Lynch states in her article, ‘Considerations of Family Structure and Gender Composition: The Lesbian and Gay Stepfamily’ that, “the study of alternative family forms as unique and a recognition of distinct challenges and strengths is of paramount importance in expanding the family studies research,” (2000:94). North American society is becoming increasingly inclusive of multifaceted family forms. Factors mentioned in this literature review such as divorce, remarriage, single parenting, are continuously impacting demographics concerning family diversity.
The iteration of defining a contemporary North American family has, and likely will continue to change over the years. However, in continuing to accept a variety of family structures, North American societies will move forward demographically, and therefore promote further development of the family structure. References Bala, Nicholas. , and Rebecca Jaremko Bromwich. 2002. “Context and Inclusivity in Canada’s Evolving Definition of the Family. ” International Journal of Law, Policy, and the Family 16(2):148 Buzar, Stefan, Philip E. Ogden, and Ray Hall. 2005. Households matter: the quiet demography of urban transformation. ” Progress in Human Geography 29(4): 416. Cherlin, Andrew J. 2005. “American Marriage in the Early Twenty-First Century. ” The Future of Children 15(2):33-55 Cherlin, Andrew J. 2004. “The Deinstitutionalization of American Marriage. ” Journal of Marriage and Family 66(4):849 Cherlin, Andrew J. 2010. “Demographic Trends in the United States: A Review of Research in the 2000s. ” Journal of Marriage and Family 72(3):409 Godina, E. 2001. Review of Understanding Stepfamilies: Their Structure and Dynamics. Edited by Craig A. Everett.
Journal of Biosocial Science 33(2):317-318 Lynch, Jean. 2000. “Considerations of Family Structure and Gender Composition: The Lesbian and Gay Stepfamily. ” Journal of Homosexuality 40(2):81-95 Rasul, Imran. 2003. “The Impact of Divorce Laws on Marriage. ” Department of Business, University of Chicago and CEPR, Chicago, Illinois. Unpublished manuscript. Retrieved 4 November 2011 http://www. cepr. org/meets/wkcn/3/3519/papers/Rasul. pdf Wolfers, Justin. 2006. “Did Unilateral Divorce Laws Raise Divorce Rates? A Reconciliation and New Results. ” The American Economic Review 96(5):1806, 1814.
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