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Changes to the Family

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2545 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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A Discussion of Family


The family is one of the concepts that is studied by social scientists. “A key concept in the social sciences, and especially in demography and sociology, is that of the family” (Charles B. Nam Center for Demography and Population Health, & Florida State University). The family is generally perceived as a major social institution. According to the Charles B. Nam Center for Demography and Population Health, the family is a unit created by blood, marriage, or adoption. The family can be described as nuclear, single parent household, same-sex parent household, or stepfamily, each with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Further discussion will include what each of the three chosen family forms are, the changes and differences in each form, and the opportunities and struggles of the nuclear family, the single-parent household, and the stepfamily.

The Study of The Family

Anthropologists and social scientists found that the family was a significant part of the history of societies. Since then, social scientists have invested time and research into the study of the family. In the last fifty years, there have been three periods of sociological studies of the family. In the journal article, Studies of the Family, written by Mirra Komarovsky and Willard Waller broke down the way that the family has been studied in the past century. They sectioned the study of the family in a sociological perspective into three parts.

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The two decades between 1895 and 1915 were aimed towards the study of the origin and evolution of the family and family forms, the institutional changes in the family since the industrial revolution, and social problems (Komarovsky and Waller, pg. 443). Anthropologists and social scientists used books and articles that dealt with particular social problems. These researchers used historical research methods, “ratiocination concerning already known facts,” and a synthesis of factual knowledge (Komarovsky and Waller).

In the decade between the years 1915 and 1926, the study of the social problems of the family continued to be the focus of this decade of study, however, the methods to acquire this knowledge had changed. The methods and materials changed to more accurate sources that were channeled through private agencies. These new methods were improved by the growing separation of science and morality, with more emphasis on the empirical rather than the logical, and quantitative methods (Komarovsky and Waller, pg. 445-446).  According to Mirra Komarovsky and Willard Waller’s journal article, this decade was the beginning of a social psychology of family life (Komarovsky and Waller, pg. 446).

The last period of the study of the family occurred between 1927 and 1944 (Komarovsky and Waller, pg. 446). In this period the research was aimed towards evaluating the stressors and strains on happiness in marriage, parent-child tensions, and family functions. This study period made great advances in the study of the birth rate.

The Demographics of The Family

According to the United States Census Bureau (2017), 69 percent, approximately 73.7 million children under the age of 18 live in families with two parents. The second most common family arrangement is the single parent, specifically single-mother household in which 23 percent of children live (US Census Bureau). In 2016, the majority of families with children present and no spouse are single mothers. This number of families is approximately 8.5 million with single fathers being the remaining 2.5 million (US Census Bureau). Based on Figure 1, you can see that according to the United States Census Bureau (2017), white households make up 79 percent of all households in the United States. Black and Hispanic households each make up 13 percent of households. Asian households make up about 5 percent. 

Figure 1

Race is a significant factor in the study of the family because it is commonly correlated with socioeconomic status (SES). According to the American Psychological Association, the socioeconomic status “encompasses not just income but also educational attainment, financial security, and subjective perceptions of social status and social class” (American Psychological Association). The APA states that the relationship between socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity is closely intertwined. As you can see in Figure 1, the percentage of African American and Hispanic households that live in poverty is much greater than the white and Asian households living in poverty.

Socioeconomic status can greatly impact physical and psychological health. Thus, indicating that socioeconomic status “is relevant to all realms of behavioral and social science, including research, practice, education and advocacy” (American Psychological Association). The socioeconomic status of a family can change depending on circumstances such as spousal death, divorce, marriage, re-marriage, and employment changes.

The Family Forms

According to the Pew Research Center, as seen in Figure 2, the percentage of children living in a Nuclear Family in the year 1968 was 85 percent. In 1997, the percentage was 68. In the year 2017, 65 percent of children lived in a Nuclear Family. The percentage of children living with unmarried parents varied as well throughout the years. Those in a single-mother household in 1968 were 12 percent of children. In 1997, 22 percent of children lived in a single-mother household. In 2017, 21 Percent of children lived in a single-mother household.

Figure 2

The percentages of children in single-father homes were 1 percent in 1968, 3 percent in 1997, and 4 percent in 2017 (Livingston). Most children who live in a single-parent household live with their mother, however there is a growing number of cohabitating parents. The percentages of children living in cohabitating parental households are recorded as 3 percent in 1997, and 7 percent in 2017 (Livingston). Still, the percentage of children living in nuclear families is higher than the percentage of children in single parent households. This analysis of statistics was based on the Pew Research Center’s study about children living with an unmarried parent. 

Nuclear Family

There have been numerous studies of the family, its impact on society, and vise-versa. Sociologists have determined several family forms and changes that have come to the more traditional family forms. Although there are more family forms that exist, this paper will only discuss a few of them. As previously stated, there are many advantages and disadvantages to the various forms of family. Further discussion will include what the nuclear family is, the changes in the nuclear family, and the advantages and disadvantages of the nuclear family.

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There have been many new family forms surface since the nuclear family was defined. New forms that have surfaced in recent years include same-sex families, stepfamilies, and single parents and their children. Since then, there has also been many changes to the nuclear family as well. The term “nuclear family” was coined in 1947. It has since been defined as an “adult couple and their minor children” (Ciabattari, pg. 227). The nuclear family is one of the many common family forms in society today.

 In the nuclear family the husband role typically opposes the wifely role. The husband is the provider or “breadwinner,” while the wife stays at home and cares for the children. However, there have been many changes to the gender roles of the nuclear family in the recent decades. Where the husband was once the provider, or “breadwinner,” there are many husbands now who are “stay-at-home fathers.”  In comparison, women who were once “stay-at-home mothers” are now the “breadwinner,” or a significant contributor to the financial security of the household.

 These new gender roles in the nuclear family have altered society’s perception on the nuclear family and its functions. Men who are stay-at-home fathers face a social stigma for not being the breadwinner. According to Ciabatarri (2017), the number of stay-at-home fathers has increased from 1.6 percent to 3.4 percent (pg. 164). The stigmas that stay-at-home fathers face have negative effects on their masculinity because bring the provider for a household is often intertwined with masculinity. Men who are stay-at-home fathers are perceived by society to be less masculine and a failure at their traditional role of the provider. The traditional roles have been reversed in some households, causing conflicts in marital relationships and child-rearing.

Single Parent Household

 In contrast to the traditional or Nuclear Family, the Single Parent Household consists of one parent, father or mother, and children. The single-parent comes face to face with many difficulties as he/she works to provide care and financial security for the family. Single parents must play the role of both breadwinner and caregiver. There are many factors to consider about single-parent households. There are many reasons why there are single-parent households. Single-parents also often have less time to spend with their children due to the importance of the provider role that they must play. Some nuclear families become single-parent households because of spousal death or divorce.

Figure 3

As shown below in Figure 3, children living with unmarried parents differs by race. Approximately 58% of black children are living with an unmarried parent (Livingston). Of those, 4 percent live with an unmarried father, 47 percent live with an unmarried mother, and 7 percent live with cohabitating parents.


Single-mothers come in many forms and face many obstacles. There are single-mothers who have chosen to be such by a sperm-donor or separation from their baby’s father. However, some single mothers did not have a choice. Where they once were part of the nuclear family, tragedy occurred and changed the family to the form of single-parent.

According to the data graph in figure 2 (on page 4), 21 Percent of children lived in a single-mother household in 2017. Pew Research Center also found that 30 percent of single mother families are living in poverty. It is difficult for a single parent to provide and care of their family. Playing both the breadwinner and care-taker roles puts an incredible amount of pressure on one person.

There are many difficulties facing single-mothers. Among solo parents, mothers are almost twice as likely as fathers to be living below the poverty line. 30 percent of single-mothers live below the poverty line where 17 percent of fathers live below the poverty line (Livingston). The Pew Research Center also found that Americans are more likely to express negative views towards the rise of single mothers (Livingston).  Perhaps that is because they do not believe that a single woman alone can provide and care for her children because women do not make as much as men, and they cannot devote enough time to their children while working.

This brings up the issue of childcare. While the mother works, her children must be cared for. Therefore, women must put their children in daycare, leave them with a nanny or babysitter, and enroll them in school when they are old enough. The issue with daycare, is that in most cases it is not free. Childcare can cost quite a bit of money, especially when there is more than one child who is in the same daycare. However, public schools are free and contain programs for free or reduced lunches and after-school care.



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