Family Crisis
The Relationship Between the Economy & Family Crises

We will be applying a somewhat artificial device to the next few discussions - taking a look at each of the four major social institutions and their relationship to the generation of family crises. This is artificial because, in concrete social life, there is no sharp line separating one institution from others, and actual social situations represent a most complex crisscrossing of numerous normative systems. (Williams, 1970, p. 99).

Thus, in talking about the nature of the Economy in U.S. society, we might have to encounter the Federal Reserve's reaction to economic inflation, which is to raise or lower the prime interest rate on lending. Such actions have effects that reverberate throughout the social structure, and often mean the difference between getting a mortgage loan or not for thousands of families.

We will also be asking questions about fairness, distribution of wealth, and equal pay for equal work - ideals upon which our society was founded, or so we all thought. Throughout the 1980s these became archaic notions to the extent that the President of the United States, and others campaigning for public office, could say things like, "it is high time that Americans who work hard and play by the rules are allowed to reap the benefits of their labor!" The idea here is that most Americans have been working hard and playing by the rules while their income/standard of living sank to lower and lower levels. How could this be the case? Maybe we need ot look more closely at the economy and the actions of those attempting to control it.

You will recall that the Economy is treated differently, depending on the theoretical position one takes.

A Structural-Functionalist might treat the economy more or less equally with the other four major institutions:

/ ---Govt--- \
Religion --- Family --- Education
\ Economy /

While a Conflict theorist (like ole Karl) would see the economy as the basis for all other social organization, including family relationships.

      Superstructure: Religion (morality), Education (values, insights),
      ----------------Government, Art, Science
      ---------------------------------------------------------------
      Infrastructure: Economy 1=owners of production 2=everyone else

In the former, Economic relations can be persuaded by the other four. There is a give and take.

In the latter, the other four (or more) are defined by the Economy.
Clearly, both stances can be construed as true enough, with the economy being the most influential, if not the most important, social institution. We are a very materialistic people.

Interestingly, psychologists rarely, if ever, take the economy into account in their theories of personality development and organization. They might explain stock brokers jumping out of windows on Wall Street during a market crash as . . . stress.

Here is how Robin Williams (1970, p.178-179) characterized the economy in American Society:

  1. It is an economy of mass production, operating under a factory system utilizing a highly developed technology.
  2. Industrial production is characterized by a minute specialization and division of labor.
  3. Industrial processes, tasks, and products are highly standardized.
  4. That portentous social invention, the corporation, is the dominant form of organization of business enterprise.
  5. Corporate ownership is widely diffused; production and control are highly concentrated.
  6. Ownership and management of corporations have become separated, with far-reaching consequences.
  7. Large scale units and administrative coordination lead to quasi-monopoly, imperfect competition, and price rigidities.
  8. Unionization (once important) is declining in many fields of employment.
  9. Because of specialization of production, a highly developed monetary and credit system, and other factors, the various segments of the economy are closely interdependent; and changes in any one major portion of the system have complex repercussions elsewhere.
  10. Central governments, both federal and state, intervene in economy activity on a wide scale through direct regulation and facilitation and through the indirect consequences of their other operations.
  11. "Property rights" are in a state of rapid change; and the facts are radically different from those envisaged in popular ideologies and in certain important legal fictions.
  12. The entire economy is subject to incessant development and innovation through factors ranging from the impact of inventions to the influence of international politics and war.
  13. Governmental expenditures constitute a highly important sector of the economy.
  14. There is widespread and increasing development of "social security" - or entitlements.

Writing in 1963, Prof. Williams was remarkably accurate in these characterizations. Though incredibly terse, he manages to set the stage for a real discussion of the logical consequences of an economy so described.

Just one example using the "Central governments" and "Corporation based" descriptions - it is little wonder that so-called conservative political elements call for a decentralized government, since such a government would have lessened control over the corporations' fiscal actions, including the treatment of workers and the eradication of that pesky 'widespread and increasing development of social security'.

The corporation's goal is to increase profits for stockholders, at whatever cost to the Americans who produce for the company. The government's goal, as I recall it from Civics class, is to "establish justice, provide for the common defense, ensure domestic tranquility..." and guarantee the "pursuit of happiness" to all Americans. Thus, the corporate goals and the constitutional requirements of the government are often in conflict - which, if the conservative forces win the conflict, results in deregulation, tax benefits to corporations, and the actual rewriting of tax law by corporate lobbyists.

Dwell for a moment on Property rights are in a state of rapid change; and the facts are radically different from those envisaged in popular ideologies and in certain important legal fictions. What could Williams mean by this? Look here:

Test your knowledge of the economy. Which of the following are true?
From Barlett and Steele's (1997) America: Who Stole the Dream? Kansas City: Andrews & McMeel.

1. The richest Americans are accumulating more wealth these days at the fastest rate since the robber baron era. True or False
2. The United States has the widest gap between rich and poor of any industrialized nation.
True or False
3. The top one percent of households - the nation's wealthiest - control almost a third of the nation's wealth. True or False

    True each time! Comparing data from the 1890s - a time in which almost 50% of the nation's wealth was controlled by the top 1% richest people (known in the popular press as Robber Barons), in 1992 the top 1% had accumulated 30% if the nation's wealth. The 1992 figure had grown from a 1980 low of 20%. This represents the widest gap between rich and poor, and the fastest growing disparity of any industrialized country.

    Further, the top 10% richest families control 67% of the nation's wealth, leaving the
    remaining 90% of Americans with only 33% of the nation's wealth.

4. To be among the richest one percent of the nation's households, your household income would be at least: (a) $60,000 (b) $154,000 (c) $182,000
5. Among the richest one percent of the nation's households, the average income is about:
(a) $109,000 (b) $143,000 (c) $465,000

    The starting place for the top 1% incomes is $182,000 per year
    Their average income went from $147,000 in 1980 to $464,000 in 1992 (a 215% increase).

    Compare this to the bottom 90% of earners:
    Their average income went from $13,000 in 1980 to $22,100 in 1992. (a 70% increase).
    The cost of living rose from 1980 to 1992 by 183% - meaning for most Americans, their actual buying power fell by over 100%

8. Over the past twenty years, average earnings of the nation's top executives (a) did not keep up with inflation (b) grew at the inflation rate (c) grew at three times the inflation rate (d) grew at four times the inflation rate (e) grew at five times the inflation rate
9. Over the past twenty years, average earnings of blue collar and white collar workers in private industry (a) did not keep up with inflation (b) grew at the inflation rate (c) grew at twice the inflation rate (d) grew at three times the inflation rate (e) grew at four times the inflation rate
10. Salaries paid to America's top corporate officers in 1992 totaled more than the combined incomes of every working person and family earning less than $50,000 a year in
(a) Pennsylvania
(b) Pennsylvania and Arkansas
(c) Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri
(d) Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Oregon
(e) Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oregon and Wisconsin

    By taking inflation into account, while the richest almost quadrupled their income,
    the bottom 90% saw took a cumulative pay cut by over 100%.
    And for the majority of Americans who work and pay taxes, their income fell dramatically.

    Generally, the income levels of the nation's top executives increased even more dramatically, by some 950% between 1975 and 1995. It is estimated that 500 top executives in the U.S. were paid around $221 billion in salaries, bonuses, and other compensations in 1992, which is more than the combined incomes of the 12 million individuals and families working in all six states in question 10.

    In 1975, the top executive of Bank of America earned $348,018 - equivalent to 53 bank employees from janitors to bank tellers. In 1992, the top executive of that same corporation earned $4,541,666 which was equivalent to 169 employees of that same company.
    This is all to illustrate that the gap between the rich and poor is growing wider and wider.

    These numbers further illustrate that the nature of the relationship between the top executives and average workers has changed dramatically. Executives now see workers as more expendable than ever before, as being made of inferior mettle, and not worth knowing or understanding.

11. Since 1955, changes in income tax brackets have pushed lower- and middle-income families closer to the top tax rate. True or False
12. Since 1955, changes in income tax brackets have pushed those at the top income levels closer to the middle tax rate. True or False
13. In the last 40 years, overall, the local and state tax burden has (a) declined (b) stayed the same (c) risen slightly (d) doubled (e) tripled

    Despite what the Republicans or Democrats tell you to get your vote,
    you have few elected officials who are pulling for you.
    In 1955, the difference between the highest and lowest tax brackets was 71 percentage pts.
    In 1995, the difference was just 24%.

    Also - the top tax bracket in 1955 was 91% and applied to everyone who made over $400,000 per year. By 1995, the top rate was down to 39.6% applicable to income over $256,500.

    Further, if you've ever done your own taxes you know that:
    for 1995 you had a personal exemption of $2500 or $10,000 for a family of four.
    In 1955, that exemption was $650, or $2500 for a family of four. Nice increase? Not really!

    In 1955 the Median family income was $4,418 - meaning about 54% of the filers didn't have to pay taxes.

    In 1995, the Median family income was $34,500 (including all income levels up to ($75,000) which shielded only 25% of the tax filing families from a tax burden.

    Read Barlett and Steele's (1997) book to get a better idea on some of these matters. Especially the details regarding the changing state and local tax situations.

17. American manufacturing workers earn a lower average hourly compensation than those of workers across most of the industrialized world. True or False
18. Americans are nearly $2 in debt for every $1 they receive in their paychecks.
True or False
19. America holds the record among developed nations for the most consecutive years of merchandise trade deficits. True or False
20. As the number of U.S. manufacturing jobs declined, Washington rewrote immigration laws to let a record flow of immigrants enter the US job market. True or False
21. Some companies have lobbied for and gained special exemptions - worth millions of dollars - written into U.S. tax laws, exclusively for them. True or False

    All true - so what does it mean in terms of family crises?

More that simply a tonic, such as "the rich get richer ...", these newspaper reporters are spelling out what they think went wrong with our economy from the point of view of the everyday citizen. That top 1% or top 10% of the population that has benefited so greatly by the wave of conservatism that swept the country from 1980 to the present isn't at fault. For them the American Dream has become a very consistent, very profitable reality. They have a difficult time understanding what the rest of us - the other 90% - has to complain about.

Their problem is a matter of what Marxian theorists call material determinism, which simply means that a person's values derive from their position along the socioeconomic strata. Their political views stem from their real wealth, which they want to not only keep, but extend as far as they can.

Thus, they make deals that are in their own best interests, even if those deals are in the worst interests of hundreds of thousands of their countrymen. A corporate chief executive will operate so as to increase profits for the corporation even if it means the transfer of thousands of jobs offshore because he or she (most likely he) will receive massive financial reward for those actions. That such actions could be interpreted as unAmerican, or even treason, is of little consequence.

The news anchor will interpret the dry facts of such events in a way that misdirects our attention from the harm that is being done to us because his paycheck, her advancement, comes from a corporation with sponsors who often are involved in those very misappropriations. Far from being completely wrong about capitalism, Marx could hardly have been more correct on some issues. 

Here are three internet sources that illuminate conditions that exist today for many Americans.

Summary of "A Shocking Rise in Working-Poor Families"
by William P. O'Hare - American Demographics June 1996

While most Americans believe that the poor are people who are unemployed, O'Hare finds that there were 5.6 million children living below the poverty line ($15,141) with at least one parent who worked for pay at least 50 weeks in 1994. This number falls within the overall number of children living in poverty in the U.S. (increasing from approximately 15% in 1974 to 24% in 1996).

According to O'Hare, 47% of the increase was accounted for by children in working-poor families. Further, 75% of the increase was among children whose parents had some kind of job.

While the stereotype of the poor may conjure up images of big city minority single parent families, living on public assistance, the reality is that most are white, about half are married couples, and almost half live in the South. They are almost equally distributed among cities, suburbs, and rural areas.

The No. 1 factor in the growth of the working poor is declining job opportunities for non-college graduates.

  • 38% of working-poor parents have not graduated from high school,
  • 35% of working-poor have only a high school degree.
    • Between 1973 and 1993, entry-level wages fell
      • 30 percent for men with a high school degree,
      • 18 percent for women with a h.s. degree.

More information on child welfare and working-poor families is available in the 1996 Kids Count Data Book. For a free copy, call the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore, Maryland; telephone (410) 223-2949.

Summary of "What can Minimum Wage Buy?"
by Paula Mergenhagen - January 1996 American Demographics

Most households in America spend more than they earn.

This is distinctive of the nation's poorest. with low-income Americans falling into three groups:

  • the working poor, who spend on used cars and clothing
  • retired households, who spend on health care and personal care
  • and college students, who buy entertainment and education.

All three groups spend as much as half or more of their money on food and rent.

    • The average U.S. household devotes 31 percent of its spending to housing.
      • 14 percent goes to food at and away from home.
    • Households with 1993 incomes below $5,000 devotes 34 percent.
      Households with incomes of $5,000 to $14,999 spend 36 percent.
      • 17 percent goes to food at and away from home.

Some facts:

  • Most new jobs in the U.S. economy are in the low-pay, less-than-full-time services sector.
    Little is left from such jobs for disposable, or discretionary, income.
  • At the current rate of $4.25 an hour, a minimum-wage worker who works year-round and full-time earns about $9,000 a year.
  • The average before-tax income for all U.S. households in 1993 was $34,900, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) 1993 Consumer Expenditure Survey.
  • The poverty threshold for a four-person family in 1993 was about $15,000. In 1993, 30 percent of reporting U.S. households told the BLS that their before-tax income fell below this level.
  • A single adult with this income is not considered poverty stricken, according to guidelines established by the Office of Management and Budget. Neither is a two-person household headed by someone aged 65 or older.
  • But for any other type of household, one full-time minimum-wage job or an equivalent income level does not break out of poverty.
  • 4.8 million households with incomes below $5,000 in 1993 spent an average of $13,300 apiece
  • 10.8 million with incomes of $5,000 to $9,999 spent $13,900
  • average spending was $17,900 for the 10 million households with incomes of $10,000 to $14,999.

According to Mergenhagen,
One reason why spending by the poor outstrips their income is that many householders in this income bracket are retired and drawing on their savings to meet living expenses, says BLS economist Bill Passero. Low-income households also include college students whose parents cover some of their expenses, as well as self-employed adults who report low net income. Those who receive public assistance in the form of food stamps and subsidized housing also skew the spending figures at the bottom end of the income spectrum. In addition, BLS economists believe that all households under-report their income, which could further contribute to the income-expenditure gap in poor households.

Minimum-wage-level households spend less than better off households on virtually everything. But they spend a higher-than-average share of total spending on many things because necessity rather than impulse dictates their purchase behavior.

The working poor make do with rented homes, used cars, and secondhand clothing.
The older poor have greater expenses and the working poor are under-insured - leaving them with no choice but wait until health conditions warrant a costly trip to the medical facility.

"Health care gobbles up 6 percent of the average household's out-of-pocket dollars, but those with incomes of $5,000 to $14,999 spend 8 percent. Many low-income households contain older people with high health-care expenses, and these households are less likely to have employer-provided health insurance." And recent changes in the law allow low-income wages to be attached in the event of unpaid medical bills (emphasis mine).

Regarding financial security:

  • 10% for the average household to personal pensions and non-health insurance
  • Poor households spend less than 3 percent.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes the annual Consumer Expenditure Survey, which covers all categories of spending for U.S. households by age, race, income, education, occupation, household type and size, region, and housing tenure. For more information about data availability, call (202) 606-6900. American Spending is a special report from American Demographics that tracks spending trends between 1986 and 1991 by household income and age of householder; to order, call (800) 828-1133. For a discussion of defining and measuring poverty, see the March 1996 issue of American Demographics.

Poor Children in U.S. Increase to Six Million

Columbia University Record -- February 3, 1995 -- Vol. 20, No. 15

The number of U.S. children under six living in poverty experienced a staggering increase between 1987 and 1992-- from 5 to 6 million-- reflecting an all-time-high poverty rate of 26 percent for this vulnerable age group, according to a new report by the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia's School of Public Health.

A majority of poor children under six (58 percent) had parents who worked full-time or part-time in 1992.

The report, Young Children in Poverty: A Statistical Update, illuminates a national crisis and focuses on several interrelated factors that affect the lives of children under six living in poverty.

The new analyses reveal demographic patterns that are not consistent with public myths about poor children and their families--and need to be understood during a time of national debate about welfare reform.

For example, as many as 38 percent of poor children under six in 1992 had parents who supported their families with earnings only--and no cash public assistance.

Less than one third of poor children under six lived with parents who relied exclusively on cash public assistance for their incomes. (In 1992, the poverty line was $9,137 for a family of two, $11,186 for a family of three, and $14,335 for a family of four.)

J. Lawrence Aber, a leading expert in child development and social policy who is director of the Center, cautioned that the large number of poor young children reflects a two decade trend that is having devastating consequences on young children today whether they are toddlers or teenagers.

The number of poor children under six grew from 3.4 million in 1972 to 6 million in 1992. The significance of these figures for society's social landscape cannot be overstated because the costs of these poverty rates will be paid for over the next two decades.

Poverty gives rise to many types of deprivation, and many of the youngest, poorest children suffer severe consequences concerning their physical and mental health and their psychological development.

Poor young children are not very visible to the rest of us, Aber said. They live in isolated neighborhoods and are rarely noticed until they reach first grade and fail, become adolescents and get in trouble, or reach adulthood and can't find jobs.

The country's lack of attention to them has created a serious situation of growing proportions. These numbers and rates are not just statistics. They represent innocent babies and little children, Aber noted.

The report's 16 graphs and tables were based largely on analyses of the Census Bureau's 1993 March Supplement to the Current Population Survey. Demographers Jiali Li, and Neil G. Bennett analyzed the data and prepared the report.

Just over one sixth, or 18 percent, of all poor children under six in 1992 lived with unmarried mothers who worked full-time or with married parents at least one of whom held a full-time job. (The federal minimum wage was $4.25 per hour in 1992. If a person were employed full-time year-round and worked 1,750 hours, the income generated would be only $7,438, just 66 percent of the poverty line for a family of three and 52 percent of the poverty line for a family of four. Even the maximum Earned Income Tax Credit would not lift these families out of poverty: 1992 income in a two child family, for example, with one parent earning the minimum wage, would reach only $9,648, 14 percent below the poverty line for a family of three and 33 percent below the line for a family of four.)

It doesn't take a feasibility study to conclude that increasing the number of children reared in poverty will necessarily increase the number of people living out on the fringes of American society -

people who will:

  • find alternative means to making a living
  • eventually be at odds with the 'status quo'
  • find the 'status quo' unbearable to the point of deviance
  • have less and less in common with the mainstream culture

We call these people lazy, mean, deviant, criminal, slacker, or one of many other names.
--

Theories of Family Change by D. D. Witt

Origins: Various theories have been used to explain changes in the nature of the Family, as an institution. Each school of thought has its own assumptions and focus, from Marxist approaches to a functional view of "natural" change as a response to changing social and economic demands.
Family Change theorists are a blending of social historians, political scientists, and sociologists, with a few psychologist types included. What follows is an overview of all these approaches to family change from a larger, cultural, more global perspective. A good review of family change theory is Hutter (1983) The Changing Family.

Family as a Functional Unit of a Changing Society
Parsons (of Structural-Functional Theory fame) and Bales (1949) enumerated seven functions that the institution of the family was supposed to provide. Individuals, their families, and society were asserted to benefit from this arrangement. At the time of their enumeration, these seven functions were said to be timeless and resistant to change.

They are:

  • 1. Regulation of Sexual Behavior (Sex Regulation Function)
  • 2. Replacement of members (Reproduction Function)
  • 3. Parenting of children (Socialization Function)
  • 4. Care and Protection of members (Protective Function)
  • 5. Social Placement of Individuals (Prestige Function)
  • 6. Companionship (Social/Recreation Function)
  • 7. Intimacy (Emotional Function)

As you think about these seven functions, try to imagine how they may have been delegated to agencies and other institutions in the past decades. Since 1950, most of the seven have been delegated away from the family primary group to secondary, more formal estates. The function of regulating sexual relationships is more a matter of personal choice, regardless of marital status. The reproduction function is no longer completely a family matter, given the number of single, never married parents. Socialization and Protective functions have become matters of state, legal, and social agencies funded by taxpayers. In fact, in many instances, the family is a group from which children must be protected (i.e., emotional, physical, and sexual abuse).

To help explain why these functions atrophied in the latter 20th century, we have:

The Family as Refuge
Christopher Lasch, in his book The Culture of Narcissism, describes the family of early modern capitalism, when the world was a hostile place for the average American. He calls it A Haven in a Heartless World. The family was designed to receive the bone tired factory worker or miner into its nurturant bosom, to heal him for the next day's travail. This image benefited capitalism in three ways:

  1. It maintained that one place (the family), and only one place, promises solace in the face of a grueling existence in the workplace--a haven in a heartless world.
  2. It kept women saddled with family responsibilities, and at the ready to serve in the reserve labor force when needed. This, coupled with heavy immigration which severed extended family ties, served to place men and women at an economic disadvantage.
  3. It aided in controlling the masses of workers needed for industrialization. Strong values concerning the family and the threat of a constantly maintained surplus labor pool kept males actively revolting against an unfair economy.

As Capitalism grew and developed during the early 20th century, a highly flexible nuclear family evolved which was unencumbered by extended kin ties. The idea was to fragment the social supports provided by extended family, leaving only loyalty to the company in exchange for a subsistence livelihood. Thus, changes in the needs of the economy produces changes in the form and function of the family. Lasch's premise is that the family serves the economy. This idea is the basis for all theories of family change.

Family as Encounter Group
John Demos sees three basic images of the family throughout history. He includes Lasch's idea of refuge, but carries the model further. Where Lasch is interested in emphasizing the economy, Demos is interested in changes in the workplace. Demos wants us to think about the kind of work family members perform.

    1. To 1820 Family as a Community - The household is a place where work took place. The family was an all encompassing mini-society, in America. The family lacked privacy, especially during the Puritan era, characterized as an emotional wasteland. Because of the harshness of the environment, the presence of deviance or individualism threatened the welfare of the community. Therefore the entire community looked into the behavior of family members. What appeared to be rigid adherence to community standards was really a prevention measure against failure and death. Read Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.

    2. To 1950 Family as a Refuge - As industrialization moved more families to urban centers, labor was transformed from farm to factory work. It was both dangerous and laborious--and defined adult males as its primary work force. Home was literally a refuge, as Lasch described it. This arrangement disallowed married women from work outside the home, thus creating a natural division of labor based on gender. Observers such as Parsons and Bales saw only the expressive female and instrumental male tradition, failing to understand the forces behind the arrangement. Read Hamper's Rivethead.

    3. 1950 to present Family as Encounter Group - Dangerous work is replaced by monotonous work as the economy began to move away from a physical labor intensive model and toward the paper shuffling, sales and services approach. Because the new work model replaced physical skill with social and political acumen, personality factors (i.e., amiability, working as a team player, having a company image, having a corporate mind), expressing true feelings does not serve a worker's financial interests. Emotions are allowed expression in the family only. Excitement for life not found in work could be vented, created, explored within the family. Family life provides warm fuzzies for the businessman. Watch a production of Miller's Death of a Salesman.

The Family from the Heart
Feminists begin studying the changing family by concentrating on emotions, disregarding a capitalistic economy. Arlene Skolnick reinterprets Demos' distinctions:

    1. As a result of the family as community, observers could expect weakened family ties of obligation, less inter family interaction, negative images of deviates, conflict, and tragedy.

    2. The family as a refuge is a sentimental family image. Increased inter-family member interaction, increased privacy, clear institutional boundaries, and a strong division of labor based on gender are all present. It is the family of the 1950s that serves as our image of the traditional American family. Skolnick sees more family solidarity, loyalty, and more frustrations with one's life as feelings and emotions become restricted in the next stage.

    3. As the family becomes an encounter group, family members are beset with feelings of anomie (i.e., feelings that satisfaction never comes). With the loss of most of the original seven functions of the family, the only remaining function is to meet family member emotional needs. This function is squarely placed in the role of wife and mother. Feminists, as we will see, argue the basic unfairness of saddling one female member with the responsibility of insuring everyone else's happiness and satisfaction. The divorce rate necessarily increased during this period, as individuals continually seek an ephemeral love relationship. By opting for a strictly perceptional definition of the family, or by using an historical element in the definition, the family can be allowed to vary. This could prove to be an important variable in research..

Big Bang Theories of the Chicago School
For fifty years, the University of Chicago was an important center for discussion of American society and social problems. By and large, the faculty was comprised of bright farm boys who showed enough academic promise to come to the big city to study. They were part of the phenomenon they studied--massive urbanization. The theories of Ogburn, Burgess, Wirth, and others remain important to the discussion of family change.

Ogburn's Cultural Lag Theory - Essentially, Ogburn argued that family change arises out of the family's inability to adapt to changes in the material culture (i.e., technological change, changes in social structure, and the concomitant changes in personal relations). Lag refers to the time between the introduction of an innovation and its complete integration into the larger society. Because of this lag, there results a continuously high level of social maladjustment. The superstructure of society, what Ogburn calls adaptive culture, but what we would call family, education, religion, government, economy) must try to adapt to changes in the material culture. Its inability to keep up allows for high levels of social stress. He pointed out the rapid, one-generation changes in family life patterns that have become standard for families since 1900. In very real relationship terms, think of life without a television set, a telephone, or electricity. The impact of these artifacts on family life is empirically measurable. This point is illustrated in a wonderful movie, Avalon, which is the story of a typical immigrant family that settled in Baltimore. The evening meal took a long time to complete because everyone had the opportunity to join in stories and conversation. Then a television set was introduced into the family's life.

Now, as the family starts to eat, and conversations begin, someone shouts, "It's starting!" and each person stops talking, gathers up their plate, drink, napkins, and eating utensils to come sit in front of the t.v. and watch Milton Berle.

Some of the results of increases in high technological social change for the family: - a decrease in the number of family functions as technology replaces them (t.v. as babysitter, parent). - family control over member's behavior declines (freedom enjoyed by teenagers with cars). - economic forces dominate family decisions (the cost of VCRs, call waiting, a 3rd car).

Burgess looked at internal relationships and emotions in a symbolic-interaction perspective.
He offered one of the first definitions of the family as a "unity of interacting personalities with
mutual affection towards each other". He maintains that the remaining function of family life by 1920 was affective growth (warm fuzzies). The family now exists so that its members may achieve personal growth.

Louie Wirth's Social Disorganization Theory (see Urbanism as a Way of Life, 1938). Wirth maintained that rapid movement from the farm into urban centers resulted in anomie, anonymity, and loneliness, and a host of difficulties that he called urban pathologies. It's the idea of the sick society that was popular in the 1960s (i.e., sex, drugs, rock and roll, urban decay).

Modernity Theories - Emerging from structural functional theory, the family is seen as a social system (an organic analogy) consisting of complementary functions, rather than specific functions attributable to specific persons. One role or organization of functions differentiates into two or more roles or organizations, which work more effectively in new historical circumstances. New social units are structurally distinct from each other, but together provide that same function. As a society becomes modern, there emerges specialists, like the difference between the country doctor and an ear, nose and throat man. The modern family requires parental guidance rather than a mom or dad. Mothers usually took care of child care, therefore the issue never arose until mothers went to work in great numbers. Suddenly, child care is an important issue that must have attention--and quality child care at that.


Theories of Family Violence - One form of family crisis
by D. D. Witt

ORIGINS: The first official realization of the concept of family violence in the social sciences came in 1962 with Kempe's published research entitled The Battered Child Syndrome. By 1970, some sociologists began to extrapolate from studies of deviance theory. The first national survey on family violence was conducted by a University of New Hampshire research group in 1978, headed by Murray Straus. This was a telephone survey, from which most of the information was used to theorize about family violence for the next four years.

FOCUS: From three perspectives: Social Science attacked the concept of family violence using existing theories (the Big Five). Family Therapy began developing treatment strategies. Feminist oriented academicians and practitioners set up models of independent living for women choosing to be free of violence in their relationships.

Theories attempting to explain violence in the family are many, despite a paucity of confirming empirical research (15 separate models from psychology, sociology, and social psychology reported in Gelles, 1979). However, in the interest of our class and the Big Five we have already studied, we can look at three theoretical levels of social organization that work together to explain family violence. Social factors that push and pull us toward aggression and violence

Marxian Conflict Theory and the Culture of Violence Perspective
Socialization practices which perpetuate the enactment of violent roles - Symbolic Interaction Theory. Elements of General Systems Theory with a Feminist orientation, that allow for role confusion, lack of clarity, and so on. Here are some facts to think about:

    -The Family is the most violent social grouping in our culture, with individuals in the U.S. more likely to come to physical harm at the hands of an angry family member than through any other relationship. (This includes the army, auto accidents, and violence occurring on city streets).

    -Men are almost as likely to murder their wives (52%) as are women likely to murder their husbands (48%).

    -Women are more likely to physically abuse children (especially young, single parent mothers), while men are more likely to sexually abuse children.

    -Women and men equally agree on the idea of corporal punishment as a justifiable response to disobedient children.

    -Levels of family violence drop only slightly with increases in social class. While lower class family violence is more likely to be reported to police, middle and upper class families are almost as likely as lower class families to erupt into violent episodes.

    -From the sheer amount of violence in popular culture (movies, television, reading material, flagrant headlines) to the definition of family members as the property of the head of the household and the household itself seen as private property by the legal institutions of the country (police and the courts) - it is clear that ours is a culture that often leaves little choice for its members other than resorting to violence.

Perpetuation of Violence in the Culture - Violent Behavior as a Learned Response.
Social Learning Theory suggests: That continuous reciprocal interaction between the individual and the environment (including vicarious interactions between the person and media) provides the basis by which the consequences of behavior are learned.

Research indicates that children who have witnessed conjugal violence are likely to engage in family violence later on in their lives. This "cycle of violence" approach does not allow for the large numbers of violence prone folk who have not witnessed such early lessons in aggressive behavior. However, taking two fundamental concepts from Symbolic Interaction theory - we can address the perpetuation of violence in the family and elsewhere in our society.

Cooley's Looking Glass Self - whereby individuals come to evaluate themselves and alter their behavior in terms of the reactions of others. If we are met with violent evaluations of ourselves, we will come to expect to give and receive violence ourselves. Mead's development of the Generalized Other - whereby imitating at first and later perceiving others' evaluations through the eyes of the other, expected behavior is learned by steadily increasing the number of other roles through play until a generalized set of expectations is internalized. Countless thousands of repetitions of the I-me dialectic insure the internalization of dominant cultural attitudes. The expectation of, and even enjoyment of, violent behaviors and violent symbols is the result of the dominant values - the real values of our culture - being violent in nature. You are what you take in. This is the stuff from which Normative Violence is made. Therefore one of the consequences of sex role socialization is the social manufacture of stereotypical sets of expectations concerning the behavior of boys and girls / men and women.

The social production of female types who are dependent on male types for material and emotional welfare is perfectly consistent with status quo social relations - the male working almost exclusively toward the performance of his provider role. It is only when the economy, which greatly benefits from this arrangement, fails to give males ample opportunity to perform this role, that increases in the normal levels of family violence occur. In such "hard times" it is likely that frustrated persons will vent their anger at those who most immediately remind them of their failures - women and children for underemployed males, and children for single parent mothers. The real source of stress and frustration--government, economy, education--remains free of violation. The ill effects of internalizing the norms of a violent culture extend beyond the production of physically violent citizens:

"In violence a person is violated - there is harm done to his person, his psyche, his body, his dignity, his ability to govern himself ... Seen this way a person can be violated ... by a system that denies him a decent job, or consigns him to a slum, or causes him brain damage by near starvation during childhood, or manipulates him through the mass media, and so on endlessly." (Liazos, 1972, p. 112).

By inadvertently offering "violent examples" as models used to prepare children for adult relationships, we are in fact violating future generations.

"It is the family, of course, which is the major transmission belt for the diffusion of cultural standards to the oncoming generation. But what has until lately been overlooked is that the family largely transmits that portion of the culture accessible to the social stratum and groups in which the parents find themselves. It is, therefore, a mechanism for disciplining the child in terms of the cultural goals and mores. The child is exposed to social prototypes in the witnessed daily behavior and causal conversations of parents." (Merton, 1968, p. 212).

Feminist Conflict Theory and Family Violence
Thus far, we have discussed the normative tendencies for violent action and socialization practices which transmit the culture to the next generation - a symbolic interaction approach. Marxist Conflict Theory places these elements of social organization into the Superstructure of society. That is, all elements of social life not pertaining to the Economy and the production of goods and services. These are all religious, moral, legal, and familial values which are created, implemented, and modified in accordance with the vested interests of those in control of the economy. These are social norms, the violation of which is punishable. Therefore, we assume that family violence, like other forms of violence, is functional to the economy - since the economy would not otherwise allow its presence.

Think about the recent requests of politically conservative candidates for a return to "traditional family values". These folk would like for us to believe that it is the changes in male/female relationships over the past 20 years that have "caused" the current crisis in male/female relationships, and family problems. The first cause of the man/woman crisis has more to do with women working outside the home than anything else. I might add that women did not choose to work. They were forced out into the labor market by a changing economy. Even though Feminist scholars have revealed the "traditional American family" as a cultural myth - the traditional family form serves as an Ideal without substance for four reasons:

    1. For most working women with families, domestic chores remain a large part of their work load in addition to job or career.

    2. Women tend to work outside the home because their families need the money - not for the sheer exhilaration of making a contribution.

    3. Focusing on a stable family life that requires mothers to stay home as the first cause of national health has an undermining effect on the actual welfare of families with working mothers (i.e., child care costs). Lack of adequate child care keeps battered women dependent on their husbands.

    4. In order to foster a deep commitment to traditional families, women necessarily must remain full-time mothers. Parents, particularly mothers, are locked into social roles having obligations that were largely unforeseen at the time of marriage - obligations that often cannot be met.

Viewing the inability to remain economically solvent while providing for the emotional and material needs of children and other family members as stressful - one can begin to interpret the results of past research in terms of a dialectic. Stressful conditions of unemployment and financial distress have been related to family violence. The message from the polity is that if we work hard and maintain our strong, healthy families, we will achieve the American Dream. This is true except for the fact that the system in which we exist does not allow for both financial solvency and stable families simultaneously. One tends to occur at the expense of the other.

Without accompanying opportunity to improve the substance of family life, the symbolism of healthy families is pointless and empty. By living under conditions whereby the feeble security of the family could be totally destroyed by any one of several sources of economic distress, family members become alienated from each other in a culture already primed for violent reactions. Instead of facilitating caring and concern, it appears that we encourage intrafamilial conflict.

Putting all of this into perspective, there exists a culture predisposed to the advocacy of the use of "pragmatic" violence, which serves as an interpretive "umbrella" for members of society. The norms of this culture are transmitted through socialization practices largely within the family. This tendency to use violence "as necessary" is embodied in an ideology kept salient by the relationship between economic classes. The economy finds the "threat of violence" beneficial to the social system's goals. Women in this system have been uniformly subordinate to their husbands, creating a class of potential victims. Producing change in the levels of family violence involves radical change in several aspects of the culture. The goal is to reduce the amount of social stress produced by economic flux and to devalue violence as an appropriate response to stress in other aspects of social life.