7400.602 Family in Lifespan Perspective
Topic 1: Introduction - Myths and Dreams About the American Family

Some people spend their lives in only two families – the one into which they are born (their family of origin) and the one formed by marriage. Others have experience with a much larger number of families.  Intimacy is one of our fundamental needs and the source of much of our well being. Intimacy involves love, affection, caring, and deep attachment to another person. The major theme of the textbook and the course is understanding and enhancing the quality of our intimate relationships.  There are some academic reasons for studying mate selection, love, marriage and family life, but they almost always have, at their core, the fundamental welfare of family life. In this course, we will concentrate on the following reasons for the course:
  • To improve communication, conflict-resolution, and interpersonal skills between family members. We need to be able to understand each other better.
  • To Understand change in marriage and the family and its significance for each person. The economy changes and so do family relationships.
  • To develop a realistic view of ourselves, our partners, and our relationships. We need to learn to become less idealistic and still enjoy and love each other.
  • To clarify our values as a basis for making sounder choices in life. Why is the nation involving itself in affairs in the Middle East? What business is it of ours? Mine?
  • To prepare for and achieve satisfying and fulfilling marriage and family relationships. How do women want to be treated? What are men really like?
These are dynamic, sensitive topics. For example, we will discuss sexuality, intimacy and parenting issues, not because they are titillating, but because they are important! We will speak of sexually transmitted diseases, so that you might able to save your own life someday, or the lives of people you touch with your daily activities. We will discuss appropriate parenting, not in an effort to control individual parent behavior, but because harm can be done to future generations by ignorance. It is safe to say that among the goals everyone sets for themselves, being happy is right up there at the top. Nothing makes people sadder than failed relationships with their children, spouse, or relatives. This course is all about how to succeed in close relationships with others. We are going to investigate what we know about:
    • love (searching for it, falling in it, getting out of it, finding it again)
    • sex (how it works in a relationship, what makes it good, how it feels emotionally, how to keep from dying from it)
    • long term relationships (how to start, nurture, maintain, and sometimes end them)
    • lasting friendships and love relationships over the lifespan (how they can enhance family life, help us through difficult times, bring joy to our lives).
    • children (preparing a place for them, becoming pregnant, rearing them through to adulthood in healthy, efficient ways).
    • retirement and later life (bringing our experience to bear on the host of relationships we have created).
 Anytime you have questions, bring them up in class or e-mail me at david27@uakron.edu.  Always be sure to identify yourself by your name, and the course title when you do email. I also have office hours just before and after our class every time we meet.  All of you are free to stop by anytime during these hours.  By virtue of your enrollment in my class, you are my students this semester and every semester while you are in college.  I value your time and hope you value mine. This means I'll try to bring more to class than a survey of the theory and research on the topic.  It is your option to capitalize on my offer, however.  On to the topic at hand - the American family.

Social Context: A changing and troubled world.
The 20th Century can be characterized as a period with unprecedented progress and change, as well as unprecedented problems. Just as the hurricanes are stronger and the crises we face are more dreadful,  our personal lives are more complex and trouble-filled.  With all the progressive steps our societies have made - achievements in medicine, space exploration, artificial intelligence, computer science and technology - come the specter of severe dilemmas - starvation in parts of the world, population control problems, war and violence, massive ignorance, sometimes uninspired leadership.  Through all this, young people want to fall in love and have children, parents want to see their children grow up to meet their potential, and grandparents hold out hope for their children and grandchildren to live happy, productive lives. Things are changing, and the way we relate to each other is changing along with everything else.

People are suspicious of change (often for good reason), and every so often, groups of individuals have attempted to reformulate the family in Utopian terms, such as the Oneidas. They represented an attempt to re-establish standard values at a time of change and scandal in society of their time.  There were many such groups in our history - one might even include the Pilgrims who came to the new world from Europe.  While there is no ideal form of family life that will satisfy everyone, people sometimes experiment to try to forge a different approach to family. These would be attempts to portray an ideal community.  Utopian writers have had varying notions of the ideal family. One character in Huxley’s Brave New World depicts the family as the source of virtually all human ills.  In Bellamy’s utopia, the nuclear family continued, but women had a far different position than they had during the Victorian age in which he wrote.    Those who have actually established Utopian communities have also given a variety of answers as to the best form of marriage and family life. The Shakers  were enormously popular for a period of time in the late 1700s, despite their adherence to strict celibacy, and separation of men and women . Obviously, no single arrangement fulfills the needs of every individual; each arrangement works for some people and frustrates others.  One concept that runs through all these experimental groups is the idea that the family is central to all other aspects of our society. It is the social institution in any society on which the entity of the social experience depends.

Marriage and Family in Transition  - Aside from these Utopian ideals, which tend to be abrupt departures from the norm, there are other, more gradual changes in family forms and family life.  Social scientists are engaged in an intense debate about what Americans need in the way of marriage and family life. The debate is often framed in terms of the liberal versus the conservative view of marriage and family, but this a false dichotomy. 

While none of these utopian family forms has stood the test of time, over the century there have been changes in traditional family arrangements.  If we define a traditional family as one that stays intact except for death and is composed of an employed father, a stay-at-home mother, and children, then it is clear that this is now the choice of a minority of Americans.  In defense of marriage and the family, despite the high (though not increasing) rate of marital breakup, married people continue to be happier and healthier than the unmarried.  People continue to put a high value on marriage and family life. A 2001 Harris poll of adults reported that 96 percent felt good about relations with their family and 61 percent felt good about their marriage.  

Familism,  as opposed to individualism, places a value on family living instead of personal interest. Our society ostensibly reveres family as a sacred entity. On the other hand, we are a nation that is founded on the rights of individuals. Expressive individualism has been particularly strong in the past few decades. In sum, Americans value marriage and family life, but are struggling between familial and individualistic values. For the majority who opt for marriage and family, and to the extent that our expressive individualistic values prevail, people will enter and remain in a marriage only as long as it is perceived to be personally beneficial to them. Regardless, marriage is still an experience that enhances many people’s general sense of well being.  The most important factor is liking one’s spouse. Next to liking and being friends with one’s spouse, people spoke about the importance of commitment.

Changing Sex roles and the Man-Woman Crisis. Early on, even before our society got started, children were socialized into very strict gender roles where  boys paid attention to masculine activities, girls were pointed towards feminine activities. Traditional masculine behavior consisted of a constellation of instrumental (goal oriented) characteristics (competition, aggression, self-reliance, assertiveness). Traditional feminine behavior consisted of a collection of Expressive characteristics (nurturance, compassion, affection, and sensitivity to the needs of others. Anthropologists would insist that this strict adherence to gender specific traits was a way to preserve societies.

That used to be more true that it might be today.  Modern advances of the information age, coupled with a distinct change in our economy, have torn down the social reasons for maintaining such a division of the genders, leaving only the sociocultural desire to be that way. The result is that people are a bit confused about the way to go about initiating and maintaining relationships.  In the past, males would do the courting, females would receive the courting. During courtship, boys would show off feats of masculinity that would 

Changing Marital Expectations and the  Social Functions of the Family
This is important! In our class discussions, we will refer to these functions throughout the semester.
Around the turn of the century (1900 or so), the family had at least seven functions which it provided for family members. One by one, over the next 100 years, these functions have been more or less delegated to "official" agencies of society.

  1. Sexual Regulation Function: Sexual gratification had been traditionally sanctioned for married couples only. However, the expectation of staying in school coupled with the technological advances in birth control rendered this function less salient to many young people.
  2. Reproductive Function: Traditionally, having babies was one of the main reasons for marriage, especially for women. However, high divorce rates coupled with the high number (about 1 million per year) of out-of-wedlock births renders this function less salient to many.
  3. Economic Function: Family responsibilities necessitated high productivity early on in the century. Children often contributed to the family income, especially in rural America. As the population moved out of the country and into the cities, children became economic liabilities. Today, fathers can no longer adequately provide for their families.
  4. Protective Function: The belief that the family provided a safe environment for its members has given way to the demonstrated fact that often family members must be protected from their families by social service agencies and the police.
  5. Socializing/Humanizing Function: Children were socialized to be good citizens by the family itself. Parents stood as moral role models for children. This function has been delegated to religion and the schools.
  6. Education Function: Children were schooled in the trades that would benefit them in the marketplace - by their parents. Boys learned their father's skills, girls learned from their mothers. This function has been delegated to schools and universities.
  7. Social/Emotional (love and intimacy) Function: Family members were companions for each other . Father's were the first to partially abandon this value, leaving home in search of work. Once finding work, fathers would spend long hours on the job, returning home only to recuperate for the next day's travails. Still, of all the functions of the family, this is the only one that has survived to any great extent.
The point here is that all seven functions are as important to individual development today as they ever were. And many children grow up in families without a few or all of the functions present.  It is possible, and advisable, to retain all seven functions in one family.  The greater the number of reasons one has to be married and stay married,  the greater the probability one will get married and stay that way. One school of thought suggests that as the family lost or delegated its functions away to other social institutions, the remaining functions became much more important. Because it is the main, and often the only, remaining function in the minds of young people on the verge of marriage, love increases in importance as the other functions are lost to official agencies and the like. Consequently, marriages can more easily fail when love wanes a little and there is nothing to bind the family together. This is known as dependence on romantic love.

Dual-Career Marriages. The gender roles of the past were probably based on Father working outside/Mother working inside the home. Today - many women have options for education and career that have never before been afforded them. On the other hand, many (most) mothers have to work to support their families (as do fathers). The result is a family where all the adults work, leaving little time to meet the constant needs of children.

Increasing Incidence of Divorce. Due primarily to the increased economic progress of women as a group. The law also has changed making divorce more affordable in the short term.

Speaking only about recent marriages (1980-1991)

  • -about 96% of unmarried Americans will marry at some time
  • -about 45-50% of new marriages will end in divorce.
  • -about 84% of those divorcing will remarry within 2-5 years.
  • -about 64% of those who remarry will divorce again.
  • -about 56% of those who divorce twice will remarry
  • -about 44% of those who remarry again will divorce for a 3rd time.
Changing Family Forms and Functions

    Family Planning:

    • Fewer children, if any.
    • Newly married couples plan on fewer children than their parents.
    • 1.9 children is average for people 35-45 years of age. Lower for younger groups.
    • People are having fewer kids and delaying the birth of their first child for much longer.
 Reduced role of parents in childbearing.   As more parents work outside the home, child rearing is increasingly performed by child care workers (day care, baby sitters, nannies) and by the children themselves. Latchkey kids run the risk of developing in isolation and loneliness. Today's parents are "prepared to make fewer sacrifices for their children than did parents in the past."  This attitude is manifesting itself in many ways:
    • -increased drug use
    • -increased sexual misconduct
    • -rising crime rates in lower age groups
    • -increased use of parenting surrogates
    • -less time spent in actual instruction of children.
    • -increased incidences of reported child abuse & neglect
    • Many of these are social problems with an absence of parental concern.
Single Parent Families - One of the primary causes of crime is poverty. The single most devastating economic event in the lives of children today is the loss of one of the wage earners - probably the father. Single parent mothers and their children suffer a 50-70% decrease in their overall standard of living upon the divorce of the parents. Further 50% of all moneys awarded to children in custody court are NEVER paid by delinquent fathers, even with several programs in place that track delinquent, or deadbeat dads.

Family Mobility - Your generation will be the new nomads. Already families move once every five years or so on the average. The idea of growing up on the same street as all one's friends is a movie cliché today. By moving so often, friendships are disconnected, isolation mounts, family members become rootless. This will only increase. It is an established fact the one of the primary Correlated Factors of teenage suicide rates is the "rootlessness factor". In areas of the country where the "new arrival rate" is high, so is the suicide rate for teenagers.

Other important changes have been occurring in intimate relationships in recent years.

  • Premarital sex -There has always been premarital sex. A national survey estimated that about half of all unmarried teenagers have had sexual intercourse. The proportion has been declining since at least the late 1980s.
  • Out-of-wedlock births -The number of babies born to unmarried women has also increased significantly over the past few decades. In 2000, 27 percent of women who bore children were unmarried at the time of the birth.
  • Living alone -Increasing numbers of people are living alone. By 2000, 26.7 million Americans, about 58 percent of them women, were living alone. Living alone poses serious questions about fulfilling one’s intimate needs.
  • Cohabitation - By 1999, nearly 4.5 million unmarried couples were living together. Some of those who cohabit will eventually marry.
  • Delayed marriage - Most people will eventually marry, but they are delaying marriage. 2. Between 1950 and 1970, half of the females who married did so by the time they were 20.5 years old, and half of males who married did so by the time they were 22.5 years old. By 2000, it was 26.8 years for men and 25.1 years for women.
  • Birth rates -An increasing number of women are delaying having their first child until their mid- or even late thirties. This means that they will likely have fewer children. By 1999, the birth rate was less than half of what it was in 1910.
  • Household size - The average household size in the country has declined – from 5.8 people in 1790 to 2.62 in 2000.
  • Employed mothers -Women have been participating in the economy in growing numbers since the 1950s. The proportion of married women (with a husband in the home) who are employed increased from 23.8 percent in 1950 to 62 percent in 2000.
  • Divorce -The divorce rate has risen dramatically since 1965. After 1981, divorce rates tended to level off and even decline.
  Clearly, there are both long-term trends and short-term fluctuations in patterns of intimate behavior.

Myths about Family Life

1. We've lost the extended family: Never had it to begin with. History, rather than romantic ideals, shows us that the American family has always sought to move out on it's own. Quite often, this attempt to achieve autonomy is mediated by competing needs of older and younger generations.
2. People marry because they love each other: Love is the name we give for all the feelings and emotions surrounding early courtship and the biological, physiological and sociological needs we have to mate and have children.
3. Having children increases marital satisfaction: While children may enhance life satisfaction in general, and certainly places us in a new target population for media, Satisfaction with the marriage itself actually declines with the birth of the first child among most new parents. Studies show that marital satisfaction continues to decline until the last born child enters late adolescence.
4. A good sex life is the best predictor of marital satisfaction: Among most healthy Americans, a good sexual relationship in marriage is an indication of a good marital relationship - complete with intimacy and caring and nurturance. In other words, good sex is indicative of a good marriage. A poor sexual relationship indicates an ineffective communication pattern in the couple.
5. Half of all marriages end in divorce: Depends on how one counts - this is true of new marriages (for folks married from 1970 onward).
6. The danger of myths: Many of the common beliefs about marriage are flat wrong. Myths about marriage (and any other social institution) serve the purposes of the larger society, but often do not serve the purposes of individuals.
Values we hold dear to our hearts often exist because of the "hidden agendas" of our society. It is important for each of us to examine our values closely.

What do Healthy Marriage have in common?
Asked of 351 long term married couples (15 years or more): 15% said they were unhappy (one or both partners.) BUT STAYED TOGETHER OUT OF A SENSE OF DUTY (RELIGIOUS BELIEFS, OR FAMILY TRADITION). The happy group reports these reasons for staying married.
  • 1. Spouse is my best friend
  • 2. Likes spouse as a person
  • 3. Marriage is a long term commitment
  • 4. Marriage is sacred
  • 5. Agree on aims and goals
  • 6. Spouse has grown more interesting
  • 7. Wants relationship to succeed.
  • 8. Enduring marriage is important to social stability.
  • 9. We laugh together
  • 10. Proud of spouse's achievements
A Note on Theory
A theory is an explanation of the way things are. Social scientists use theories not only to explain but also to guide research.
Four theories are used in the Courtship, Marriage and the Family course:
  • Systems theory - As applied to intimate relationships, system theory asserts that the intimate group must be analyzed as a whole; the group has boundaries that distinguish it from other groups.   Family therapists use systems theory.
  • Exchange theory - Exchange theory posits a rational assessment of a situation; it does not explain all of family life, but it is clearly of value in our efforts to understand it.
  • Symbolic interaction theory -  Symbolic interactionism views humans primarily as cognitive creatures who are influenced and shaped by their interaction experiences.
  • Conflict theory -  Conflict theory asserts that all societies are characterized by inequality, conflict, and change as groups within the society struggle over scarce resources.  In family studies, conflict theory is seen in explanations that focus on social class and gender.
  • Theory can be used to understand all of the topics in this book. An understanding of theory is an important tool in building and maintaining meaningful intimate relationships.
Topic 2 next week