7400.602 Family in Lifespan Perspective
Topic 2
: Diversity in Families

Families vary across time, among societies, and within societies. The variations among societies underscore the fact that some differ from what we may regard as normal, natural, right, or typical. The ideal of most Americans is monogamous marriage, and mate selection is a personal choice. Polygyny has been practiced by more human societies than any other form of marriage. Other variations are based not so much in ideals as in common practices.  Within any particular society, family life varies over time. And in a complex, modern society, it varies among groups at any particular point in time as well. The American colonists generally believed that it was important for every individual to be part of a household. Because of the lack of birth control, marriage was likely to lead quickly to children, and families tended to be large. Sexual standards were strict. Marriage did not always work out in the colonies (see The Scarlet Letter).

The text defines family as a group united by marriage, blood, and/or adoption in order to satisfy intimacy needs and/or bear and socialize children.
In Traditional Family Life, the mother rears children and is pivotal for family life, the father earns a living and provides a moral (religious) base, and children are involved in social and emotional development. This was the view of family life, as portrayed through the media because it was simple (simplistic) and it served the purposes of the government and economy. It also fit quite well with the Functional Perspective on Social Organization:

The institutions of society (i.e., Government, Religion, Family, Community, Economy) are dependent on each other to supplement the delivery of goods and services to members of society. When one institution changes fundamentally, all the other institutions are affected. The Economy, the most powerful institution, changed at the turn of the century, moving people from rural and agricultural work to urban/factory work. It changed again in the late l960s, from a labor intensive factory model to one of Information/Services. This means people don't need big muscles to work at most jobs - they need super sharp social and intellectual skills - Thus, women and men were immediately equalized in terms of their innate abilities to perform paid work.

Because of fairly massive changes in our society - its values, traditions, and economic philosophies - Times have Changed. The Times today are about unconventional living arrangements

  • single parents spouses living apart
  • cohabiting couples
  • homosexual families
  • interfaith families
  • interracial families
  • group families
  • families headed by older teens
  • families with grandparent as the head of household.
These arrangements don't fit the traditional American family ideal. The old perspective on family life has persisted even though the demands of day-to-day life doesn't fit. Marriage and Family, as concepts are in TRANSITION:

Changing Sex roles and the Man-Woman Crisis.

Early on - the children were socialized into very strict gender roles - boys did masculine things, girls did feminine things.

  • Traditional masculine behavior consisted of a constellation of instrumental (goal oriented) characteristic s (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.
Male Gender Orientation  Female Gender Orientation 
Bread winner
Outwardly oriented
Home Maker
Inwardly oriented

As the Economy moved from a Labor intensive to an Information based economy, the reasons for maintaining such a division of the genders have become less salient (less important), leaving only the sociocultural desire to be traditional, with little in the way of payoff.  The results are: people who are confused about the way to go about initiating relationships and families where all the adults work outside the home, leaving children to develop on their own.

Single-parent families may occur in various ways, including divorce, death of a spouse, and the decision to have or adopt a child on one’s own without getting married. Single- parent does not necessarily mean a permanent arrangement.  Single-parent families have increased considerably over the past few decades. In 2001, the proportion of all families that were single-parent varied by race/ethnicity: 26.1 percent for whites, 61.4 percent for blacks, and 34.1 percent for Hispanics. People may be single parents by default. Single parenting may also be a choice. Most of those living with one parent are with a divorced parent, but since 1996, the single-parent home is as likely to involve a never-married as a divorced parent. Single Parent Families may be created through divorce, or death of a spouse, and the few who decide to have or adopt children but not be married.  The number of single parent families is growing even while the number of children in the country has decreased. Between 1970 and 1985 there are 7 million fewer children under 18, but 6 million more children are living with single parents. In a child's lifetime, he or she has a 50% chance of having only one parent to love them, to see to their needs, and to pay their way. This is directly tied to the high divorce rate, and because of irresponsible boys and girls conceiving children without financial means.

Single parents and children in single-parent families are more likely to experience various challenges. In particular, the single parent is likely to face three kinds of overload: responsibility, task, and emotional. Responsibility overload may result from having too few financial resources. Task overload arises from the fact that one parent must do the work of two parents. Emotional overload can occur when the single parent neglects his or her own needs. Alone or in combination, the three kinds of overload can result in loneliness, a feeling of hopelessness, or other various emotional problems.  As in the case of the single parent, the child of a single parent, and particularly the male child, is more likely to be depressed. The children in single-parent homes have more difficulties within the family as well as within themselves and in their outside relationships. Children in single-parent families feel less cohesion and are less likely to achieve higher levels of education, occupation, and income and to maintain stable marriages.  There are also problems between single parents and their children. Boys seem to present even greater problems than girls. Most single-parent families are headed by a mother, and single-mother families have received more attention than single-father families. An advantage of single fathers is the likelihood of higher income. Dating can be a vexing problem. Single parents who perceive their children to be less positive about their dating agree that the children react with both anger and resentment toward the dates.

 The challenges and problems just described are not necessarily experienced by all - or even the majority of - single-parent families. The majority of single parents  and their children have fairly high levels of physical and mental health. In spite of the extra demands on their time and energy, single parents function well at work.

Problems of Single Parent Families:

  • Responsibility Overload - not enough money according to the text 12.1 percent of all families live in poverty, 54% of all female single parent families live in poverty
  • Task Overload - One parent is working full time and doing the family work of two parents. Work never seems finished, there is never much in the way of fulfillment.
  • Emotional Overload - mother's needs are back-burnered Single employed mothers spend less time in personal care, recreation, than any one else.
  • Intimacy deficit - the downward spiral. Not just a problem for women.
Problems of CHILDREN of Single Parents
  • Depression
  • Higher rates of antisocial behavior, aggression, anxiety, and school problems.
  • Children report less support, control, discipline from fathers, and more conflict with siblings, less family cohesion, and more family stress.
  • Children of single parents tend to leave home earlier (girls through early marriage, boys through premature occupational choices such as the military).
  • Children of single parents tend to achieve less education, occupational prestige, and income as adults, and have less stable marriages.
  • 1. All young people, especially young women, must attend to their education and training to become self-sufficient .
  • 2. Take care not to make decisions now that will negate options later - such as marrying before school is completed.
  • 3. Plan your life, as best as you can, keeping a list of goals and objectives. Know that there will be a time for almost everything that is important.
  • 4. Become knowledgeable about the economy and use your money wisely. Start budgeting early. Save some cash.
Regarding Single Parent's Needs
  • list out needs and allot time to have them met. and take progressive action (Its nobody's business but theirs) -COMBINE RESOURCES WITH OTHERS IN THE SAME SITUATION
  • schedule time for each kid -establish a strong sense of friendliness and team spirit. -Authoritative parenting, while taking time in the beginning, will pay off in more independent kids later on.
Non-White Families - Black Families in the south, southwest, and northeast U.S., and Hispanic families - Cuban in south Florida, Puerto Ricans in New York, and Mexican and Native American families in the southwest and western U.S. Keep in mind that Poverty is the root cause of almost all of the problems encountered by nonwhite families as a group. IN fact, when we "control" for income statistically, poor families have the exact same "symptoms" as "most" non-white families. The reverse is true for rich (middle, upper middle class) black families - they have the same demographics as rich white families.
So, by and large, these are issues of poverty, not race or ethnicity.
For further reading on this topic:
The discussion here centers around social class disparities - lower educational expectations, lower ed. achievement, fewer occupational opportunities, lower family income.  Because our society is dominated by Caucasians, and because non-Caucasians are highly visible, they are more easily discriminated against in the work force and in education.  Variations between racial/ethnic families and white Anglo families reflect different cultural traditions and the experience of prejudice and discrimination. Life in racial/ethnic families also reflects a history of prejudice and discrimination in American society.

African Americans constitute the largest of America’s minorities, comprising 12.9 percent of the population. Actually, the number of
 two-parent black families has been steadily increasing.  From slavery through segregation to present-day discrimination, African Americans have waged a long battle in the United States for justice and equality. Conflict theory helps us understand their long struggle and its consequences for family life. Although some progress has been made, as a group, African Americans continue to have the lowest median income of all groups. More young black adults postpone marriage than young adults of any other race. The fate of the black family is tied up with its position in the American economy. 
African Americans are more likely than whites to grow up in a family that is impoverished, that is disrupted by divorce, or that is headed by a mother who has never married. African American married women who work outside the home tend to feel more overworked than their husbands. Violence is more prevalent in African American homes. Despite all of this, there are positive aspects of life in the black family: Black families have strengths and, in fact, advantages over white families in some areas, including the fact that the decline in marital satisfaction during the child- rearing years may not hold for African Americans. Overall, black single parents appear to be more satisfied than are whites with their parenting. There is a greater acceptance of single parenthood in the black community. Among black two-parent families, there is likely to be a greater amount of equality than among whites.

Hispanics (Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and others with Spanish surnames) are the second-largest minority group in the United States, comprising 12.5 percent of the population. The Hispanic population is growing rapidly and may exceed that of non-Hispanic African Americans in the near future. There is a strong emphasis on family in Hispanic culture. Compared to non-Hispanics, Hispanic men are more likely and Hispanic women less likely to want to marry. Despite the widespread stereotype, research has failed to uncover a pattern of male dominance in the Hispanic family. Little research is available on parenting in Hispanic families. Hispanics may have closer bonds than whites with members of the extended family.

Comparatively little research has been done on Asian American families, but Asian Americans are a rapidly growing minority in the United States, representing 3.8 percent of the population in 2000. In terms of economic well-being, Asian American households had the highest median income in 2000. Their poverty rate was higher than that of whites, however, suggesting a higher proportion of Asian Americans at both extremes of the income scale. Asian American families tend to be large, with 23 percent of married-couple families having five or more members. Asian American parents instill a high value on education in their children. Traditional Asian culture elevates males over females, but there are variations both among and within various Asian American groups in all matters. The longer Asian American families are in this country, the more likely they are to be acculturated.

In 2000, American Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts represented 0.9 percent of the total U.S. population. The median age of Native Americans is low. Like Asian Americans, Native Americans tend to be clustered in the West. Nearly three- fourths of Native American households consist of families. Native American history in the United States is a history of prejudice and discrimination, with high poverty rates characterizing Native American family life. There is a strong tribal tradition in Native American family life. Compared to white families, Native American families are more interdependent.

Interracial Couples - Although the vast majority of Americans marry within their own racial group, the number of interracial marriages has increased dramatically in recent decades. Interracial marriages are more challenging and more fragile than marriages that are racially homogamous. A few of those in interracial marriages indicate that they are motivated by rebellion against the conventions of society or by an attraction to the opposite sex of another race. Even in the most accepting, multicultural settings, the marital relationship itself is problematic. Interracial families face the same problems as others plus some additional problems that are unique. 

The claim that 98 percent of Americans marry within their own racial group may not be realistic  This is racial boundaries referred to have been crossed so many times. There are three very broad racial categories - Mongoloid (Asian), Negroid (African), and Caucasoid (Western European). Historically, every time the people's of the earth waged war on each other, there has been widespread miscegenation to the extent that: nobody really knows which racial category to which they belong. The results are people who are part French, part Spanish, part Native American, part Nigerian, part Laotian, part whatever else. As Americans, our pedigrees are a bit mixed up. For me and my wife: she is Catholic Hungarian, and Protestant Polish, while I am French, Irish, Spanish-German, and Baptist. While we are likely to be attracted to those who are "like us", we are also attracted to those who are around us at the time we enter into puberty (middle and high school years).  We tend to be attracted to those persons who are available to us for dating and social interaction. Interracial couples have more difficulty in feeling accepted by their own families and by society in general, but this is changing slowly. Such couples have an easier time of socially fitting in than in the past.

Homosexual Couples - two people living as a family who may or may not have children from previous relationships, or children made possible using surrogate mothers, or sperm donors. About one in five homosexual men and one in three homosexual women enter into long-term relationships that are, for all practical purposes, marriages. Tens of thousands of gay/lesbian couples have children and parent them well, and are in long term relationships that are as stable and committed as heterosexual couples.   The exact statistical facts here are somewhat difficult to ascertain, since record keeping is almost as slow as social change itself.   If homosexual couples are even a little more likely to have relationships that fail when compared to heterosexual couples,  a likely cause for failure might be social rejection of the relationship type.  For further reading on homosexuality and family life, there are academic journals devoted to issues surrounding gay and lesbian life, and on the world-wide web see http://www.familypride.org.  Although uninformed people often may not think of homosexual relationships as resulting in a family, same-sex couples are the heads of nearly 600,000 households in the United States. While same-sex marriage are not legal anywhere in the U.S., Civil unions are in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, and Vermont, and the U.S. District of Columbia, gaining some legal protections and rights.   In an effort to provide a portrait of the development of a long-term gay male relationship, McWhirter and Mattison charted six stages through which a gay couple moves over time: blending, nesting, maintaining, building, releasing, and renewing. The development of bonding and commitment to a homosexual relationship can be very similar to that of a heterosexual relationship.