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Traditional Family Values And How They Are Changing Essay Sample

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Traditional Family Values And How They Are Changing Essay Sample

Over the last generation the traditional American family has been changing rapidly. Not only the structure but also, the family values have been changing as well. Moreover, these two changes have, in a way, played off each other. The structural changes in marriage, the basic household composition, and childbearing have encouraged a new shaping of traditional values and perspectives. The structural and value change make the family of the 1990’s fundamentally different from the family of the past generation. The American family has undergone many changes in recent decades. Changes such as structural changes in marriage and household structure, along with gender roles within families are the largest of the changes. Values regarding marriage and divorce, children and parents, gender roles and sexual morality are noticeable changes that today’s families have from families of past generations.

Marriage is the foundation of the American family, but because of the structural changes occurring recently it’s no longer an important role in people’s lives. The proportion of adults who have never been married rose from 15% to 22%between 1972 and 1996. While adding in the divorced, separated and widowed we come to the conclusion that while three quarters of adults were married in the early 1970’s, only 57% were married in the mid 1990’s (Loomis, 1994). This decline comes from three main sources. One, being the fact that people are delaying marriage. Between 1960 and now, the median age at first marriage rose from 22.8-26.7 years for men and 20.3-24.5 years for women (Smith, 1996). Divorces have increased; in 1960 there were 9.2 divorces per year per one thousand married women, which slowly climbed to 22.6 in 1980. Since then the divorce rate has remained fairly constant throughout the 1990’s. The rise was partly caused by the increases in the female labor force, leading to decreases in fertility (Michael, 1988). Another reason is both, the delay in marriage and, the delay in remarriage.

Along with the decline of marriage has come a decline in childbearing. A questionnaire in 1993 asking what things people value as being important to them,” 24% said having children was the most important thing to them, 38% thought that having children was very important, 19% said it was somewhat important and 19% didn’t care either way.

In terms of what children should be taught and how they should be raised, people have become less traditional over time with a shift from emphasising obedience and parent-center families to valuing autonomy for children. From 1986 to 1996 a majority of Americans chose thinking for oneself as the most important trait for a child to learn versus obedience (Ellison and Sherkat, 1993). In general, strictness and discipline have given way to an easier going, more liberal approach to raising kids.

While most people want to and often times do have children, the demand for a larger family has declined. The fertility rate peaked at 3.65 children per woman at the height of the baby boom in 1956; it then declined rapidly to a rate of 1.75 children in 1975. Since then it the rate has been growing, from 2-2.75 children in the early 1990’s to almost an even 3 in the late 1990’s. There has been however, a drop in preference for larger families. In the 1970’s about 50% of people thought that the ideal number of children was three or more. By 1998 only 39% of people thought that three or more children was their ideal number of children (Bachu, 1998).

One of the more noticeable changes in today’s traditional family is the gender roles in general, and in the division of responsibility. Women have greatly increased their participation in the paid labor force outside of the home. In 1960, 42% of women in the ages between 25-64 (prime working ages) were employed. This number grew to 49% in 1970, 59% in 1980 and 69% in the 1990’s (Alwin, 1994). Most of the rise came from mothers of children under 18 entering the work force. The percentages of both spouses being employed grew from 32% to 59% (Goldscheider and Waite, 1991). Over the last two decades America has changed from a society in which having a full-time homemaker was the norm, to one in which both spouses worked outside the home.

The traditional American family has undergone a series of fundamental changes over the last generation. Many of the changes have negative, as Sociologist Norval Glenn (1992) notes, “if you watch what Americans do, traditional family relationships are in trouble. These structural changes have modified attitudes towards the family. Important family values regarding marriage and divorce, and the duties and responsibilities of husbands and wives have changed. Values closely related to the family have also been transformed. Views on opinions relating to sexual behavior are different now than during previous generations.

America is commonly seen as having undergone a sexual revolution over this last generation, in fact that attitudes and behavior have become more permissive. But in fact, trends in sexual morality are more complex (Smith, 1994). First there was a notable growth in permissiveness towards premarital sex. In 1972, 36% of people believed that sex between an unmarried man and woman was always wrong. However, in 1996 only 24% believed that way. The rates of cohabitation and non-marital births have both risen. There is two thirds of people that say that pre-marital sex between teenagers 14-16years old is always wrong, and since then, there has been no drop.

When it comes to teenagers, people want not to engage in sexual intercourse for as long as possible. They do however want their children to be well informed about sex in general and more importantly, safe sex. Support for sexual education in schools is considerably high being that 86% of the people are all for it. Birth control is also strongly supported, since the mid 1980’s about three fifths have favored making contraception available to sexually active teens without their parents approval.

Attitudes towards homosexuality first became less tolerant while now becoming more accepting. Acceptance of homosexuality has never been high. In the early 1970’s 69 to 70% said it was morally wrong, and this moved upwards to 76 to 77% during the mid 1980’s to early 1990’s. After 1991 disapproval fell to only 61% considering homosexuality completely and always wrong in 1998.

Disapproval of extra-marital sex has always been high and has significantly increased over the last generation. In the early 1970’s, about 70 to 71% thought infidelity was wrong. This increased to about 79 to 80% considering it socially wrong from the late 1980’s to the present.

There are few areas of society that have changed as much as the family has over the last generation. The basic structures of the family along with the traditional family values have been transformed, and similar attitudes have also been reshaped. Families are smaller and less stable, marriage is less important and the gender roles involved with marriage have become less traditional.

Due to the fact that families are undergoing changes, society itself has been remade. Certain social problems such as juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancy, and drug abuse have probably been caused by recent family changes. Other consequences have been more positive such as a greater equality for women. In order for society to survive such drastic changes in family structure, values must be addressed, possibly reversed and/or compensated for.

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