Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘family’

Do We (Still) Value Family?

American families have changed a lot over the last half-century or so: Americans are marrying later, typically after cohabiting; divorce and remarriage are creating variations of “blended” families; most mothers now work outside the home; more fathers spend more time with their children but fewer of them live with their children–just to hint at some of the tumult in family life. The question of this post is whether, given all this change, Americans continue to value  family life or have family bonds significantly weakened? I addressed the marriage part of this question in the previous post; this one addresses family life beyond the couple.

Americans certainly worry about “the” American family. In a 2000 Wirthlin poll, about three in five said that they thought the “state of the American family” was either “not very strong” or “weak.”[1] In a 2006 Pew survey, by over two to one, more people said that family life is worse “these days” than said it was now better than before.[2] And yet: Only a few years later in another Pew survey, 40 percent of respondents said that their families today were “closer” than were the families they grew up in–about three times as many (14 percent) who said that their current families were less close.[3] The contrast between the two Pew surveys not only reflects our localism bias (the closer things are to us–our families rather than others’ families–the better they look), it may indicate a mismatch between popular perceptions of “the” family and personal experience.

Let’s take a look first at some behavioral indicators of family bonding and then at some measures of family feeling and see how they have changed over recent decades.  Some of the findings may be surprising.

(more…)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Is Marriage Over? For Whom?

(Scooped! Just as I was preparing this post, the N.Y. Times printed a detailed story on the same topic titled, in its print version, “Marriage is Valued, but in Decline. Economics and Culture May be Culprits.”)

Marriage is over. That was the comment–roughly in those terms–that I heard tossed out at a panel discussion among many eminent sociologists. No one demurred; a few concurred. Is it really over? Much of the public, 39 percent according to a 2010 Pew survey, agrees that marriage is “becoming obsolete.” And yet, I will argue, the facts are more complex and the prospects for marriage brighter than that capsule comment suggests.

This post presents a bunch of data that allow us to look at marrying and to look at Americans’ feelings about marrying since about 1970. (For an earlier discussion of the topic, see this post from 2012.)

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Family Wages

In 1800, most American families were strictly patriarchal. Men deployed the women, youth, children, and, in some instances, the apprentices, servants, and slaves of the household on behalf of the family business. They virtually owned those lives. “Over the past two centuries,” however, “this patriarchal family system collapsed, as household heads lost control over their sons, wives, and servants.”

So writes the eminent historical demographer Steven Ruggles in his 2015 presidential address to the Population Association of America. (Presidential addresses provide opportunities for academics to think big.) He describes this change and then explains it as largely the result of fluctuations in young men’s wages over the past two centuries. Ruggles goes on to claim that in the twenty-first century the American family is not just changing but is unraveling, again as a result of what has happened to young men’s wages.

Ruggles’ is not the only explanation for the collapse of the patriarchal system (see below), but it is well-documented from the massive volumes of census data that he has archived as head of the Minnesota Population Center.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

The Grandma (and pa) Effect

Lily Tomlin’s star turn, the recent movie, “Grandma,” presents–alongside a lot of over-the-top histrionics and screaming–a key truth about the role of grandparents today. More so than in previous generations, grandparents today provide a safety net for and probably bond with grandchildren. And the grandparents who do so are disproportionately grandmas.

In an era when Americans worry about the durability of the family–well, Americans have worried about the family in almost every era–grandparents have become, perhaps with little notice, more important in various ways. The reason starts with simple demography: There are more grandparents in more young people’s lives.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Untangling the Race Gap

Many efforts have been made to explain the persisting black-white gap in economic attainment. It is particularly puzzling because there was considerable progress in closing that gap in the decades after World War II. And then the closing slowed down. The mid-1990s seemed to bring more progress for black employment and wages, but the 21st century – especially the Great Recession – has seen retrograde movement. Moreover, as sociologists Becky Petit and Bruce Western have shown, the standard economic indicators we use, such average income, underestimate the width of the racial gap because they typically ignore the disproportionately high percentage of black men in prison or effectively out of the labor force.[1]

When the General Social Survey asks respondents to choose an explanation for this persisting gap, about half – white, black, and Hispanic – choose blacks’ lower “chances for education” and lower “motivation or willpower” as factors (although about half of blacks and Hispanics also choose the discrimination explanation).[2] Social scientists have explored more complex anayses. The accounts can be sorted into ones that stress the lasting effects of slavery and Jim Crow – often emphasized in this blog; ones that stress current circumstances like remaining discrimination or the suburbanization of jobs; and ones that stress combinations of the two, such as how lacking family wealth makes it harder for youths to go to college just when college-going has become more important.

In a new paper [gated], University of Michigan sociologist Deirde Bloome presents a sophisticated analysis that points to contemporary conditions that have stymied the closing of the black-white gap in family income; it points more to the family part than the income part of family income.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

The Giving Season… and Era

Every time I cash in on being (just barely) a senior citizen – at the movie line, on the subway, for example – I feel a twinge of guilt. The elderly, on average, can better afford such items than can young adults, especially those raising small children. Yet the system of discounts for age, like much else these days – say, Medicare vs. Medicaid – is slanted toward seniors. The logic is rooted in an earlier time.

Back in the day – say, before the ’60s – the assumption was that most old people could make it through their sunset years only with financial and personal help from their grown children. In last few decades, the flow of money and of energy has been largely going the other way (see earlier post).

In two new overview papers (pdf and pdf), sociologists Judith Seltzer and Suzanne Bianchi document the help many American seniors are giving their adult children long past the school years, be it directly with money or through help such as babysitting. (Bianchi, a terrific scholar of American family life, passed away recently, much too soon.) Among the less well-off, parents might largely help by re-opening a bedroom at home or providing after-school care. One study found that about 3 of 10 pre-schoolers are with grandparents when the parents are at work. Among the most affluent, parental help can include buying 20-somethings their own Manhattan apartments (see here and here).

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Back Home

arithumb_903ffa984c4e13825e3d6ee815874b44_250_188

Studio (source)

One of the major lifestyle changes of the twentieth century was the dramatic increase in the proportion of Americans who lived alone. [1] Virtually outlawed in Early America, rarely done in the early twentieth century, it became a stage of life for many Americans, especially for elderly women, by the end of the century. (In 2000, about one-third of American women 65 and older were living alone.) The question of whether this trend is a good or bad thing has been a matter of concern. Eric Klinenberg’s recent best-seller, Going Solo, conveys the positive side of the discussion (see also this earlier post).

Another side of the discussion is trying to make sense of why Americans increasingly chose to live alone. Is it because Americans became increasingly disaffected with family or because Americans became increasingly able to afford their own living spaces? The recent economic shocks we have gone through provide a way to contrast people’s “tastes” for solo living versus their budgets for solo living.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »