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SOC101Y1 Lecture Notes - Kathryn Edin, Herbert Gutman, Fictive Kinship

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Adam Dube

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Not-so-nuclear families: poor African-American family patterns
There are stereotype of poor African-American family, including “depend on welfare”. The welfare in US was
changed in 1996 which makes it difficult for people to get help. The welfare only entitles for 5 years throughout
your life and you need to be employed or looking for a job. The governments lowered the payment by 20% and
include the “men in the house rule”.
Changes in African-American family patterns after slavery ended
- Higher proportions of lone-parent families (mothers and children)
- Higher proportions of babies born outside marriage
- Lower proportions of people marrying-in the low-income population
*the differences exist only in the lower-income population in the society. Family pattern has no differences
between middle or upper-income classes (similar situation in Canada)*
The relationship between poverty and the pattern of “women-headed” households and births outside marriage
1. The “culture of poverty” argument-Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 1965. The NegroFamily: The Case for
National Action
The argument: a “pathological family”, characterized by unstable marriages, an absence of fathers,
high rates of “woman-headed” households, and high rates of birth outside marriage
He proposed that it is the problematic attitude and value (having too many babies and unable to raise
them and the children follow the same trend) creates a type of family which causes poverty
Changing people‟s attitude is the way to get rid of poverty. Otherwise, social programs are just a
waste of money
In short, African-American families are a “tangle of pathologies” and disorganized; they produce a
“vicious cycle of poverty” (family pathologyindividual pathologypoverty)
2. The alternative argument: this is behaviour that reflects the conditions of poverty and racism. Poverty
and racism are the causes
William Julia Wilson: family patterns cause poverty
People nowadays have a “present-day attitude”-not an attitude that you should defer gratification
and that they have a casual attitude towards work
Fox: family patterns are the result of the family
The problem of this argument is that it is blaming the victims. In order to plan for the future, you
need to have a control of the future. Some people do not sense that they can control the future. In
both US and Canada, there is serious racism in labour market. The current economic often
produces bad jobs. Many people work full time but are still in poverty due to low wages
The causes of this family pattern
1. Culture: the West African tradition of extended families, with nuclear (marriage-based) families
embedded in them. The strength of consanguineal (blood) ties
Many people are living in extended families. Men often have more than one wife. Brothers are in
close relationship while women and children are in close relationship
People treated as slaves in the past retain their human dignity through their traditions
2. Slavery
Slaves in the past are not allowed to get married and their children would be sold. Thus, people who
were slaves were unable to love or care about the others
Herbert Gutman, 1976. The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom. The slaves created families,
involving marriage, surnames, and the close ties with kin
Marriage was common and expected monogamy
After the Civil War, tons of letters or advertisement, searching for their partners
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