Chapter 1 Reading notes:
Introduction: Changing and diverse family forms
In 2006 for the first time in Canadian census history, married and common-
law couples, with and without children included same sex and heterosexual
Today, Canadian families come in a plurality of forms
Blended families- composed of a child born to the couple, in addition to
children born from a previous union of one of the two spouses.
Transnational/ multilocal families- people who are temporarily separated
from their children and spouses as part of a strategy to secure a better
economic future and opportunities for their family. Some have been called
“satellite families” a term first used in the 1980’s to describe Chinese children
whose parents were immigrants to North America, but who have returned to
their original country of origin after immigration and left children in Canada
A lot of younger Canadians find themselves increasingly unable to leave their
parental homes and establish independent households. Because of changing
economic circumstances and difficulty finding stable, long-term decent
paying work, coupled with an increasing demand for post secondary
education and large debt loads, researchers have seen the postponement of
home leaving or a delayed child launch
Canadian families in historical context
First nations families have taken on a number of structures, sixes and forms
depending on whether they were nomadic/foraging societies or sedentary
and agrarian. Families were also differently affected depending on who they
have contact with, the nature of their relations and the diverse influence that
came with colonization.
Because of our diversity in Canada, it is hard to find the typical Canadian
family in any given point in our history.
Pre industrial families
The first Canadian census took place in 1871 four years after
Most Canadians lived in rural areas, living off the land. Despite the
considerable regional farming and agriculture, many families across
the country lived an unpredictable existence. Both fertility and infant
mortality rates remained high into the early 20 century. Many
fathers worked further away for parts of the year to provide for their
families, resulting in women raising the children by themselves
A lot of children in these times did not know or ever meet their
grandparents due to the early mortality rate
On the east coast, there was adaptive family economy that
emphasized the attempts to maximize economic well-being by
diversity the employment opportunities of family members. Men were
farmers but also engaged in seasonal work such as lumbering, sea work or shipyard work. The timing of marriages, family structure and
family size were affected by these adaptive work strategies and often
resulted in large families that housed additional family member with
occupations. Because of the father’s absence, women and children
were responsibly for farm maintenance.
Children also moved away from the home but there were variations
according to social class: wealthier children moved away fro school
but children from poorer families moved away fro waged work. The
waged work of children helped contribute to the family and
Women and children were subject to the authority of fathers
In 19 century Ontario, male domination contained property laws,
child custody legislation and inheritance rights. In 1859 married
women in English Canada had no rights to their own property in their
own name and were subject to private patriarchy in their homes. In
addition, women had little control over marriage, fertility and family
size and they received relatively little tangible recognition for their
productive and reproductive work
In the 1800’s marriage and childbirth took on different meanings and
value within families depending on the families religious affiliation.
Protestant theology only communion and baptism were considered
sacraments, marriage was a covenant and childbirth had no status. In
Roman Catholics, marriage was one of the seven sacraments but
childbirth was not. For Anglicans, childbirth was accompanied by a
lesser ritual called churching- the reincorporation of the family into
the community-, which signified the resumption of sexual relations
between spouses and the restoration of normal domestic order.
By the late 19 century there was much less diversity and flexibility in
the definition of marriage as the diverse forms of marriage of the
Aboriginal groups, immigrants and migrants were undermined and
Monogamous- being married to one person at a time.
Industrialization and family life
Despite the entry of women and children into paid employment, paid
work was seen as a men’s domain
By 1971, women and children made up to about 42% of the industrial
workforce in Montreal, on the most industrialized cities at the time.
Girls as young as 11 years of age worked in Canadian mills.
Women made about half of a mans wage and to protect men’s wages,
provincial governments began passing legislation to remove or limits
women’s and children’s employment to protect them from harsh
With industrialization came urbanization which resulted in
overcrowding, and eventually smaller size families. This coincided
with the shift from children as producers to children as consumers. Motherhood was expected to become a women’s full-time job and
preoccupation while men took on the breadwinner role.
Changing definitions of family
Undergoes many changes
Nuclear family- included a couple and their children, sharing the same
household but may also define one parent and his/her children.
With divorce and remarriages were are also seeing an increase in the
number of bi-nuclear families where children of divorced parents move and
live across households.
There is also and extended family- several generations or sets of kin-
grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins- share a household.
The difficulty if defining the family stems from the fact that there are
legal/formal definitions, like the census family, social definitions for the
different organizations and social groups, and personal definitions of families
that are created for different purposes and in different contexts.
Many of use have come up with our own definitions of who is and is not part
of our family
The terms aunt and uncle are commonly used across cultures to selectively
include some close friends or frequent visitors to ones home as kin-
commonly refereed to as fictive kin
Who is included in the definition of family is an issue of great importance as
well as great consequence, because who we include in our definition will
determine who is eligible to claim tax benefits, sponsor family members in
immigration, claim insurance benefits etc.
Eichler challenges us to move from who definitions of family to what
definition of family which focuses on the services and supports provided by
Family is a changing social construct that reflects variations in how states,
institutions and individuals understand, experience and interact within it.
Theoretical and Methodological approaches to studying families
Society is a living organism, which is made up of a series of
interrelated parts working together for the good of the whole. Each
social institution, serves functions, keeping society in a state of
Individuals fill specific and prescribed roles for the proper functioning
of the institution.
Social change is undesirable
Murdock believed we can best understand the family by examining
what it does and how it functions for and within society
Talcott Parsons also studied the functions of family by looking at the
roles men and women fill. Men were biologically better suited to fulfill
instrumental functions, which are tasks that needed to be performed to ensure families physical survival, including providing for the
material needs of the family by earning an income. Women were
better suited to perform expressive functions- the tasks involved in
building emotionally supportive relationships among family members
Popular from 1940-1950’s
Work of Engels and Marx
Engels argued that a number of distinct phases in human history
shape, alter and constrain human relations
He explained that the mode of production affects the way we organize
social life and experience family relations.
He noted in the shift away from primitive communism, characterized
by a foraging existence, that there was the absence of the notion of
private ownership and relative equality between the sexes
Then with land-based feudalism came a reorganization and
privatization of family life and a change in power relations between
the sexes. With this private ownership and male control of land and
other property, women lost power and control both within and
outside the families.
For Marxists, the social goal is to abolish private property and re-
Social change is normal and at times desirable
Mead assumed that individuals were active agents of social life. If you
want to understand social life in general and family life in particular
you should examine how individuals construct meaning through their
daily interactions with others.
Understanding family involves understanding parent child relations
and the relationship between the sexes. Exchanges or interactions
between them lead to the organization of the family and society.
This approach implies that the individuals and interactions within
families shape the organization of family life which in turn helps
shape larger organizations like the state
Family Systems theory
Assumes that a family is a relatively closed system of social
interactions or a site of interacting personalities.
An individuals problems and behaviour are best understood in the
context of families. The family is more then a collection of individual’s
or interactions it is a natural social system with its own rules, roles,
communication patterns and power structure.
Families were influenced by developmental process or experience life
cycles with outlined stages At each life stage (marriage, child-bearing, preschool, school, teen,
launching center, middle-aged, aging) family members depending on
their physical maturation are challenged by different developmental
tasks and normative events which at times result in stress, crises and
Biases in Traditional Approaches/Theorizing
Monolithic bias- theories tended to under-represent the diversity of
family forms that actually existed in any given society
Conservative bias- theorists tended to provide only a romanticized
view of the nuclear family and regarded recent changes as short lived
Sexist bias- the assumption that there is a natural division of functions
between the sexes
Ageist bias- theorists also almost exclusively talked about families as
involving exchanges between two middle aged adults, largely
excluding children and the elderly in analysis
Microstructural bias- a tendency to treat families as an enclosed unit,
typically ignoring external forces
Racist bias- theorists devalued or outright ignored families of
culturally or ethnically dominant groups
Heterosexist bias- treated the heterosexual family as natural and
denying family status to lesbian and gay families
The big bang- feminist theories
Believe that gender relations in the home and in other institutions are
neither natural nor immutable, but rather historical and sociocultural
A lot of different types of feminists
Changing Canadian Demographic Trends
The age people are getting married are increasing
Common law status
Decrease in the amount of marriages
Postponing child birth or choosing not to have children
Divorce rates have remained stable
Dual- earner families have contributed to declining birth rates
Despite the number of women working for pay, the attitudes about unpaid
household work that is performed have not shifted.
Due to the decline in population from lower birth rates, Canada relies on
immigration in order to maintain population growth Chapter 2 Reading notes: Intimacy, commitment and family formation
Families are formed in many different ways
In most western societies, there is a social expectation that emotional and
sexual intimacy between a couple and their commitment to caring for each
other is a central aspect of new family formation
The word intimate is used to describe close emotional relationships such as
those between friends or siblings as well as sexual relationships that may or
may not include emotional closeness.
Diversity of intimacy is individual
Social norms of commitment such as marriage, are one way in which intimate
relations are legitimated in society
Intimacy: meanings and theories
The pure relationship is entered into for its own sake, what can be derived by
each person from a sustained association with another, and which is
continued only in so far as it is though by both parties to deliver enough
satisfaction for each individual to remain in it.
Plastic sexuality- sexual activity can be separated from reproduction
Socio-cultural constructions of romantic love change over time and across
Qualitative studies confirm the significance of equality for those in intimate
same sex relationships, particularly as opposed to institutionalized
(marriage) heterosexual relationships.
Getting to know you: Dating
North America has had a dating culture since the early 20 century.
Currently, the dominant dating culture approves and facilitates romantic
heterosexual relationships between young people, without assuming that
those relationships will lead to marriage or to other long term commitments
In the 19 century, socializing between young men and women was
supervised by adults and seen as a prelude to marriage.
It has arisen in north America with increased affluence, longer periods of
education and the increase of youth-focusing socializing. As with
companionate marriage and the image of the family as private dating culture
seems to be part of modernization and individualism
Dating norms shift with every generation
Dating now reflects more group-focused outings rather then pair outings
The most common understanding of a date is that it involves two people and
allows them a chance to get to know each other
64% of American teens experience hooking up
studies suggest that the closeness of friendship may be seen as sufficient to
begin a sexual relationship for many teens, in contrast to social expectations
that sexual intimacy follows romantic involvement. Some researchers use script theory- states that there are sets of stereotypical
actions expected in certain social situations. Scripts help people organize the
world around them, providing predictability to social interactions. There is a
public and well defined cultural script for heterosexual first dates including
actions such as organizing a date, preparations, interactions with partner and
ending the date. Boys are initiators and girls are reactors
Several aspects of the first date script are common to same sex and
heterosexual couples. But in same sex dates, there are no initiator/reactor
roles, because both are involved.
Not all cultural groups approve of dating
Personal ads and Electronic communication
Such advertising may be attractive to users for several reasons: increased
working hours across North America may make it difficult to find social time,
the internet makes ad use fast and easy, ads allow both advertiser and
respondent to pre-screen dates and using ads avoids facing rejection in
Social exchange theory has been the frame for several heterosexual and same
sex personal ad studies from the 1970’s into 21 century.
Social exchange theory- hypothesizes that people commodify a range of
social characteristics, including physical attractiveness, youth, wealth,
education, gender role, and social status and then offer their best traits in
trade for traits they desire. This theory is used in studies of dating,
cohabitation, and marriage partner choice
Much research on personal ads has found that traits appropriate to
stereotypical gender roles are offered and sought by heterosexual
advertisers. Heterosexual men are more likely to advertise for physical
attractiveness and youth in women while offering financial security, height
The social factors that influence online dating in Canada are the increased
numbers of single person households, the time pressures of careers, the
increased mobility of single people, and the move away from the workplace
as place to meet romantic partners
Self-presentation is deliberate and conscious online, and communication
clues such as facial expression and tone of voice are absent from screen
based communication thus it requires people to be creating in interacting.
Online dating etiquette tends to reflect traditional gendered dating patterns
such as men being expected to initiate contact.
Online communication can help maintain intimate relationships when
partners are working in separate cities.
Following friends or contacts through their day as they post updates can
become a way of seeing into their lives, creating a sense of closeness through
detailed knowledge of their activities. Intimacy, living alone and friendship
The number of Canadians living in single-person households is rising
To be singly in our current culture is still often seen in negative terms, people
who live singly may be seen as selfish and immature, lonely and unfulfilled.
The dominant image of singleness as a status marked by loneliness is
challenged by representations in which friendship networks provide a rich
source of meaningful and fulfilling connections
Family formation, social structures and commitment
Cohabitation- an emotional, sexual and usually residential relationship
between two people that is not legalized through marriage
Has become a common experience for younger Canadians over the last 25
years, and the number of common law couples has increased and is now seen
as the fastest growing family structure
The increase in this represents a dramatic cultural shift in attitudes towards
and experiences of forming couples, and living with a partner is becoming
more social acceptable
Younger Canadians decide to cohabitate because about 2/3 see no need to
marry, and this is tied into having little religious involvement.
Employment and education may make women feel freer to choose
cohabitation instead of marriage
Marriage: Legal structures and cultural privilege
Marriage is viewed as an expression of moral values and reflects the belief
that children should have married parents.
It has deep historical, religious and legal roots, it has been a place of
maintenance of patriarchal authority and direct control over women and