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Canada (161,379)
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SOCA02H3 (310)
Chapter 15

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Sheldon Ungar

Chapter 15: Families IS “THE FAMILY” IN DECLINE? - social-structural arrangements are “tight” to the degree they demand conformity to norms - when people speak about “the decline of the family,” they are often referring to the nuclear family - nuclear family - Consists of a cohabiting man and woman who maintain a socially approved sexual relationship and have at least one child. - traditional nuclear family - A nuclear family in which the husband works outside the home for money and the wife works without pay in the home. - many new family forms are now evident, including single-parent families, families without children, families with same-sex partners, families in which the partners are not legally married, and “blended” families that include children from more than one previous marriage - some sociologists, many of them functionalists, view the decreasing prevalence of the married-couple family as an unmitigated disaster - in their view, a host of social ills—rising rates of crime, illegal drug use, poverty, and welfare dependency—result from fewer Canadian children living in two-parent households with stay-at-home mothers - they call for various legal and cultural reforms to shore up the traditional nuclear family - other sociologists, influenced by conflict and feminist theories, disagree with the functionalist assessment - they argue it is incorrect to believe there is only one legitimate family form - they emphasize that families can be structured in many ways and that the diversity of family forms increases as people adapt to new social pressures - they also argue that changing family forms do not necessarily represent deterioration in the quality of people’s lives FUNCTIONALISM AND THE NUCLEAR IDEAL Functional Theory - for any society to survive, its members must cooperate economically - they must have babies - and they must raise offspring in an emotionally supportive environment so the offspring can learn the ways of the group and eventually operate as productive adults - since the 1940s, functionalists have argued that the nuclear family is ideally suited to meet these challenges - in their view, the nuclear family performs five main functions: it provides a basis for regulated sexual activity, economic cooperation, reproduction, socialization, and emotional support - polygamy - Expands the nuclear family “horizontally” by adding one or more spouses (usually women) to the household. - polygamy is still legally permitted in many less industrialized countries of Africa and Asia - however, the overwhelming majority of families are monogamous, because they cannot afford to support several wives and many children - extended family - Expands the nuclear family “vertically” by adding another generation—one or more of the spouses’ parents—to the household. - George Murdock was a functionalist who conducted a famous study of 250 mainly preliterate, foraging societies in the 1940s - moreover, the nuclear family, Murdock continued, is everywhere based on marriage - marriage - A socially approved, presumably long-term sexual and economic union between a man and a woman. It involves reciprocal rights and obligations between spouses and between parents and children. Foraging Societies - foraging societies are nomadic groups of 100 or fewer people - a gendered division of labour exists among foragers - most men hunt and most women gather wild, edible plants - women also do most of the child care - however, research on foragers shows that men often tend babies and children in such societies - after an unsuccessful hunt, they often gather food - in some foraging societies, women hunt - thus the gender division of labour is less strict than functionalists assume - moreover, the gender division of labour is not associated with large differences in power and authority because women produce up to 80 percent of the food - overall, men have few privileges that women don’t also enjoy - foragers travel in small camps or bands - the band decides by consensus when to send out groups of hunters - when they return from the hunt, they distribute game to all band members based on need - hunters do not decide to go hunting based on their nuclear family’s needs - nor do hunters distribute game to only their nuclear family - contrary to Murdock, it is the band, not the nuclear family, that is the most efficient social organization for providing everyone with valuable food sources - in foraging societies, parents consider children an investment in the future - however, foragers do not always want more children for purposes of economic security - in fact, they consider too many children a liability - subsistence is uncertain in foraging societies, and when band members deplete an area of game and edible plants, they move elsewhere - as a result, band members try to keep the ratio of children to productive adults low - life in foraging societies is highly cooperative - women and men often care for each other’s children - in contrast to the functionalists’ claim that socialization is the “basic and irreducible” function of the nuclear family, it is the band, not the nuclear family, that assumes responsibility for child socialization in foraging societies - socialization is more a public than a private manner - during the Great Depression and World War II, Canadians were forced to postpone marriage (if they married at all) because of the widespread poverty, government-imposed austerity, and physical separation - after this long and dreadful ordeal, many Canadians just wanted to settle down, have children, and enjoy the peace, pleasure, and security that family life seemed to offer - by the mid-1950s, employment and personal income reached all-time highs - various services and legislative amendments created during World War II to encourage wives and mothers to join the labour force were rescinded - the expectation was that a return to “normal” meant the resumption of the men’s provider and women’s housewife roles - these conditions resulted in a “marriage boom” in Canada - increasingly, Canadians lived in married-couple families - the proportion of “never married” Canadians decreased and the average age at first marriage dropped - a second result was a baby boom - during this period, Canadian families averaged four children—resulting in proportionally more baby boomers than in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand - poor women have often worked both inside and outside the home - however, middle-class women engaged in what has been called an “orgy of domesticity” in the postwar years, devoting increasing attention to child rearing and housework - they also became increasingly concerned with the emotional quality of family life as love and companionship became firmly established as the main motivation for marriage - trends in divorce, marriage, and childbearing show a gradual weakening of the nuclear family from the early twentieth century until the end of World War II and the resumption of a weakening trend beginning in the 1960s - marriage rate - The number of marriages that occur in a year for every 1000 people in the population. - divorce rate - The number of divorces that occur in a year for every 1000 people in a population. CONFLICT AND FEMINIST THEORIES - the idea that power relations between women and men explain the prevalence of different family forms was first suggested by Marx’s close friend and coauthor, Friedrich Engels - Engels argued that the traditional nuclear family emerged along with inequalities of wealth - Engels asked, how could a man safely pass on an inheritance? - only by controlling his wife sexually and economically - economic control ensured that the man’s property would not be squandered and would remain his and his alone - sexual control, in the form of enforced female monogamy, ensured that his property would be transmitted only to his offspring - Engels concluded that only the elimination of private property and the creation of economic equality—in a word, communism—could bring an end to gender inequality and the traditional nuclear family - however, Engels was wrong to think that communism would eliminate gender inequality in the family - gender inequality has been as common in societies that call themselves communist as in those that call themselves capitalist - because gender inequality exists in non-capitalist (including pre-capitalist) societies, most feminists believe something other than, or in addition to, capitalism accounts for gender inequality and the persistence of the traditional nuclear family - in their view, patriarchy—male dominance and norms justifying that dominance—is more deeply rooted in the economic, military, and cultural history of humankind than the classical Marxist account allows - for them, only a genuine gender revolution can alter this state of affairs POWER AND FAMILIES Love and Mate Selection - the idea that love should be important in the choice of a marriage partner first gained currency in eighteenth-century England with the rise of liberalism and individualism, philosophies that stressed freedom of the individual over community welfare - however, the intimate linkage between love and marriage that we know today emerged only in the early twentieth century, when Hollywood and the advertising industry began to promote self-gratification on a grand scale Social Influences on Mate Selection - the big change in mate selection in the twenty-first century is taking place online - social networking sites, such as Facebook, are gaining in popularity over dedicated online dating sites as places to meet partners - although online dating increases the number and range of potential mates to which people have access, social forces continue to influence mate selection - people fall in love, but they still tend to do so within clearly defined social boundaries - specifically, three sets of social forces influence whom you are likely to fall in love with and marry - first, potential spouses bring resources to the “marriage market” that they use to attract mates and compete against rivals - these resources include financial assets, status, values, tastes, and knowledge - most people want to maximize the financial assets and status they gain from marriage, and they want a mate who has similar values, tastes, and knowledge - consequently, the assets you bring to the marriage market influence who you marry - second, because marriage between people from different groups may threaten the cohesion of one or both groups, third parties often intervene to prevent marriages outside the group - families, neighbourhoods, communities, and religious institutions raise young people to identify with the groups they are members of and think of themselves as different from members of other groups - they also apply sanctions to young people who threaten to marry outside the group - ethnic intermarriage is becoming increasingly common in Canada, but especially among recent immigrants it is comparatively rare - the third set of sociological factors that influence whom you are likely to fall in love with and marry has to do with demographic variables - the chance of marrying inside your group increases with the group’s size and geographical concentration - if you are a member of a small group or a group that is dispersed geographically, you stand a greater chance of having to choose an appropriate mate from outside your group - there may simply be too few “prospects” in your group from which to choose - in addition, the ratio of men to women in a group influences the degree to which members of each sex marry inside or outside the group - as a result of the operation of these three sets of social forces, the process of falling in love and choosing a mate is far from random Marital Satisfaction - marital stability came to depend more on having a happy rather than merely a useful marriage - this change has occurred because women in Canada and many other societies have become more autonomous, especially over the past half century - one aspect of the gender revolution is that women are freer than ever to leave marriages in which they are unhappy - one factor that contributed to women’s autonomy was the legalization of birth control measures in the 1960s, which made it easier for women to delay childbirth and have fewer children - a second factor that contributed to women’s autonomy was their increased presence in the paid labour force - once women enjoyed a source of income independent of their husbands, they gained the means to decide the course of their own lives to a greater extent than ever before - in addition, beginning in the late 1960s, laws governing divorce were changed to make divorce easier and divide property between divorcing spouses more equitably - the divorce rate soon rose The Social Roots of Marital Satisfaction - economic factors certainly loom large - money issues are the most frequent subjects of family quarrels, and they are especially important in poorer families - accordingly, marital satisfaction tends to fall and the divorce rate to rise as you move down the socioeconomic hierarchy - the lower the social class and the lower the educational level of spouses, the more likely it is that financial pressures will make them unhappy and the marriage unstable - in contrast, the marital satisfaction of both husbands and wives generally increases when wives enter the paid labour force, mainly because of the beneficial financial effects - however, if either spouse spends so much time on the job that he or she neglects the family, marital satisfaction falls - divorce laws also influence marital satisfaction - when people are free to end unhappy marriages and remarry, the average level of happiness increases among married people - thus, the level of marital happiness has increased in Canada over the past few decades, especially for wives, partly because it has become easier to get a divorce - for the same reason, in countries where getting a divorce is difficult, husbands and wives tend to be less happy than in countries where getting a divorce is easier - another influence on marital satisfaction is the family life cycle - marital satisfaction generally starts high, falls when children are born, reaches a low point when children are in their teenage years, and rises again when children reach adulthood - nonparents and parents whose children have left home enjoy the highest level of marital satisfaction - parents who are just starting families or who have adult children living at home enjoy intermediate levels of marital satisfaction - marital satisfaction is lowest during the “establishment” years, when children are attending school - although most people get married at least partly to have children, it turns out that children, and especially teenagers, usually put big emotional and financial strains on families - such strain results in relatively low marital satisfaction - marital happiness depends on the division of labour in the household too - couple who share housework and child care equally are happier than those who don’t - the less equally couples share domestic responsibilities, the more tension there is among all family members - equitable sharing tends to increase with education - finally, couples who enjoy good sexual relations are happier than those who don’t - some experts argue that general marital happiness leads to sexual compatibility, but the reverse may also be true - good sex may lead to a good marriage - after all, sexual preferences are deeply rooted in our psyches and our earliest experiences - if spouses are sexually incompatible, they may find it hard to change, even if they communicate well, argue little, and are generally happy on other grounds - on the other hand, if a husband and wife are sexually compatible, they may work hard to resolve other problems in the marriage for the sake of preserving their good sex life - thus, the relationship between marital satisfaction and sexual compatibility is probably reciprocal - each factor influences the other - religion has little effect on level of marital satisfaction - however, religion does influence the divorce rate - thus, American states with a high percentage of regular churchgoers and a high percentage of fundamentalists have lower divorce rates than other states do Divorce - before 1968, divorce was a complex legal process, and it was rare - adultery was the only grounds for divorce in Canada, except in Nova Scotia, where cruelty was sufficient grounds even before Confederation - the Divorce Act of 1968 expanded the grounds for granting a divorce to include mental or physical cruelty, rape, gross addiction to alcohol or other drugs, sodomy, bestiality, and homosexual acts - the dissolution of a marriage was also permitted on grounds of unspecified “marital breakdown” if couples lived apart for a number of years - the 1985 amendment of Canada’s Divorce Act specified only one ground for divorce—marital breakdown, defined in three ways: (1) the spouses lived apart for one year, (2) one of the spouses committed adultery, or (3) one spouse treated the other with mental or physical cruelty - today, a spouse seeking divorce no longer has to prove grounds - instead, a marriage is legally dissolved if the relationship is “irretrievably broken” - following these amendments, the divorce rate reached a historic high in 1987 and has since declined Economic Effects - this result occurs because husbands tend to earn more than wives do, children typically live with their mothers after divorce, and child-support payments are often inadequate - although child poverty in Canada is not restricted to single-parent families, a far higher proportion of children of single parents and, in particular, lone-parent mothers live in low-income circumstances - in the past, Canadian laws regarding the division of marital assets on divorce and the awarding of alimony contributed to women’s declining living standards post- divorce - although the monetary value of tangible “family assets,” such as money in the bank or a house, can be calculated and shared, the valuable “new property” in today’s society is the earning power of a professional degree, highly paid employment, work experience, a skilled trade, or other human capital - on divorce, the wife may get an equal share of tangible property, but that does not usually result in her beginning post-divorce life on an equal footing with her former husband—especially if she retains physical custody of the couple’s children and if she sacrificed her education and career so he could earn a college or university degree - child support - Involves money paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent for the purpose of supporting the children of a separated marital, cohabiting, or sexual relationship. - under the Divorce Act, either parent may be ordered to pay child support - however, because mothers retain custody in most cases—and because women are more likely to be economically disadvantaged in employment—the vast majority of those ordered to pay child support are fathers - every jurisdiction in Canada requires parents to support their children following separation or divorce - however, court orders do not guarantee that child support will be paid - in
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