Social scientists have noticed that the concept of the family has changed in the past 40 years, and this has led some to comment on the ‘disintegration of the nuclear family’. Do you agree with the claim that the nuclear family unit is breaking down?
The conventional nuclear family model, Murdock first spoke of, which entails the father as the employed bread winner and the wife as the stay at home housewife and mother looking after their children. This early idealistic model of the stable family life has changed and evolved. Some of these contributing factors that may have changed the family dynamics are, equality between men and women, the loss of religious influence over the traditional marriage, the accepted lifestyle of same sexed families, the increasing number of sole parents as well as blended families have diversely changed the way society sees the evolving complexities of the family unit. This essay aims to show that the traditional nuclear family unit has not disintegrated, but has evolved.
The phrase the nuclear family was first used by Murdock in 1949 , in that time, most family units resembled what he referred as both sexed adults in a socially approved sexual cohabiting marriage with children that were biological or adopted (Murdock, 1949, p 1). Within the boundaries of the nuclear family, some parents found it a haven, where defined rules and standards were adhered to. Children thrived on the security and constant attention of the availability of their mother to drive them to soccer or ballet practise. Fathers had a defined role as the breadwinner, the head of the household. However to some, they found the nuclear family structure to be bounding, confining and demeaning. Mothers were discouraged from working, fathers were overburdened with the demands of being the sole breadwinner, parents who were unhappily married were ‘compelled to stayed together, “for the sake of the children” and to avoid the stigma of divorce’ (Elkind, 1994, p.8). Since equality for women in education and in the work force, women are staying in workforce longer and combining career with motherhood.
Compared to forty years ago, where women were seen in gender specific jobs, including teachers, nurses, hairdressers, receptionists and retail sales. Today ‘women now occupying over a third of all manager positions, and growth areas in occupations requiring high skills and advanced education’ (Jericho G, 2012). According to Edger, maternity leave, child care and return to paid workforce are readily available to today’s mothers (Edger, 2005, p 36). The post modern family have what Elkind observes that couples marry later, and have fewer children. Although economically it is beneficial if both parents are working. (Edger, 2005, p10). In the post modern family, the gender roles have changed. (Holmes, Hughes, Julian, 2003, p.284). Most modern women in Western cultures are now looking for relationships where they are in a partnership with household chores and child raising being shared.
Has religion lost its influence over the traditional marriage? According a Sydney Herald article, ‘ the divorce rate is four hundred percent greater then forty years ago, that more young couples are rejecting marriage’ preferring a de facto relationship. (Maley, 2003, p.13). The Catholic Church has also seen some decline in marriages. In Pope Francis’ recent speech, ‘The family is important, and it is necessary for the survival of humanity. Without the family, the cultural survival of the human race would be at risk. The family, whether we like it or not, is the foundation…Today, there are those who say that marriage is out of fashion. Is it out of fashion?… many preach the importance of ‘enjoying’ the moment. They say that it is not worth making a life-long commitment, making a definitive decision … because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries,…I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love’ (Pope Francis, 2013)
Along with religious factors, same- sexed families have diversely changed. According to Australian Bureau of Statistics it revealed that 33,700 Australian couples are living together in a same-sex relationship, with 17,600 male couples and 16,100 female couples. There are almost twice as many children living in same-sex couple families as there were in 2001, with most of these children living in female same-sex couple families. Figures showed 6300 children are living in same-sex couple families from 2011, up
from 3400 in 2001. With the availability of modern science, sperm donors, in vitro fertilisation, surrogacy and the availability to adopt or foster a child gives the same-sex family opportunity to increase their family of two, to three or more. The report also ‘unveiled a trend against traditional housework gender roles, with cooking, cleaning and laundry responsibilities more evenly shared in same-sex couples, unlike opposite-sex couples where women tend to do more than men’ (Wright J. 2013).
Sole parenting along with same sex families has become a common evolvement. Either by choice, necessity, death of spouse or divorce are now an accepted commonality compared to forty years ago. Although ‘Sole parents have to battle with the emotional and physical stress of juggling family responsibilities and work’, the dependency of local community support systems coincide with the ‘ability to work is dependant on access to non-parental child care, after-school care, (and) a job in the local neighbourhood’ (Edger, 2005, p.11) for a flexible, family friendly workplace.
A blended family is the new formation of a previous disintegrated family unit. According to Holmes, Hughes and Julian, a couple starts as a family that grows to include children, who then have their own offspring. ‘If you include a divorce in this picture, new partners, step-parents, step-siblings and half-brothers and -sisters, you can see the boundaries of the family becoming more fluid.’ (Holmes. D/ Hughes. K / Julian. R, 2003, p. 282). Many of today’s families are made up of these blended families, step and half family members, foster, adopted and extended multi-generation non blood related family members. As a result the family unit is still alive and thriving, however it has grown and become more diverse in its members.
In conclusion, it is clear that the nuclear family unit has not disintegrated, but has changed and evolved with the times and improved women’s rights. In particular to family diversity, reflecting in the growing freedom and acceptability of different lifestyles. Those relationships could have a fluid tenure, where individuals may form a family for a time, then go on to form new family ties and connections blending in numerous connections that may make up a modern family.
Chadwick V, 2013, Tick for same-sex marriages ,The Age, Victoria Australia, viewed on 14 August 2013. Elkind D, Kappan P. D, 1995, School and family in the post-modern world, p. 8-14. Elkind D, 1994, Ties that stress: The new family imbalance, Harvard College, United states of America, Pg. 1-4. Edger D, 2005, The war over work: the future of work and family, Melbourne University Press, Australia. Jericho G, 2012, Changing role of women in the workplace, The Drum tv, viewed on 14 August 2013, www.abc.net.au. Maley B, 2003, The Sydney Morning Herald comment section, Sydney. Murdock G.P, 1949, Social Structure, The Macmillan Company, New York. Pope Francis, 2013, Marriage and family from the world youth day speech, viewed 8 August 13 www.marriageuniqueforareason.org/-about-marriage-and-the-family-from-world-youth-day, Rio de Janeiro, South America. Wright J, 2013, Number of children with same-sex parents soars, The Age, Victoria, viewed on 14 August 2013, www.theage.com.au.
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