Evolving Family Structures: A Comparative Analysis

Categories: Family

Throughout the course of history and from the time that human beings began to modernize and grow into civilizations, the beliefs of what was thought normal, the distinct ways of living; have greatly changed over time. One certain belief that is focused in this paper is family structure, the contrast there is between nuclear families and the extended ones. Although the United States has now a dominant structure, which is nuclear families, it wasn’t always like this. It alone has many different norms of family structure due to differences in socioeconomic status, the government, religion, media, culture, etc.

Moreover, do other countries. One must think how these types of influences also play a key role in other parts of the world, for example the Latin-American countries whose main structure is extended families. This paper will focus on family structure in United States but Latin America as well. How has family structure changed over time in the United States? How has family structure changed in Latin America? How do these two different parts of the world, differ from each other and how do they compare in terms of family structure and what influences them? Finally, where might the future of family structure be headed towards, in both of these regions of the world?

Keywords: Family Structure U.

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S, Family Structure Latin America

Modernized Family Structure in the  United States and Latin America
Family structure is a concept that has changed over time. As complex as it is, it can have a variety of structures, or forms.

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There isn’t a single definition for this term, as in there is not only one unique model of family, there’s no stereotype for it. As known families and the changes within them, are different from country to country and around the world, this is due to the fact that there’s different customs, values, morals, cultures and traditions, education, marriages, fertility rates, economy different industrialization levels among those countries, etc. However, the more outstanding change has occurred between nuclear families and extended families, because those are the two main family structures, and the ones who seem to be changing in this modern world.

The previous mention facts provide the reasons why this is happening and also how can it become in the future if it continues this way. The United States is a great example of modernization and these changes in family, because it went from a large number of extended families to an increasing number of nuclear families. On the other hand, there are the Latin American countries, that even though they have also modernized, they still have more extended families due to culture, traditions or education reasons. Using as an example this two different regions, which are completely different economic and culture wise. It will be easier to show differences and similarities that Latin America has undergone compared to the United States of America over time and why it is this way.

Types of Structures
Family is a social institution that unites people to cooperate with one another in groups, with the purpose of taking care of each one in the group. Therefore, there is not a specific model for what a family should look like. There are different types and ways of families living in households all around the world. For example: One-parent families, composed by single mother or father; families with couples that aren’t married, Blended families; singlehood, single independent people, adoptive families, single childs, etc. However, the two predominant types that have evolved over time and conflict with each other, those are extended and the nuclear families.

The Nuclear family also known as “conjugal family” is a family composed of the two spouses and their children, based on marriage. The Extended family is composed of parents and children as well as other kin; this being grandparents, uncles, cousins, etc. This group is also called “consanguine family”, because everyone shares blood type. Nuclear families are often seen in industrialized societies, while extended families prevail in preindustrial societies. United States Family Structure Background

The United States of America it is now a industrialized high income country that has fully developed; and in which many people seek to establish citizen ship, due to the ease of climbing the socioeconomic ladder or class mobility and also that there is that ease to economically support and provide for families in view of the opportunity there are. Then again, it wasn’t always like this, economy and the U.S. wasn’t as developed before, and many things were different. Analyzing it from the family’s structure point of view, it historically went from being mainly extended families to nuclear. As it is known the United States, has been colonized by European countries; more specifically England. Then it is no surprise most of its trends, cultural traits, traditions, etc. comes from Europe.

Moreover, they brought education. This was why in the time during the colonization form 1600 to 1700’s, the United States was mainly based in agriculture and faming, therefore they needed of many members to help take care of lands and help with children. They were also really numerous families because lack of education. So people used to have a larger number of children, because they weren’t taught how to avoid that, and because they thought the more children they had the better. But this went changing. Moving on to the time of the industrial revolution in the 1800’s, there was an economic impulse, and now that people where more educated and started developing individually, made nuclear families grow.

As a result of this situation, the number of extended families went down; however the household population was still 90% extended families. The remaining 10%, who were mostly the ones with extended recourses, rich or wealthy; as mention before, were the ones able to educate themselves, develop economy and therefore, have less children because of ease it represented. On the course of time, around the early 19th century, there was around a 1% increase in extended families due the fact that during 60’s and the 70’s there was a harder economy, so family was needed to help with economy.

Regardless of this fact the multigenerational families were still in decay. Furthermore, numbers clearly show this decrease. Parents and children living with other relatives have gone from 65.5% in 1940 to 46.2% in 1970. Also; according to N. V. Benokraitis (2010), “Two generations ago, the typical American family consisted of a father, a mother, and three or four children” (p. 03). These facts show how from the time of the colonies, the industrialization to the time of the 1900’s, larger families have lessened. United States in the Present

Going further; to the end of the 1900’s into 20th Century people started to see more and more changes in family households. In the U.S. it started to emerge the less dominant divers’ types of family structures, making its way
to even more developed country. The nuclear family is for now the predominant one cause the economy and the culture has set it as the ideal for the times the U.S. is going through. Although, and as mentioned before these minority family types are in erosion. In the United States these changes occurred because of cause and effect reactions. The three main causes are modernization, economy, and independence.

For example, marriages, they are no longer what they used to be. Due to, conflicts that cause divorces; and not to mention, the seeking of independence among men and women specially. Bianchi & Spain, (1996) argued that “U.S. families are changing in response to a number of factors, including the desire of women to have more career options ant to provide better lives for their children” Bianchi & Spain, 1996, p. 6-8, (as cited in Macionis, 2010, p.368). Also, Brown’s (1981) studies found the following:

Comparing the urban and rural parts of the country, between 1950 and 1970, showed that rural divorce were lower, fewer women age 20-24 were unmarried, and the number of children per 1,000 ever married women age 35-44 was slightly higher in rural America. This shows how men and women that live in urban place, tend get more divorces or be single, than those in rural place; where it tends to be more of a family environment. As a matter of fact the individual growth and independence is also reflecting in young adults, as well as adult. Almost 19 million adults around ages 30 to 44 are single and have never been married, representing 31 percent of all people in that age group, this is happening because it is more economic to only look after themselves, rather than for a whole family. For example: in the U.S. out of 117.2 million households, 78.9 million (67%) meet the bureau’s definition of family.

The rest of the living units contained single people or not relates, and in 1950, 90% of household where families (U.S.Census Bureau, 2010). Despite, that family health is decreasing; it is fact that these single people are more capable of maintaining their finance, and paying debts. Blended and one parent household have also risen this past years. Trends in culture and modern life, have led people into be more and more unsatisfied with the people they marry. The demands are higher and conflict among spouses get sometimes into violence, abuse, etc. and as a result people get divorces, get remarried or stay single parents.

For example: from 2007 to 2008 the census dated that the percentage of children under age 18 living with two married parents fell from 77 percent in 1980 to 67 percent. In addition, Single-parent American households increased from 11 percent of all households in 1970 to 29 percent. Al this, has led to this last few years, the present day in the United States. In which; nuclear families are the ideal and majority, although this is evidently changing; and also a place where, families are no longer multigenerational, and if there are still some left, they will eventually disappear. In other words, it is a reality that family is metaphorically “falling apart”, in the United States. Latin America’s family background

Many aspects of Latin American history compared to the United States are the same, however the difference lays on the way thing where approached. In Latin American countries’ history, it is evident that the extended families were more of a tradition in the culture before colonies, in which indigenous or native people lived in group and large families protecting each other, similar to the movie “Pocahontas.” Indigenous didn’t have any education, another reason for why they had larger families. Subsequently, around the 1400’s Christopher Columbus and European missioner, begun colonizing Latin American countries. During this process a new race was formed, the mixed race, which was a result of, the European missioners mixed with the indigenous.

Europeans provided the native and mixed races with little if any education; and strongly imposed and established their culture, religion and government trends. For more than three centuries, from 1492 until the end of the rebellions for independence in 1826, European powers ruled Colonial Latin America. Spain and Portugal dominated the majority of Latin America. After that period every Latin American country had its independence. Then again, they still kept the culture and the Catholic religion as well the multigenerational family type of European countries. This remained practically steady for an extended period of time until the early 19th century, were the time for modernization and industrialization in Latin America started. However, until that time a splitting of extended families occurred.

This meaning that extended families divided into two: the poor extended families, that where the indigenous families, that because of lack of education had numerous children, and because their poverty the entire kinship had to leave in the same household, not being able to afford land or properties. On the other hand, there was the wealth extended family that was the white European people and the mixed race successors who were accepted by their European parents; being raced as white and educated at the same level as the white who stayed in Latin America. This side of the extended families, which were wealth and well educated, where the ones who lived in multigenerational family structure due to mostly tradition, and as a sign of well being and success. Further on, in the 1900’s, like stated before modernization process incremented and then the gap among this family type widened. Leading one into successfully adapt to modern way of living; and the other, into a greater poverty. Latin America in Present Day

Since The 90’s Latin America started to follow the path into a modern society. Even thought South American countries don’t have the industrialization level as the U.S., opportunity and economy has also risen. Therefore, Family change also occurred. Basically in Latin America has now divided its family structure into three parts and for distinct reasons. The first one is the wealthy extended families, which live in larger families just because of tradition or culture, for example: as Macionis (2010) states “Many Latinos enjoy the loyalty and support of extended families. Traditionally, Hispanic parents exercise greater control over children’s courtship, considering marriage an alliance of families” (p. 378). It is basically to have a better control and help with raising of the children. Second there are the wealthy nuclear families, which have followed more North American trends.

Finally there is the poor extended family, which live in larger families due to lack of education, and also because help is needed with the raising of children. Even though the economy and the development in South America is not even close the first world countries it still evolved quiet fast into modernized life, with higher numbers of nuclear family. As a matter of fact, extended families are starting to decrease. It went being the majority in developing countries of Latin American two decades ago, to being now in present day around a quarter of the population in every Latin American country. According to the ECLAC (The Economic Commission for Latin America), around 43% of the entire population of Latin America is in poverty or below, and 40% of poor people live in extended family household.

Which means it’s only a 17.2 percent, the number of extended families in present day. A better quality education during the past three decades, has been another factor that impulse Latin American young adults and adults from ages around 25 - 30 f to make decisions in whether they want fewer or more member of their family, living in a harder, more competitive, and modern world. The tradition of large families helped Hispanics to be largest minority groups in the U.S., however, today more and more Latinas are making the same decision, and opting to have fewer children. (Navarro, 2004; U.S. Census Bureau, 2008).

In terms of the other family types has also changed, although it is not a noticeable, some of types as; single child families, and adoptive families, have been becoming more frequently seen in Latin-American societies. Although, individualization or singlehood for example, is not that common in Latin American, because for one, in Hispanic countries is not well seen when a person around it late twenties –early thirties; does not have a partner or spouse. Comparing the United States and Latin-America

Both backgrounds are mostly the same because both regions had the same lack of education and both where colonized by European countries, although this may be true, things in family structure turned out different because of the socio-economical and development approach they had. Comparing both regions, they both underwent that family structural change, and had almost the same results they both adapted modern family structures. However, the change of the U.S is higher in rates and percentage, because as showed by the research Latin American’s still keep some of their traditions, and extended families either being poor or wealthy. Whereas the United States has industrialized and socio-economy developed that the extended families are reduced to a small fraction, moreover, nuclear families have also reduced. Concluding Research

In conclusion of this research, it is clear that in the United States family structure went drastically from being multigenerational or extended, to nuclear, and is turning into independent structure, as an effect of mainly modernization, and practical living. Following the same path, it is Latin-America, whose data shows that family structure has also suffered and evolved into more nuclear and modern families.

But unlike the United States, it still conserves some part of its traditions, culture, and extended family structure, generally speaking, it still in the transition from extended to nuclear family. As a result, of still being several steps behind the industrialization level of the U.S. Nonetheless, all country will get to the same point and this metaphoric conflict there is among nuclear and extended families around the globe, will further on be nonexistent, because there will be a majority of independent people, trying to succeed and survive in a competitive world, where there’ll be no place and time for family.

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Updated: Nov 20, 2023
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Evolving Family Structures: A Comparative Analysis. (2016, Apr 23). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/family-structure-essay

Evolving Family Structures: A Comparative Analysis essay
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