The family is often considered to be the most influential agent of socialization. A family can affect not only its members but also the structure of a society or culture. However, families change under the influence of the world as well. In fact, the developments in the family structure can be explained by a number of factors, including historical events and human progress. The trend towards diverse families, for instance, continues to bring changes to the modern family structure and affect every person in and out of one’s household. Moreover, differences in marriage and family can also be explained by some cultural, racial, and personal differences of individuals.
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This paper aims to explore the changing history of the family structure, describe the differences between families according to various aspects, and evaluate the current trend of diversification in households.
Importance in Socialization
The role of the family in one’s socialization cannot be overstated. There are many agents of socialization. However, the family is considered to be the most important one for a number of reasons. First of all, significant progress in one’s ability to socialize happens in childhood, when young people learn the traditions and norms of interaction with other people. During this time, the family can be the only significant structure in a child’s life, which explains the importance of parental guidance. According to Meyer, Raikes, Virmani, Waters, and Thompson (2014), parents can, directly and indirectly, affect their children by expressing their emotions.
Then, children can mimic their ways of expression and use the acquired knowledge later in life. Moreover, early socialization happens when a person does not have enough freedom to make his or her own choices. Therefore, parents and guardians become the main individuals that a young child can interact with throughout the day. Their teachings are then used by children to socialize with their peers or other adults. Thus, the impact of family on one’s socialization is vital to a person.
Changes of the American Family
The changes that occurred in the structure of the American family are not unique to one country. These alterations happened in most developed countries that followed the same pattern of industrialization and technological progress. These states also went through the so-called gender revolution which affected the way people perceive their place in the world in relation to the places of other people.
For instance, according to Goldscheider, Bernhardt, and Lappegård (2015), the traditional household usually included a stable structure of roles, which were assigned to every member of the family. A working husband and a housewife were the two major types of occupations for men and women respectively. Moreover, childbirth was firmly connected to marriage. Currently, both marriage and birth are not inherently correlated with the concept of family as many people choose not to marry or have children nonmaritally (Goldscheider et al., 2015). Furthermore, the roles of parents in the modern household also shift towards the lack of boundaries as both men and women often want to pursue a career.
The changes in family roles can be explained by females participating more actively in labor than they did before. This gender revolution influenced the way people view themselves as women became independent with time. The position of a housewife put the financial responsibility on one part of the family, which significantly affected the relationship dynamic. Now, members of families can be considered equal as both adults can work and contribute to the household financially. Moreover, both parents can look after their children.
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Differences in Marriage and Family Life
While families in most parts of the country follow similar patterns, some differences based on people’s socioeconomic status and demographics. For instance, class difference is one of the factors that may determine the way people view marriages and family life. Social class variation is hard to pinpoint in the continuously changing environment of the country. For example, relationship progression for some partners may differ on the basis of personal preferences more than on other factors.
However, Steinmetz and Sussman (2013) state that child-parent communication, for example, can differ from one class to another. The concept of obedience is more developed in lower-class households, while middle-class parents focus more on such notions as happiness and achievement. Furthermore, cohabitation without marriage is more prevalent among people of the working-class as it is financially advantageous to both partners.
Race can also be a factor affecting one’s perception of family life. Here, economic and cultural traditions create a structure that some people follow historically. Diverse families, for example, may face some issues based on the inequality of partners at work or in social life. According to Bloome (2014), racial inequality is present in many households as African American individuals often have lower incomes than their white partners.
Thus, the problem of equality becomes more critical. Gender creates similar differences in people’s families with female partners earning less money than men on average. Here, gender also affects the reasons people decide to get married. However, currently, many people move away from marriage and choose cohabitation as the most profitable way of living. The shift in traditions does not put the same amount of pressure on partners to get married.
Trend towards Diverse Families
In my opinion, the shift towards diverse families can be viewed as positive. First of all, modern economics and politics do not enforce a strong social class structure that may have influenced different households before. Therefore, the rising number of diverse families creates a more balanced picture of incomes and relations. Moreover, diversity promotes cultural education and tolerance, which in turn reduces various sociocultural tensions.
Politically, diverse families encourage freedom of choice and equality, which may positively affect people’s view of the family life and allow more individuals to create a stable and prosperous household (Steinmetz & Sussman, 2013). The disparities between people regarding such aspects as ones’ status, gender, and race can be lowered by encouraging diversification. Complicated histories and cultures of diverse families can also bring more flexibility and adaptability to the next generation.
Women’s Rights in Traditional Families
The stereotypes of traditional families that one can define about households of the pre-World War II era include a rigid structure of gendered occupations and various limitations for women. After the war, women started to gain more independence and mobility, which significantly affected the family structure. Currently, women’s rights allow them to participate in all spheres of life. The shift to traditional families would repress women’s ability to work. The inequality of traditional households is no longer accepted as standard in modern views on family. Thus, women’s rights would regress considerably because of this change. Moreover, the emphasis on having and raising children without the partner’s help would also put more pressure on women and their independence.
The idea of the family in America continuously changes. Currently, partners in families become more independent, and the relationship itself becomes more informal than before. While households become more diverse than ever, race, class, and gender still affect some aspects of marriage and family life. Women gained more rights in recent years, which also shaped the modern family structure. Although many elements of the family change, it remains the most important agent of socialization for all its members.
Bloome, D. (2014). Racial inequality trends and the intergenerational persistence of income and family structure. American Sociological Review, 79(6), 1196-1225.
Goldscheider, F., Bernhardt, E., & Lappegård, T. (2015). The gender revolution: A framework for understanding changing family and demographic behavior. Population and Development Review, 41(2), 207-239.
Meyer, S., Raikes, H. A., Virmani, E. A., Waters, S., & Thompson, R. A. (2014). Parent emotion representations and the socialization of emotion regulation in the family. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 38(2), 164-173.
Steinmetz, S. K., & Sussman, M. B. (Eds.). (2013). Handbook of marriage and the family. New York, NY: Springer Science & Business Media.