Tag Archives: sweeny

Perspective Family Change Perspective vs the Family Decline Perspective

The field of Family Science has been debating and still is debating whether or not the family, as an institution, is going through a dramatic change or if the institution is in a decline.

People are delaying marriage, putting school and work ahead of creating a family, allowing divorces to happen more easily and more frequently, permitting children to be raised in single parent households, and to have an increase in the number of people who cohabit (as opposed to marry).

Two academic articles that discuss this topic are:  Popenoe (1993) who emphasizes the family decline perspective, while Sweeny (2002) argues the family change perspective. Both articles attack the family from an economic perspective.

Basically what the two terms amount to is political rhetoric: The right side (conservatives) claim that the family is in a state of decline–that is, since people are delaying marriages, cohabiting, having children outside of marriage, etc that the family is not in a good place and must be brought back to its “traditional” ideals–aka the 1950s model of the family, while the left side (liberals) state that the family is changing. These people argue the same facts as the family decline perspective, except they state that it’s ok that people aren’t living like they did in the 1950s. That it’s ok that there is more out-of-wedlock births and cohabitation–that that’s just a normal part of the cycle, citing that prior to  the 1950s, families lived in a much different structure than they did in the 1950s and that they do today.

This has led many to state that calling the institution “changing” or “declining” doesn’t really matter, as both articles discussed similar “facts.” and therefore refer to the argument as semantics, a matter of subjectivity and political rhetoric.

Other academic sources on the topics include:

Brooks, C. (2002). Religious influence and the politics of family decline concern: Trends, sources, and US political behavior. American Sociological Review, 191-211.

Chen, C., & Lin, H. L. (2008). Examining Taiwan’s Paradox of Family Decline with a Household-based Convoy. Social Indicators Research87(2), 287-305.

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