Changing Family Form American Family Term Paper

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Rather than lamenting the loss of a family structure from an admittedly anomalous decade, Stacy (1993) argues that social reforms are necessary to ensure that children are cared for.

In Beck-Gernsheim's (2002:85) assessment, the focus should not be on "the black-and-white alternative 'end of the family' or 'family as the future'" but on "the many grey areas or better, the many different shades in the niches inside and outside the traditional family network." According to Beck-Gernsheim (2002) traditional definitions of family exclude many groups such as single people, the childless and single-parent families who have never married. They also ignore the potential conflict that occurs within traditional families. Beck-Gernsheim (2002) explains that changes in families, which have been occurring since industrialization, are the result of individualization.

In pre-industrial times, family structure was centered on work and economics, which each family member having a role to support the family farm or business. This structure left few choices for the individual. However, historical changes such as industrialization, the advent of social security mechanisms, and the feminist movement have resulted in a trend towards individualization. Therefore, families must make decisions about issues that were once understood, such as where they would live, what religion they would practice, and whether or not to have children. As Beck-Gernsheim (2002:97) explains, "The family is becoming more of an elective relationship, an association of individual persons, who each bring to it their own interests, experiences and plans and who are each subject to different controls, risks and constraints." The traditional definition of family, while not disappearing, is no longer the dominant definition of family. Instead, there is what Beck-Gernsheim (2002) calls the "post-familial family" which may be comprised of different relationships, such as childless couples, single-parent families, same-sex partnerships, or families living between more than one home.


Lareau's (2002) study confirmed Beck-Gernsheim's assertions of individualization, at least for middle class children. According to Lareau (2002), middle-class parents and working-class parents exhibit different parenting styles. Middle-class parents, in a style Lareau (2002) calls "concerted cultivation," enroll their children in many activities in an effort for them to develop their talents and learn important life skills. Additionally, middle-class parents emphasize the importance of developing language and reasoning skills. This approach results in a wider range of experiences for children, a sense of individualism within the family, and an emphasis on children's performance (Lareau 2002). Children quickly develop a sense of their own talents and skills and are able to differentiate themselves from siblings and friends. However, this approach creates a hectic schedule for parents and results in sense of entitlement in children.

Working-class and poor parents, on the other hand, exhibit a style of parenting Lareau (2002) dubs the "accomplishment of natural growth." According to this style, parents believe as long as they provide the necessities (food, love, and safety), their children will grow and thrive. Children in these families participate in fewer organized activities, but have more time to spend with extended family members. This results in "a thicker divide between the family and the outside world" (Lareau 2002:773). Children are typically viewed as subordinate to parents, and children's activities do not dominate the schedules of these families. Whereas the concerted cultivation style results in a sense of entitlement, the natural growth style results in a sense of constraint. Children are taught to be deferential with professionals such as doctors and educators, but at the same time they are more distrustful of these professionals.

While Lareau (2002) explains that neither style is intrinsically more desirable than the other, there are advantages for children of middle-class families. For example, middle-class children who have focused on language and reasoning skills are better able to negotiate better outcomes as the move out and begin to interact with representatives of formal institutions. Additionally, if as Beck-Gernsheim (2002) suggests that society has become more individualistic, children who have been the focus of their family lives and who have a sense of entitlement may have an advantage. Lareau (2002:749) adds that "differences in family life lie not only in the advantages parents obtain for their children, but also in the skills they transmit to children for negotiating their own life paths."


Beck-Gernsheim, Elisabeth. 2002. Individualization: Institutionalized Individualism and Its Social and Political Consequences, edited by Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim. London: Sage Publications.

Lareau, Annette. 2002. "Invisible Inequality: Social Class and…[continue]

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