Sociology of Families Making Families Term Paper

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They are therefore not determined or restricted by factors such as norms, morals or external principles. A concise definition of this view is as follows:

Constructivism views all of our knowledge as "constructed," because it does not reflect any external "transcendent" realities; it is contingent on convention, human perception, and social experience. It is believed by constructivists that representations of physical and biological reality, including race, sexuality, and gender are socially constructed

Constructivist epistemology)

Another theoretical and philosophical stance that is pertinent to the understanding of the status of the family in modern society is the post-structural or deconstructive view. This is allied to a certain extent with the constructivist viewpoint, which sees society as a social construction and denies the reality of transcendent factors. This view therefore sees the family as a structure which is not fixed or static but is relative in terms of the norms and values that determine its shape.

Beyond the nuclear family

As has been stated, the understanding of the contemporary family cannot be achieved without reference to the larger changes and transitions in society. The entire world in the latter half of the twentieth century underwent what is commonly called" a postmodern revolution," which is still continuing today.

The term postmodern can be very roughly defined in sociological terms as a period where the values and norm of the past are subjected to intense scrutiny and questioning and many of these norms and values are denied their previous validity. In postmodern and post - structural theory the values of the past are, for examples, seen as relative and not necessarily true in that there is no one set of social or philosophical " facts" that is definitive. This relativistic view is also applied to the social institution of the family. (Vanevery 1999, p. 165)

Therefore in contemporary postmodern society the values and norms that serve as the foundation of the nuclear family are radically questioned from a number of perspectives. With the breakdown of the religious and community orientated approach to culture and the rise of individualism and relativity, the institution of the family is changing and being questioned, with many people looking for alternatives.

The demise of the nuclear family is therefore the result of many different factors, including the changing view of sexuality and marriage. The institution of marriage is vital for the relevance and stability of the traditional and nuclear family. It is within the conventions of marriage that the social relevance and cultural purpose of the family is reinforced and sustained through cultural and social rituals and perceptions. It is therefore not surprising that the demise of the traditional view of the family can be measured to a certain extent by the declining status of marriage and sexual norms in a society.

Many researchers and commentators are of the opinion that there has been a steady state of decline in the prevalence and acceptance of marriage in contemporary society. In general the consensus is that marriage as an institution in Western and modern societies are on the decline and have worsened considerably. One of the central causes of this decline is the increase of secularization. However, the decline of the institution of marriage is not a consistent fact that is homogenous across all cultures.

In line with the postmodern approach and the relativity of values in modern societies, many young people today believe that marriage no longer serves a necessary purpose in society. The institution of the family is also being affected by this questioning and by various arguments which indicate that the conventional structure of the family is socially or culturally relative and not a necessary ideal to strive for. As one commentator states: 'Over the past three or four decades, the message American children receive from the wider culture is one that is high on romance and sex but hostile or, at best, indifferent to marriage." (Elshtain 2000, p. 312) This is supported by the fact that the percentage of out-of-wedlock births skyrocketed from 5.3% to 30%....with about three- quarters of births to teens being nonmarital..." (Elshtain 2000, p. 312)

This view is further substantiated by research into the changes in the family and marriage as an institution over the past 50 years. For example, the marriage rate in the United States is at an all - time low; the figures for 1999 show that there were.86 marriages per 1,000 citizens in 1999. The divorce rate for the same year was 4.1 per 1,000 of the population. (Maher 2003, p. 56) the increase can be seen in that these figures are almost twice those recorded in 1966. Furthermore research has projected that married couples have about a 50% chance of divorce. Researchers project that, "According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 20% of first marriages end within 5 years and 33% within 10 years. Over one million children annually experience their parents' divorce." (Maher 2003, p. 56) Consequently there has also been in increase Cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births. "In 2000, there were 4.7 million cohabiting couples, compared with 500,000 in 1970." (Maher 2003. p. 56)

There are also changes in sexual mores and norms. There is a general view that sexuality has been separated from marriage and therefore it is no longer bound by the norms and mores of the family. Another view of this aspect is that sexuality has become individualized and that the identity of a person is determine to large extent by genet rand sexuality and not by marriage and family relationships.

This means that sexual relationships are often seen to be the determining factors that constitute the very psychological and social identity of the person." (Noble1998. p. 257)

This means that sexual relationships are often seen to be the determining factors that constitute the very psychological and social identity of the person. One point-of-view, which is associated with the marriage and the family, sees sexual relationships and identity as innate or "naturally" constituted. This view is opposed by the social construction theory which sees sexual identity as a "construction" engineered by society and various power groups within culture.

4. Conclusion

The question about whether the family is in a state of decline or in a state of resurgence is one that continues to be debated. There are many who see resurgence and a trend towards more traditional views of the family. On the other hand the forces of societal and cultural change, as well as the dominant postmodern ethos, suggest that the conventional view of the family has changed forever. One strong indicator of this is the separation of sex from marriage and the family as a norm in many societies, which suggests the future trajectory of modern cultures. The aspect of secularization, combined with the dominance of individualization, would indicate that the trend in modern developed as well as less developed countries in the future will be towards alternative styles of the family and possibly even the eventual demise of the traditional and nuclear family structures.


Anderson, G.L. (Ed.).1997, the Family in Global Transition. St. Paul, MN: Professors World Peace Academy.

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Coulter, G. 2001, 'Cohabitation: An Alternative Form of Family Living', Canadian Journal of Sociology, Vol.26, no. 2. p. 245.

Doyle R. 1999, the Decline of Marriage. (Scientific American, Dec. 1999)

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Fox, B. 1997, 'Another View of Sociology of the Family in Canada: A Comment on Nett', the Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, Vol. 34, no. 1, pp. 93+.


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Kick, E., Davis, B., Lehtinen, M., & Wang, L. 2000, 'Family and Economic Growth: A World-System Approach and a Cross-National Analysis', International Journal of Comparative Sociology, Vol. 41, no.2. pp. 225.

Maher, B. 2003, 'Patching Up the American Family" World and I, Vol.18, no. 56.


Matthews, B., & Beaujot, R. 1997, 'Gender Orientations and Family Strategies', Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, Vol. 34. no. 4, pp. 415-428.

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