Family Policy and the American Safety Net

Books

Janet Zollinger Giele

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  • Contemporary Family Perspectives

    Series Editor

    Susan J. Ferguson

    Grinnell College

    Volumes in the Series

    Families: A Social Class Perspective

    Shirley A. Hill

    Making Families Through Adoption

    Nancy E. Riley and Krista E. Van Vleet

    Global Families

    Meg Wilkes Karraker

    Families and Health

    Janet R. Grochowski

    Families and Work

    Stephen Sweet

    Gay and Lesbian Families

    Nancy J. Mezey

    Families and Aging in the 21st Century

    Patricia Drentea

    Copyright

    View Copyright Page

    Series Preface: Contemporary Family Perspectives

    SusanJ.Ferguson, Grinnell College

    The family is one of the most private and pervasive social institutions in U.S. society. At the same time, public discussions and debates about the institution of the family persist. Some scholars and public figures claim that the family is declining or dying, or that the contemporary family is morally deficient. Other scholars argue that the family is caught in the larger culture wars currently taking place in the United States. The recent debates on same sex marriage are one example of this larger public discussion about the institution of the family. Regardless of one's perspective that the family is declining or caught in broader political struggles, scholars agree that the institution has undergone dramatic transformations in recent decades. U.S. demographic data reveal that fewer people are married, divorce rates remain high at almost 50 percent, and more families are living in poverty. In addition, people are creating new kinds of families via Internet dating, cohabitation, single-parent adoption, committed couples living apart, donor insemination, and polyamorous relationships. The demographic data and ethnographic research on new family forms require that family scholars pay attention to a variety of family structures, processes, ideologies, and social norms. In particular, scholars need to address important questions about the family, such as, what is the future of marriage? Is divorce harmful to individuals, to the institution of the family, and/or to society? Why are rates of family violence so high? Are we living in a postdating culture? How do poverty and welfare policies affect families? How is child rearing changing now that so many parents work outside the home, and children spend time with caretakers other than their parents? Finally, how are families socially constructed in different societies and cultures?

    Most sociologists and family scholars agree that the family is a dynamic social institution that is continually changing as other social structures and individuals in society change. The family also is a social construction with complex and shifting age, gender, race, and social class meanings. Many excellent studies are currently investigating the changing structures of the institution of the family and the lived experiences and meanings of families. Contemporary Family Perspectives is a series of short texts and research monographs that provides a forum for the best of this burgeoning scholarship. The series aims to recognize the diversity of families that exist in the United States and globally. A second goal is for the series to better inform pedagogy and future family scholarship about this diversity of families. The series also seeks to connect family scholarship to a broader audience beyond the classroom by informing the public and by ensuring that family studies remain central to contemporary policy debates and to social action. Each short text contains the most outstanding current scholarship on the family from a variety of disciplines, including sociology, demography, policy studies, social work, human development, and psychology. Moreover, each short text is authored by a leading family scholar or scholars who bring their unique disciplinary perspective to an understanding of contemporary families.

    Contemporary Family Perspectives provides the most advanced scholarship and up-to-date findings on the family. Each volume provides a brief overview of significant scholarship on that family topic, including critical current debates or areas of scholarly disagreement. In addition to providing an assessment of the latest findings related to their family topic, authors also examine the family utilizing an intersectional framework of race-ethnicity, social class, gender, and sexuality. Much of the research is interdisciplinary, with a number of theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches presented. Several of the family scholars use a historical lens as well to ground their contemporary research. A particular strength of the series is that the short texts appeal to undergraduate students as well as to family scholars, but they are written in a way that makes them accessible to a larger public.

    About this Volume

    Family Policy and the American Safety Net is a comprehensive research volume that examines when and how family policy in America emerged and how it has grown in the last half century. The author, Janet Zollinger Giele (Brandeis University), has studied family policy for more than 40 years, and this volume represents a culmination of much of that scholarship. Giele argues that family policy is more than a historical or political response to societal needs, instead, family policy is an adaptive response to economic and social change. Giele also argues that family policy is all around us and often hidden under other names or programs, such as Social Security, Medicaid, and housing policies. Giele insists on taking this broad approach to family policy in order to understand where resources are allocated in the larger society. Giele begins in the introduction with an analysis of family policy using her personal experience as a form of analysis. This pivotal personal history helps the reader situate Giele's training and experiences in the larger societal discussions about family, work, and gender. After providing this background, Giele examines the emergence of family policy in America and the changing definition of family in the twentieth century. A key variable in any analysis of the family and family policy is gender. Giele reviews the impact changing gender roles have had on the family before beginning her main analysis. Next, Giele divides her analysis of family policy into one of four family functions: caregiving, economic provision, residence, and access to cultural heritage and legal and social citizenship.

    To understand the institution of the family in the twenty-first century, we need to understand how family policy affects families across the United States. The last chapter places family policy within the larger contexts of the economy and the government. Giele demonstrates well that, when families can no longer provide the safety net in our modern capitalist state, the government must step in. Giele concludes by arguing that family policy is as critical to the nation's well-being as is foreign policy and national defense. Without strong families, the nation itself is weakened.

    A unique feature of this book is Giele's use of a theory of action that posits four main functional requirements of every social system: Adaption, Goal-Attainment, Integration, and Legitimation. Giele adapts this theory to her understanding of the functions of family and structures the main chapters around this analysis.

    Family Policy and the American Safety Net is appropriate for use in any class concerned with family structure, family policy, social inequality, gender, and how government affects families in terms of employment, migration, and well being. This book is a valuable resource to teachers and students in beginning and advanced courses in sociology, family studies, women's studies, political science, social work, public policy, and other disciplines. It also finds an audience among any person interested in comparative family studies or among those who work in various human services fields, including human development, social work, education, counseling, health services, and the government. This last statement is particularly true for social service employees who work with welfare or immigrant populations. This volume can help them to better understand how governmental policy can dramatically impact families and improve their lives.

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    List of Tables

    About the Author

    Janet Zollinger Giele (AB Earlham College, PhD Harvard University) is Professor Emerita of Sociology, Social Policy, and Women's Studies at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management of Brandeis University. From 1990 to 1996, she served as the founding director of the Family and Children's Policy Center, which was the forerunner of the present Institute on Children, Youth, and Families at the Heller School. Professor Giele's research and writing has focused on three interlocking interests—women's changing roles, aging and the life course, and family policy.


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