Changing Families

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    • 00:00


    • 00:28

      [Our Families, Ourselves][Changing Families]For me, we are a family-- Maya and I, and our daughter Luna.I see family more as extended family.Like my mom, for example, she's 70 years old.She just turned 70.

    • 00:49

      MEI BECK SCOTT-CHUNG: And I know that I'll take care of herwhen she gets older.Even now, we asked her to move out here, with us,and help take care of my daughter.And she actually just came, last week.And it's been a week.And that was the first time she met her.And she fell in love with her, and she justsaid, anytime you need me, call me.And I'll come, and I'll stay with you.And I'll help you out, however you need it.

    • 01:11

      MAYA SCOTT-CHUNG: I was raised with a momand dad, and a brother, in a nuclear family.And then they divorced.And then, we moved, actually, into a communal-- sortof a bunch of single moms raising their kidswith transient dads.And then, I really fell in love with a womanwhen I was about 16.

    • 01:32

      MAYA SCOTT-CHUNG [continued]: So I came out as a lesbian when Iwas in high school, which was tough.Ultimately, I was out and open with my family,but it was really scary.And I was really afraid of losingtheir love, and their trust, and losing friends, and stuff.And, you know, my experience, from beinga little girl was that family is both blood and love,and choice, all of those things.

    • 01:55

      PAUL SCHWARTZ: Family life was a real close family,because the work was there.And if you slacked off, it just created more workfor your brother or sister.So everybody just did their part,and it created a family bond.

    • 02:12

      PRISCILLA SCHWARTZ: The family valuesis probably one of the best assets of the Amish community.And it's something that we, probably, Ithink, tried to bring with us anyway--the strong sense of family.That and your work ethic, I think,are their two greatest values that they

    • 02:32

      PRISCILLA SCHWARTZ [continued]: pass on to their families.

    • 02:34

      KRISTIN SCHWARTZ: They really taught methat it's important to work hard, and give100%, no matter what, and that laziness is absolutely notacceptable-- that working hard is just a requirement.

    • 02:48

      NAJAH BAZZY: In the Arab world, the family is key.And when I teach about Islam, and the Arab world,this is what I say.God puts a strong emphasis on the marital unit.A strong marital unit makes up the family.And a strong family makes for a good society.Family is key.

    • 03:08

      NAJAH BAZZY [continued]: There's so many admonitions in the holy books about takingcare of your family.You cannot speak of the Arab world without speaking aboutfamily.And there's great pain when the families are separated.You're just not complete unless your sister is near you,or your brother is near you.And you will find, many of us don't leave very far away

    • 03:32

      NAJAH BAZZY [continued]: from home.So the family isn't all over the United States.It's very common to find family stayingin the area, which scares me.Because as the generations grow up,here in America, I think that may change.People may begin to move away.And so, I think we all have to work really hard at wanting

    • 03:52

      NAJAH BAZZY [continued]: our children to stay nearby.

    • 03:54

      SPEAKER 7: For this lesbian couple and their daughter,living in San Francisco, for this familyliving among Amish neighbors in Pennsylvania,for this Arab American family living in Dearborn, Michigan,and for nearly everyone, everywhere, the impactof living within a family may wellexceed that of any other social experience.

    • 04:17

      DANIEL F. CHAMBLISS: People in families care for each otheras individual, real people.I know my brother, for instance.He makes mistakes. [Hamilton College]He does goofy things.I forgive him.I let it go, or I take care of it.I take that into account.He doesn't get fired for doing stupid things.

    • 04:37

      DANIEL F. CHAMBLISS [continued]: You can't get kicked out of a family in a waythat you don't get fired from a big organization that'srun according to policies and rules, and based on merit.Families aren't based on merit.You're just born.There you are, you're stuck with each other.

    • 04:52

      SPEAKER 7: But families do a great dealmore than simply give family members a sense of belonging.

    • 04:58

      JONATHAN TURNER: The family resolvesthe issue of how to raise the children,how to protect the children when they're young,because the mother and father are there.[University of California, Riverside]It resolve problems of sexual conflictby regulating sex with marriage.It provides emotional support and financial support.The family socializes the young and gives themthe values and beliefs that allow them to be placed

    • 05:19

      JONATHAN TURNER [continued]: into the society as an adult.

    • 05:22

      SPEAKER 7: Often, it is early family experiences thatshape the way children see themselvesand their capacity to make a difference in the world.

    • 05:32

      GLEN H. ELDER JR: One of my favorite examplesis a farm where children got jobs on the weekends.[University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill]And these jobs made them feel significant.By contrast, we've seen studies of childrenin very affluent circumstances, families.And the kids feel that there's nothing they can really do

    • 05:54

      GLEN H. ELDER JR [continued]: that would make a difference.And they talk about and not really mattering very muchto anyone.

    • 06:02

      SPEAKER 7: Growing up in a familyis a time when children develop attitudes and beliefs thatoften stay with them for the rest of their lives.

    • 06:11

      AMITAI ETZIONI: The fact is that the first introductionof children to values comes from their family, whichdoesn't have to be the traditional family.It can be two gay men, or it can be, sometimes,the mother and an uncle. [The George Washington University]But those to which the children bondare the ones from whom they take their first values.

    • 06:34

      SPEAKER 7: The notion that there is no single one-size-fits-allmodel of what constitutes a family is a concept of enormousimportance, especially in an era when diversity is much morethe rule than the exception.

    • 06:48

      SCOTT COLTRANE: The Census Bureau defines a familyas two or more individuals relatedby birth, marriage, or adoption, wholive together as one household.That's the textbook definition for demographers.It helps them count who is living together when theygo around and do the census. [University of California,Riverside] But most of us think a familyis much more than that.

    • 07:07

      LINDA JACOBSON: I believe that it'sa group of people who love each other, take care of each other,and are there for each other through thick and thin.And many people in this country, regardlessof their gender, or their orientation, or their religion,or their economic background, have created their own familybased on their attractions, and their interests,

    • 07:30

      LINDA JACOBSON [continued]: and their emotional connections.So for us to try to define family would be, I think,a slippery slope to climb on, because family really changes,from family to family.

    • 07:44

      JUDITH STACEY: There still is a great deal of influenceof gender and blood on the nature of family life,but not as much influence as there has been, historically,in most other places.And there's much more room for, and necessityfor, conscious choice, and sometimes,not very conscious choices about alternatives.And under these conditions, every family

    • 08:06

      JUDITH STACEY [continued]: is an alternative family, in the sensethat we are forced to create our bonds of intimacyand parenthood, caretaking, nurturance, survivalwith some degree of choice, even though we don't getto choose what choices we make.

    • 08:21

      JUDITH TREAS: Sociologist anthropologistslike to draw nice charts in which we show lines of descent,or we show marriages-- family trees, if you will.But, if fact, our everyday lives may notfollow those organizational charts.We may have people we consider as family with whom we don'thave a relationship of blood marriage.

    • 08:42

      JUDITH TREAS [continued]: [University of California, Irvine]We may have other individuals in our familytree with whom we gave, at best, very tangential relationships.

    • 08:50

      JUDITH STACEY: What really changedbegan to happen in the 60s and really took off in the 70s.And that, probably, I would identifythree things that are the most dramatic and central.One was the transformation of the economy thatdrew so many women into the paid labor force,and not only women, but married women, and not only married

    • 09:11

      JUDITH STACEY [continued]: women, but mothers, and not only mothers,but mothers of even pre-school children.

    • 09:16

      ARLIE HOCHSCHILD: 25 years ago, if welook at mothers of kids six and under,there were a third that were in the labor force.And now it's 2/3.So 2/3 of them also work full time.Now, women have always worked.I mean, that hasn't changed.But they've worked on farms wherethe workplace and the home were together.

    • 09:38

      ARLIE HOCHSCHILD [continued]: They've worked where there were kin-- other kinavailable to help out.And what we're seeing now is womenmoving into the labor force, and the workplaceis separate from the home.

    • 09:54

      JUDITH STACEY: The second thing that was dramatically differentwas the rise in divorce rates.And it's in the middle 1970s that divorce replaces deathas the key force breaking up marriages--that marriages are more likely to be ended by a divorcethan by a death of one of the parties.

    • 10:13

      SPEAKER 7: There are many who contendthat the simultaneous upsurge in both divorce and women'sparticipation in the labor force is not mere coincidence.

    • 10:22

      JONATHAN TURNER: Because women are working,they have resources.They're not dependent upon men.They can earn money outside the home.And therefore, they don't need to stay in unhappy marriages.

    • 10:32

      SPEAKER 7: But the increase in female participationin the workplace has had an impactbeyond simply making women less dependent financially.With both spouses working, conflictconcerning the division of labor at homehas become much more common.

    • 10:46

      JONATHAN TURNER: But it's certainlya source of tension in the American family.And it's no surprise that divorce has increasedbecause of this tension.

    • 10:56

      SPEAKER 7: Along with women workingin greater numbers outside the home,and the rising rates of divorce, there'sanother factor that rocked the American familyin the second half of the 20th century.

    • 11:08

      JUDITH STACEY: The third thing that I would identifywere all kinds of developments in contraceptionand reproductive technology, which really changedand challenged the relationship between sex and procreation,and parenthood.

    • 11:23

      SPEAKER 7: While families have changed,people's idealized perceptions of familyas an institution have remained relatively constant.

    • 11:31

      FRANCESCA CANCIAN: When you talk about family, for most people,they have a very positive, romantic images.And people do not have images of familiesbeating each other up, or being mean and nasty,or not talking to each other.They have these warm cuddly images.The word "family."When people say, we're like family,

    • 11:52

      FRANCESCA CANCIAN [continued]: they don't mean I'm beating you up.They mean, I'm being warm and supportive.And they forget the other side of families.And we all seem to want to do that.[University of California, Irvine]Even though we come from awful families,we tend to want to hold onto that.And so, it's really important-- not

    • 12:14

      FRANCESCA CANCIAN [continued]: that we need to give up our ideals,but remember what is the reality.

    • 12:19

      SPEAKER 7: The stereotypical perceptionof American family life in the 1950sis one of the more striking examples of this collisionbetween fantasy and reality.

    • 12:30

      FROMA WALSH: Yes, it was true that familieswere less likely to divorce than in more recent decades.But fathers were very peripheral to family life.Their first obligation, and their first attachment,was to their job.The organization man.The wives were there to care for their husbands,

    • 12:52

      FROMA WALSH [continued]: to be defined through their husbands,to care for the children, and to pick up and movewherever the company told the husband he was next to work.So that husbands and fathers really were fairly invisiblein family life.And women's role, while very central to holdingeverything together, was very undervalued.

    • 13:13

      FROMA WALSH [continued]: [University of Chicago]

    • 13:15

      SPEAKER 7: Among the most obvious changesin American families has been increased diversityof family forms and structures.One of the most common varieties is the single-parent household.

    • 13:27

      FROMA WALSH: We have many single parent families where,in most cases, mothers are the primary parent, and primarilyresponsible for the upbringing of children,and out there earning a living as well.

    • 13:42

      JONATHAN TURNER: Then you have singlehood.People are, more and more, optingto stay single, at least for a long period of time.So if they get married, they get married later.There is an increasing proportion of the populationthat remains childless.They choose not that to have children.

    • 13:57

      JUDITH TREAS: Well, it's not surprisingthat we've seen declines in fertility.After all, adults, and particularly adult women,have many competing demands on their time,primarily labor force participation, today.

    • 14:09

      TIMOTHY BILBARZ: Of most importancehas been the movement of work outof family sites, and family farms,and into offices and factories.We don't need child labor the way we once did.

    • 14:26

      JUDITH TREAS: Also, children are more expensive, today.We have higher aspirations for children.We aspire to send our children to college.We can't afford quite as many childrenas we could when we lived on a farmand could put them to work at a very early age.

    • 14:40

      TIMOTHY BILBARZ: We don't rely as much on children,or expect as much of our children, to take care of usin our elder years, partly because we're living healthierfor much longer periods of time.

    • 14:52

      ESTELLE FREEDMAN: So you can buildupon a simple femographic fact that reallyis central to women's lives-- how many children are theybearing on average-- and move into all kindsof structural and political changesin America that are not just about women.They're about whole families.They're about our whole society.

    • 15:10

      SPEAKER 7: Another family type that's become much more commonin recent years is the step-family, which can, itself,take on a variety of forms.

    • 15:19

      MEGAN SWEENEY: Two children in the same householdmay not actually be part of the same family.It really adds an interesting wrinkleto my work on step-families, and thinkingabout sibling relationships, and thinking about even what'sa step-family.So a child may be living with his or her twobiological parents.[University of California, Los Angeles]And so, that child may not consider that a step-family.

    • 15:40

      MEGAN SWEENEY [continued]: But there may be another child in the household who'sliving with one biological parent, and onenon-biological parent.And so, thinking about what's this family,the answer is actually different depending on which focal childyou're talking about.

    • 15:56

      SPEAKER 7: Increasingly, there are alsofamilies emerging from the union of two adults who are gay.

    • 16:02

      JONATHAN TURNER: That's a clearly emerging alternative,and that will probably increase.And even though there's a great resistanceto gay marriage in the United States,it will come eventually, because people's attitudesabout homosexuality are changing so dramatically.

    • 16:17

      SPEAKER 7: But while attitudes about homosexuality, per se,may be changing, there's hardly a consensusin the US about gay parenting.And, in fact, some argue that alternative families,in general, offer children a less-than-ideal homeenvironment.

    • 16:34

      DAVID POPENOE: The people who takea different position, generally speaking,are trying to justify, to society,these alternative family forms, which, after all, are here,and lots of children growing up in them.And you certainly don't want to unnecessarily penalize

    • 16:54

      DAVID POPENOE [continued]: these children by some sort of social stigma.So you can see where they're coming from.But as to the issue of which family is best,I don't think there's any question.If you look at the data on child outcomes,what happens to children who grow upin biological, married, and so-called intact familiescompared to any other alternative family form,why the kids from the intact families do better, on average,

    • 17:18

      DAVID POPENOE [continued]: than the others.

    • 17:20

      SPEAKER 7: Not everyone, however,agrees with that perspective.I think, probably, the greatest threat to today's familiesis intolerance.

    • 17:33

      TIMOTHY BILBARZ: Many of us continueto carry with us a belief that one kind of family,and one kind of family only, is the best kind of family.

    • 17:47

      LINDA JACOBSON: To the contrary there have been numerousstudies conducted by the American PsychiatricAssociation, and other medical professionals that, in fact,established that the children of lesbian and gay families arehealthier, and more well-adjusted and well-adaptedthan many other families'.

    • 18:06

      TIMOTHY BILBARZ: And when we compared childrenfrom single-mother families who werein a similar socioeconomic class as those from twobiological parent families, we didn't find many differencesin children's educational achievement.They were fairly similar.

    • 18:21

      DAVID POPENOE: I wish that my opponentswere looking at the data a little bit more carefully.If you look at delinquents today,far more come from broken homes than come from intact families.But the real thing, today, that's going onis in the psychological realm.You have tremendous increases in childhood and youth depression,and substance abuse, more recently in obesity.

    • 18:44

      DAVID POPENOE [continued]: And all these things can, I think,clearly be linked to what's going on in the family.

    • 18:51

      SPEAKER 7: While there may be disagreements about the impactof different family forms on children,there is widespread agreement among most expertsthat families continue to play a critical rolein the lives of their members.

    • 19:05

      TIMOTHY BILBARZ: And there's some compelling evidencethat families continue to love their children pretty well,and invest in them as best they can.And children aren't going to get that at school.They're not going to get that from teachers.We're not going to get it at work.Families do that day in and day out, intimate kind of stuff.

    • 19:23

      FROMA WALSH: I would say that familiesare doing better than the media might portray, giventhe broad diversity of family forms,and all of the economic and social changes of the last twodecades.There's a popular myth that the American familyis falling apart, it's in decline,it's a vanished species.

    • 19:44

      FROMA WALSH [continued]: And actually, I think the family is here to stay,although it's transforming itselfin many ways that fit the challenges of our times.

    • 19:54

      MEGAN SWEENEY: When people talk aboutwhether the family is in decline,I think, often, they're thinking about itin terms of the functions that the family, perhaps,once served no longer being met by the family unit.And so, one example of that would certainlybe care of young children that would be increasingly takingplace outside of the family, now,as women are no longer staying at home in the same numbers.

    • 20:16

      TIMOTHY BILBARZ: Some have arguedthat the family has become a bit obsoletein the eyes of children.The children look at parents as a bit old-fashioned,and start looking to other media,and other models for guidance.

    • 20:28

      JONATHAN TURNER: And, unfortunately,because there's less parent-child interactions,with everyone working, and children involved so manyrecreational activities, that probably has a negative effecton the well-being of children, and probably affects themthroughout their lives.The need of children to have parents there,monitoring and engaging them, is not gone away.

    • 20:49

      JONATHAN TURNER [continued]: It's just that parents have less time and energyto do what they've traditionally done.

    • 20:53

      MEGAN SWEENEY: Most children, now,receive their education outside of the family.Care for the elderly is increasingly happeningoutside the family.So the family, in that sense, has lost many of its functions.But, for many people, it still occupies a central rolein their lives.

    • 21:08

      SCOTT COLTRANE: Families are always changing.There are many indicators that show that families are no worseoff, that people spend no less time with their kidsthan they used to.I think what we have is an evolving family system thatmeets the demands of people. [University of California,Riverside] There seems to be a lack of fit between someof our nostalgic ideals and the practices of everyday family

    • 21:28

      SCOTT COLTRANE [continued]: life.But by and large, we're doing the same kind of changingthat families have always done.

    • 21:35

      SPEAKER 7: Those changes generallyreflect similar shifts taking place in society overall.

    • 21:41

      SCOTT COLTRANE: Families are alwaysrelated to the economy, the politics,the culture of the society.So, in other words, if a society is predicatedon a certain kind of subsistence practice,that's going to shape what families are like.In herding societies, young peoplego out when they're 10 or 12 years old,and they hang out with the sheep or that goats,or whatever they're herding.That produces kind of a loose bond

    • 22:03

      SCOTT COLTRANE [continued]: between the pre-adolescents and their parents.In industrial societies, we tend to keep kids in school longer.And then college is that point where they might break,or after college, depending on what they're doing.In agrarian societies, we put peopleto work, and have lots of kids, and structure large families,and put them all together under one roof.The main point is that families are not

    • 22:23

      SCOTT COLTRANE [continued]: separate from the society.Families, and the economy, and the polityare all wrapped up together.

    • 22:28

      SPEAKER 7: Just as many societieshave undergone tremendous change over the past two centuries,so too has the family.And yet the fundamental essence of this venerable institution,somehow, endures.

    • 22:43

      JONATHAN TURNER: I think the familyis just fundamental to survival of the species.We've got to have some stable environment in whichto raise the vulnerable newborn, and protect them biologically,and to raise them sociologically.So I don't think the family will change very much.I think we've probably reached the peak of divorce rates.

    • 23:05

      JONATHAN TURNER [continued]: I think they'll probably just level out, maybeeven continue to go down.Because, I think, as the norms of family structure change,men and women will be more equal.And so, that big source of tensionthat's always existed in the familywill be mitigated dramatically.

    • 23:22

      MEGAN SWEENEY: Women's continued participation in labor marketis unlikely to undermine marriage, to the extentthat my own research, and the research of otherssuggests that, in fact, having a stable jobs, good earnings,actually are associated with an increasedlikelihood of marriage, not a reduction in marriage.And I think one of the things that people had been concernedabout was that these improvements in women's

    • 23:42

      MEGAN SWEENEY [continued]: standing in the labor market were somehowa threat to the family.And I think the evidence for that is pretty weak.If anything, I think it goes the other way,that probably the best predictor of family stabilityis this economic stability.

    • 23:54

      JONATHAN TURNER: And people, when they do getdivorced, or want to get remarried and have childrenagain-- that seems to be the trend-- I don'tthink that's going to change.Because these are fundamental to our species.We didn't survive as a species without the family.The family had to be invented, by humans,to assure the reproduction of the species.So it's probably got some biological basis.It's not going to be wiped away by changing

    • 24:16

      JONATHAN TURNER [continued]: socio-cultural conditions.

    • 24:19

      MEI BECK SCOTT-CHUNG: Our family is incrediblydiverse in terms of culture, in terms of gender identity,in terms of age and region.Luna has six grandmothers and three grandfathersfrom blood family, from adoptive family,from our donor's mother and father,are involved in the family.

    • 24:41

      MEI BECK SCOTT-CHUNG [continued]: So we have really both experiencedthe richness of our biological families,and really called them in and welcomed them into our family,at the same time as we have an incrediblyloving, connected, committed, supportive group of people thatare not biologically connected that we consider family,

    • 25:01

      MEI BECK SCOTT-CHUNG [continued]: and that are doing childcare, and that were partof our birth, and that have nurtured usand kept us alive in a lot of ways.And I think we're in a really incredible time in history,in terms of family, because the definition of familyis shifting very, very profoundly.and the mom, dad, two kids, dog, whatever,

    • 25:22

      MEI BECK SCOTT-CHUNG [continued]: is a tiny minority of really what families are.We are a family just like our mothers and fatherswere families.We're families like our neighbors are families.And we love each other, we care for each other.We go through major sickness, and major issues in health.And we do all the things that married people do.

    • 25:42

      MEI BECK SCOTT-CHUNG [continued]: And, for us, we're very normal.We are a family.[MUSIC PLAYING]

    • 26:26

      SPEAKER 7: Our Families, Ourselvesis an 18-part series about marriages and families.For information on this program, and accompanying materials,call 1-800-576-2988, or visit us online at

Changing Families

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Unique ID: bd-sociology-docu-cf-AA05137


This program on changing families discusses the evolution of family structure and how family structure impacts the well-being of children. The roles of women and children within the family are very different from those in society today. Family is also defined differently now from what has traditionally been seen.

Changing Families

This program on changing families discusses the evolution of family structure and how family structure impacts the well-being of children. The roles of women and children within the family are very different from those in society today. Family is also defined differently now from what has traditionally been seen.

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