Changing Face of Modern Families
The recent years have seen a tremendous change in the economic set-up of nations, which also impacted the family structure around the world.
The institution of family, which is the foundation of an individual, is diversifying with time, with there now being double-income homes with no kids (called DINKs), same-sex or LGBT families, and digital families.
The centre for social work at TISS, in association with the Global Consortium for International Family Studies (GCIFS), held an international conference titled ‘Changing World-Changing Families: Diversity and Synergy’ from January 4 to 6.
Speaking about the conference’s theme, TISS professor Devi Prasad said through the lectures and discussion he found that there is great variation in the types of families that exist today. “We are addressing multiple facets of diverse families. We have seen that marriage as an institution is losing its popularity in Scandinavian and western countries. The presence of technology is impacting families on a universal level and the social pressures women face for child-free marriages in India and the West are completely different. There are single-parent families, cohabiting and non-marital fatface of miles, and queer and same-sex families, but the Indian context hasn’t been studied much,” he added.
Prasad also said family studies have been very conventional — in the 1960s, the joint family system was said to be a norm, but 70% of families then were nuclear too. “Even back then, we never had just joint patriarchal family structures. We had diverse families with the matrilineal structure in the Northeast. The third gender was not even accounted for. An upper-caste Brahminical family is considered the national family in sociological studies from then,” he said.
Professor Penny Crofts from the University of Newcastle, Australia, was present to chair the session on synergistic interactions between media, technology and families and said they need to establish family studies in all countries was important. “There’s been a record economic change in the world, and families need to have the capacity to fulfil their role in society. With studies and research we can help the government and community to support and develop policies and practices,” she said.
GCIFS includes University of Newcastle, Australia, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA, and TISS.
Lectures on historical development and trends in India, besides research on families living with schizophrenia and mental health issues, took place on Day 1 of the conference, whereas Day 2 saw talks on families of choice, where people chose their own families besides the biological ones they were born in, for example, queer couples and Hijra communities.
It also saw talks on families living in the digital society and the impact of media on families, where one of the panellists, SadhanaDeshmukh, presented a study of parenting styles amongst couples working in the IT sector in Nashik and Pune. Her study found that 100% of the couples in the research became parents by their own right and 88% gave digital devices to their children after age six.
38% of Swedish families have single-parent households
12% of Indian families are headed by women, as per the census of 2011.
48% of women in India are subject to all kinds of violence, according to the National Family Health survey.
50% of Indian children live with extended family or an adult besides their parents (World Family Map Survey, 2013).
The family has served and survived as an essential social unit that produces and raises offspring, socializing them through the basic assumptions and beliefs of the culture they derive from. A half-century ago, we modelled the American family around the breadwinner-homemaker family. While not all families followed this modus, we perceived the married couple with children, where the husband works and the wife stays at home, like a dream to strive for. But in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. The National Conference of State Legislatures states that in recent times there have been large changes to the structure of the traditional family. The data asserts that there has been an increase of single-parent households (mainly operated by the mother), a drastic increase in the number of children without a family, and finally with the ever-increasing issue of poverty in this country, many families just have nowhere left to live.
But this is not to say that the “family” is in dire trouble. Whether or not you approach this growing problem either from an optimistic or pessimistic standpoint, everyone can agree that there are strengths and weaknesses in the family today, but there are important changes underway, that will hopefully change the nature of society for the better.
Change is good. One of the most important trends in recent times has been women’s integration into the workforce. The “Leave it to Beaver” model of the American family might have been entertaining in terms of visually stimulating, but many struggles and coincidentally fall short of achieving this goal. Based on the nature of divorce, and a striking number of single-mother households, women have been catapulted into the workforce at amazing rates. It has been documented by the Congressional Research Service that “Over 65% of women with children aged 3 to 5 are employed, representing the fastest-growing portion of the U.S. labour market”. This an immense difference from the early 1950s, where on average one out of every three women were participating in the labour force. Nearly 50 years later, about three out of five women at the legal working age, are employed in the labour force (U.S. Department of Labor- Bureau of Labor Statistics). Changes in the women’s labour force vary according to different age categories, with the most significant increase in labour force participation by women aged 25 to 34. The rate has almost doubled from 34% in 1950 to 76.3% only a decade back. I attribute this massive increase to the rate of divorce, which in turn creates single-parent households, which in turn force the women into the labour force, at times relying on more than one job for sustenance for herself and her family. This has increased the need for child-care services and has forced many corporations to revise their family-leave programs, so they are more flexible and allow single parents to take time off to be with their children. But these services are not steadily implemented, and a growing acceptance needs to be generated to ensure the stability of family life in the years to come.
It is not entirely fair to use divorce as a scapegoat for single-parent households, as there is a myriad of other social situations which result in these households. An increasing number of single-parent households begin with teenage pregnancies. America has one of the highest rates of pregnancy, births and conversely abortions in the entire world. Almost half of all teen mothers have their child out of wedlock, and a surprisingly high percentage of 93% of these women attempt to raise their children alone without the help of the husband (Maggard 1985). It is because of this, that many single parents face economic instability, a contributing factor to the deterioration of families. Without economic support, families struggle to overcome problems on a limited budget and are essentially stressed to their limits. It is a lot harder to teach kids how to avoid a divorce then it is a pregnancy, but many of the programs implemented in classrooms today are ineffective. Abstinence-only programs have proven not only to be ineffective but might also be counteractive, according to an evaluative research team. The team analyzed that their program had no effect on the pregnancy rate, and even increased it in comparison to students in the control group who didn’t have to take the abstinence classes. It’s important to find an alternative to these programs because everyday teenage mothers give birth to children, who statistically will have greater potential health problems, behavioural problems, and low-achievement educational characteristics.
The U.S. has faced many problems with creating its ideal portrait of the family, and it’s important to keep in mind, that just like sociology, the family is a growing and changing entity. As we as people change, and our societal norms and values are shifted and rearranged, the structure of marriage is in for a turbulent ride. Family situations like divorce, teenage pregnancy, the nature of caregivers, and new policies have all contributed to a changing image of the family. While these key issues have been listed in a hierarchical fashion, this is only my opinion and should be interpreted that way. It is unfair to say that one thing is more important than the others, but the issues identified throughout this paper represent changes from the historic model of family life. My suggestions for the future are that more programs and policies are implemented to help avoid problems within the family and give every person the means to attain these things. Education is one of the most important societal institutions in this country, but not enough effort is put into educating the public on the family. It’s significant that we identify that certain families are at greater potential risk than others (i.e. single-parent households). The family is a social institution that we strive to have and maintain one day, and it is important that our society is educated on how to avoid any risks in our future.
The modern society which is very complex and often contradictory has its origin in ancient times as far back as 4000 years ago. Deeply rooted in spirituality, yet having the equal attraction towards materialism, sometimes leading to unethical behaviour, inclination and commitment to science, logic and reason, yet superstitious practices are rampant.
Untouchability has been constitutionally abolished and caste and community-based discrimination banned, its practise is common and it is a major tool of vote-bank politics in India. Thus, Indian society presents a contradictory picture and can be seen from the perspective of a society in the process of continuous change or flux.
Social change is a broader term which implies the change in infrastructure, facilities and their distribution, change in thought, attitude and behaviour of the people, change in faith, culture, tradition and living styles, etc. Change is a natural inevitable process which continues in every age and will continue to happen even in future. Social infrastructure, cultural, attitudinal and behavioural changes do not remain static.
They continuously change with the passage of time. It is the result of this natural process of change that life underwent sea change from the Stone Age to the Computer Age. The social change basically constitutes a transformation at all level of thought, behaviour and action that does not presuppose either a strictly positive or negative impact. In fact, the impact cannot be confined to one direction only.
Indeed the change has both positive and negative impact which may lead the society towards progress or regression. Social change is not a sudden process. It is a gradual process which takes lots of time to happen. Neither is it the result of any single factor. It is the result of so many factors which include demographic, technological, political, economic, cultural and legal.
Generally, social conflict, growth and expansion and knowledge and scientific and technological advancement lead to social change. Indeed, the research and advancement in the field of science and technology bring about a change in the outlook of society. Besides, the demographic factors also contribute to social change.
Rising population, rampant illiteracy, housing and health problems, large-scale migration, etc. all have a bearing on the social climate. Rapid industrialisation resulting in economic development and urbanisation has brought about the growth of slums in urban areas as well as a great disparity in the standard of living. After independence, the country with the help of fundamental rights tried to bridge the social gap by providing the right to equality to all its citizens and abolished untouchability. No doubt, it has a positive effect on society.
It has brought about a decline in social discrimination and reduced the exploitation of the poor. Cultural factors like Sanskritisation, i.e. the process explaining the upward mobility of a sub-caste group in a caste hierarchy, traditional attitudes and customs of the people.
Law is also an important tool to bring about social change. In the post-independence era, the Indian Government has taken numerous measures that concern society. The Constitution refuses to recognise the distinctions of religion, sect, caste, sex, etc. in the matter of the opportunities of civil life. It has largely mitigated a number of social evils resulting from the pluralistic nature of Indian society with regard to religion and caste.
Freedom of belief as a Fundamental Right has made religion a personal choice rather than its earlier compulsive and all-pervasive nature for a family or a group. Endogamous nature of casteism is now on the wane as intermarriage, and even inter-religious ones have been legalised. Reservations in jobs and freedom in the choice of vocations have encouraged vertical mobility of many families, irrespective of their caste and class affiliations. In short, laws play a prominent role in social changes.
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