One course I taught at the University of Wisconsin-Stout was "The Family and the Future." Back in the middle 1970s we tried to project what the family would be like during the next decade.
At that time some social scientists were predicting the demise of the nuclear family - a husband and wife living together with children. There were many kinds of relationships some thought would replace the nuclear family. Communal living, unstructured cohabitation (living together without a legal marriage), homosexual relationships and single-parent adoption of children were among those relationships many predicted would prevail.While these relationships are common today, they did not become as popular as many social scientists suggested. And it is obvious that they did not replace the nuclear family as far as popularity or the preferred lifestyle of the majority of adults in the United States.
What about the decade ahead? What will family life be like at the turn of the century?
Andrew Cherlin and Frank Furstenberg have written an interesting article titled "The American Family in the Year 2000." Unlike others in the past, the two contemporary sociologists do not believe the nuclear family will be replaced. Rather, they predict there will be significant changes within the nuclear family of the future.
Cherlin and Furstenberg believe there will be diverse family forms by the turn of the century as adults and children in the United States move toward, away from and then toward a nuclear family lifestyle. Three dominant types of family will likely prevail by the year 2000: first marriages, single-parent families and remarriages or reconstituted families. In addition, the two sociologists note the majority of husbands and wives in the year 2000 will be employed and living in two-income marriages.
Many family life scientists now note that the divorce rate has leveled off during the past few years. But what is not commonly reported is that the divorce rate has leveled off at an all-time high. Slightly more than half of all American marriages after 1980 are expected to end in divorce. Of those who divorce, about two-thirds of the women and three-fourths of the men are expected to remarry. The remarriage rates are slightly lower, and some divorced men and women who do remarry are taking a longer time to do so. This means we will have an increase in both the number of single adults and single-parent families by the turn of the decade.
About 90 percent of the single-parent families in the past have been headed by women, but there will be an increase in the number and percentage of such families headed by men. At the present time about one U.S. child in four is living with just one parent. Remarriages may also become the dominant family type of the future. In about 49 percent of the current marriages each year in the United States either the bride or the groom, or both, were previously married.
Cherlin and Furstenburg conclude: "Because of the recent sharp changes in marriage and family life, the life course of children and young adults today is likely to be far different from what a person growing up earlier in this century experienced. It will not be uncommon, for instance, for children born in the 1980s to follow this sequence of living arrangements: Live with both parents for several years, live with their mothers after their parents divorce, live with their mothers and stepfathers, live alone for a time when in their early 20s, live with someone of the opposite sex without marrying, get married, get divorced, live alone again, get remarried, and live alone once more following the death of their spouses."
What do you think the family will be like in the year 2000? I'd like to hear from you. Write to me at 1036 SWKT, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602.