Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Married families dwindle in USA

From The Statesman
ND Batra

Married people in the USA are in a minority now.
In 2005, according to the latest report released by Census Bureau, only about 49.8 per cent of households were families with traditional (heterosexual) married couples with or without children.

Six years ago, 52 per cent of the households had the sanctity of marriage, according to the report. Others just lived together or alone and their number has been increasing. Much has been vanishing from the good old America. The American family may be one of the disappearing institutions, if present trends become irreversible.

Work as a primary source of self-identity, legal complications of marriage and divorce, the responsibility of raising children in a two-parent working family, and the acceptance of alternative living styles normalised by television shows are some of the reasons for diminishing the family.
Where would the American family values come from, if the trend continues? More than a generation ago, when television programme rating companies wanted to measure audiences, they replaced family as a unit with household, a term that includes nuclear families, single-parent families, unmarried couples with or without children, and live-together groups, including same sex people or those who share facilities for economic reasons or claim some other bonds. The media rating companies’ attempt to count households was not meant to be a social commentary upon changing American values but a practical approach to develop a unit of measurement so that they could set rates for television commercials.

The bigger the audience for a television programme, the higher the cost for a thirty-second commercial, regardless of how the viewers in a group were related to one another.But as television producers looked for programmes that would attract maximum audiences, they discovered that the marketplace was asserting its primacy in American society.

Work began to compete with the family. Women had a sense of liberation; they could control pregnancy, work and have fun without having a family. The media companies’ programming choices reflected the changing mode of consciousness, network of assumptions and values of the American people.

Love and sex without marriage and having children without marriage became socially acceptable.

For more than four decades, or you might say, since the availability of the birth control pill, social norms have been incrementally changing and Americans have begun to accept diversity of interpersonal relations, such as some of TV’s hilarious work and living groups, Seinfeld, Friends, and Sex and the City, for example, show.

Traditional family households like that of the 1970s’ television sit-com’s Archie Bunker, his stay-at-home wife and their live-in daughter and unemployed son-in-law; and the 1980s Dr Huxtable, his attorney wife and with their several growing up children continue even today in real life. But according to the US Census Bureau, their number, the number of “married with children”, has declined substantially, from 45 per cent in 1960 to less than a quarter of the total households. Single mothers with children head seven per cent of American households and they tend to be poorer.

The number of unmarried couples has been soaring during the last decade or so and today you might say that almost one out of 10 coupling Americans never rang their wedding bells; or they have been living in sin, if you are a conservative and believe in the sanctity of marriage.Many of them would have children. American society accepts out of wedlock children without any stigma of shame. One-third American households consist of people who live alone, or are groupies who just live together.

Why is the traditional American family vanishing?

A few years ago, some sociologists attributed the decline to the socalled marriage penalty income tax that two-earner married couples have to pay when their combined incomes push them into a higher tax bracket than they would be paying if they were to file as singles.Republicans used the marriage penalty tax argument to cut taxes and Democrats were not unsympathetic to the idea. But tax incentives and church-related faith-based initiatives did not encourage more people to get married or stay on married.

The family was not built by the government and cannot be saved by the government.
High divorce rate and acceptance of children born outside marriage have taken their toll on the family.

Against the backdrop of the dwindling married families, consider the bizarre challenge of some fundamentalists, a Mormon splinter group, from Utah who live with multiple wives and some of them have more than 24 children.The wives seem to be happy and so are the children, well, if television does not lie. A few years ago, a 52-year old fundamentalist was prosecuted and convicted for bigamy and child abuse because one of his wives was only 13 when she became pregnant with his child.He argued that he was exercising his religious freedom. Originally, the Mormon Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, founded by Joseph Smith in 1830, allowed and encouraged its followers to marry and multiply. Polygamy was banned in Utah in 1896 as a condition for statehood in the Union, but even today there are 30,000 polygamous marriages in the state.

Americans accept unmarried couples, unwed mothers, bachelor fathers, same sex civil unions, multiple sex partners and all other kinds of human groupings but feel morally outraged when some one claims the right to be polygamous.

ND Batra is the author of a new book, Digital Freedom: How Much Can You Handle?
(Rowman & Littlefield)

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