Family Changes in American and African Cultures

Fundamental changes occurring in families worldwide

As the basic unit of society, the family is undergoing several changes. Study shows that the family regardless of the unique features in each country and continent is experiencing changes in terms of demography, a social position as well as economic disposition. Regarding demography, the family is increasingly aging. In comparison to a couple of decades earlier, the contemporary family is averagely older. This, according to Steck (2009), is a result of an increase in life expectancy in most countries while the birth rate of many countries reduces. In the social aspect, there is an increase in family break ups as witnessed by an increase in single-parent families. It is coupled up with the increased prevalence of HIV/AIDS and other deadly killer diseases. Economically, child poverty and the rate of family poverty have reduced. It is a result of the changing role of the woman in society. The change in role is attributed to improved education.

Given the changes above, it is inarguable that globalization is playing a major role. Through agents of globalization such as the United Nations and its branches, there has been increased investment in terms of education promote which is attributed to the change of the role of a woman. Besides, the increase in cultural sharing through the media and other technological discoveries has led to an increase in single-parent families. Other benefits of globalization, such as improved life expectancy and reduced birth rates are all factors that have led to aging families (Steck, 2009).

A good example of the changes described above is improved life expectancy in developed countries and low birth rates, leading to aging families. Canada, for example, has a life expectancy of 80.7 at birth, France has 80.0, Sweden has 80.8, Switzerland has 81.1, et cetera. On the lower end, the one-child policy reduced drastically the size of families in China. The French family has an average of 2.62 children, while Sweden has 2.48 (Steck, 2009).

Ways in which cultures resist change

Amadiume (1995) defines cultural change as “the sum of a society’s ability to incorporate new ideas, innovations, and habits” (p. 23). This adaptation varies greatly with different cultures. Some cultures easily adapt to the changes while others find it very difficult to adopt new ideas. For a good comprehension of how a society resists change, it is important to understand the factors that cause changes. These factors are certain forces operating within the society in question. Second, interaction with other societies leads to cultural changes, and finally the relevant environment within which the community lives.

One of the ways through which cultures resist change is through religion. This mostly touches on the Islamic religion that has remained adamant in the adoption of newer ideas. The religion contributes to resistance to change by justifying the held beliefs while pointing out the wrongs in the new ideas. Older people, on the other hand, also act as a form of resistance to change. Naturally, they are harder to adopt new ideas and technology as compared to younger people (Amadiume, 1995).

A good example of how families are resisting change is the position of a woman in Saudi Arabia. Religion, and in this case Islam has ensured that the woman remains in the role of the second position after the man. Most decisions are made by men who hold tight to religious teachings. On the other hand, the Maasai community of Kenya has maintained its culture despite pressure for change. This is attributed to the role of older members of the community who are believed to be decision-makers. Through them, the culture has remained intact with very minimal changes.

Changes in families in two cultures

There are great differences between families in developed and developing countries. In Africa, the most dominant family systems are characterized by patriarchal dominance, increase in polygamous relations, conspicuous and institutionalized age groups, strong attachment to fertility, which is believed to be the main support for lineage, and socio-cultural patterning founded on kinship. The above mentioned are the main characteristics of a family in the African context. This greatly varies with a family system in developed countries like the US or Canada (Grabel, 2000).

Just like in Africa, the family forms the basic unit of society. However, the characteristics above are completely different in the Canadian context. For instance, while African families regard highly lineage and fertility, the Canadian family employs birth control measures leaving the average family with approximately two children per unit. This African perspective, which led to the adoption of polygamy, therefore plays the opposite role in Canada, where families are monogamous.

In terms of changes, African families are experiencing rapid changes. One of the dominant ones is the role of women (Grabel, 2000). Due to improved standards of education, the African woman is playing a more proactive role in the family as compared to some decades back. Similarly, the role of the woman in the developed world is changing. There is an increase in single-parent families. It has thus bestowed upon the woman the role of breadwinner. In the African context, this has led to reduced family poverty and child poverty in the global context. It is attributed to increased income from the working woman. About childbearing, most African families still value lineage. Although there is a reduction in the number of children per family unit, they still value children. On the opposite side, more and more young men in developing countries are shunning bearing children.

Major problems facing countries

One of the problems facing the family unit today is unemployment. With increased life expectancy, some governments have increased the retirement age allowing older people to work for more years. Unfortunately, there is an increasing number of youth within the families who are blocked from joining the workforce by the increase in the retirement years. This has led to increased crime as the youth try to earn a living despite being jobless. On the global scene, the world currently boasts a total of 1.04 billion youth aged 15 to 24. It is the largest in the history of the world to enter adulthood. As a result, there was an estimate of about 700 million youth joining the existing job market by the year 2010. To offer them a place, there was a need for the creation of a billion jobs, according to ILO. It is a difficult challenge.

The second problem faced by the family is the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Many countries especially, in Sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing problems with control of this disease. Consequently, it has devastated families leaving families without breadwinners. Children are left to fend for themselves, forcing them to drop out of school to look for jobs to enable them to sustain their younger siblings. On the global platform, this greatly affects the labor market (Acero, 1991). The death of young men who have just entered their productive ages leads to less productivity. Furthermore, the absence of young people who succumb to the disease forces the elderly people and children to work. This also reduces the number of children that later leads to demographic challenges. Giving birth could lead to unemployment in some cases. This forces parents to opt not to give birth or do it and leave the children unattended to secure their jobs.

What can be done to tackle these challenges? To begin with, there is a need for the development of safety nets. These are programs designed to promote policies that support the family as a unit. The policies should support the family to play its traditional role, which is the provision of mutual support and offering a protective umbrella for all its members. This will help assist families in HIV/AIDS affected areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa. On the youth factor and employment, the ILO proposes that reduction of birth rate is the only way the problem can be solved. This should be coupled up with increased and expanded education programs. This will help arm the youth with relevant skills that will make them relevant to the job market (Acero, 1991).

Family policies

Given the demographic needs of the country in question, policies are developed to bridge the gap accordingly. Family policies hence play a pivotal role in solving pending problems and projected threats. Family policies directly affect family life. In the West where most families are characterized by aging people, there has been needing for policies that promote increase infertility. As a result, incentives were proposed for childbearing. These incentives hence led to a notable increase in the number of children. However, there were questions about the financial position of families with children. It was generally believed that these families experienced heavy financial burdens in terms of feeding and educating the children. This led to most of the families being ranked high on the risk of poverty. Responding to these outcries, the governments of developed countries mostly European, came up with policies to support the families with children by ensuring the well-being and financial support.

The policies like the development of projects aimed at maintaining income and increasing social welfare benefits were enacted in support of the families. Other important roles played by the policies included the provision of counseling, rehabilitation, and other empowerment programs. On the other hand, Sub-Saharan Africa whose family systems were characterized by strong beliefs in lineage and polygamy witnessed an increase in population that was coupled up with poverty and increased unemployment (Grabel, 2000). Policies here were aimed at reducing fertility rates. Most countries, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Botswana being at the forefront developed policies that called for birth control. These policies have worked albeit on a small scale. It is, therefore, evidence enough that policies lead to positive changes in the family unit. However, whether this is true in terms of sustainability remains a topic of discussion.

Overall, I believe that family policies are developed for the well being of the family unit, which later translates to the well being of the globe at large. Given the statistics, I can argue that these policies are effective if well implemented. There is a need for proper research on the culture, factors affecting the culture, and those factors causing resistance to change. With this, the family unit will be strengthened.

Reference List

Acero, L. (1991). Textile workers in Brazil and Argentina work and household behavior by gender and age. In E. Masini & S. Stratigos (Eds.), Women, Household and Change (pp. 103-115). Tokyo: United Nations University Press.

Amadiume, I. (1995). African Matriarchal Foundations: The Igbo Case. Lawrenceville, New Jersey: Red Sea Press.

Grabel, I. (2000). The Political Economy of “Policy Credibility”: the New-Classical Macroeconomics and the Remaking of Emerging Economies. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 24 (1), 1-19.

Steck, P. (2009). Adressing changes in family structures: Adopting family policies to global changes in family life. Technical seminar on family Policies. Piriapolis, Uruguay.