Impact of Culture on the American Family System and Structure

The American family system has been under serious scrutiny and has faced criticism for its “downfall” and lack of “parental authority” resulting in the decay of discipline” for many years now (McGinley). In his article “The new American family” McGinley quotes Oscar Handlin who defines a traditional European family had been a “functional family unit” where there were specific duties to be performed by the members based on their “age and status” and all the members were “subject to the authority of the master” failing which the community consisting of neighbors, the church and acquaintance, punished those who failed to comply with the norms of a regular family structure. Families in America are of numerous types and may differ in size and structure, for instance, families may be run by single mothers, nuclear families without grandparents, families with dual-career couples, families with gay couples, or families with unmarried couples to name a few.

The term family ideally denotes parents, children, and biologically related individuals living together. However, in recent times, the concept of traditional families has changed dramatically with families becoming nuclear and individualistic rather than joint and collectivist. Research confirms that the definition of the term “family” has changed which is a direct result of the radical changes in the family structure which has occurred in families, particularly American families (Sarah Richardson). This paper aims to analyze the reason why the family bonds in the United States of America are not strong by exploring the US family which is loosely organized due to the cultural significance of American society and culture on individuality and independence.

In the article “The changing shape of the American family” Sarah Elizabeth Richards, notes the varying perceptions of the American families of the united states. Some consider a family of four with two parents and two children to be ideal while there are those couples who were not prepared to have a child, and after eleven years of married life decided that they were happy as a family without children. There are couples who have separated and stay separate in the same house but function as parents to their children. There are cases where women decided to have a child but without marriage and adopt children to satisfy their wants of family life. Some families have biological children and have extended their care and love to foster children and live as a united family. The author also mentions of families have been initiated with the help of surrogate mothers and continue to have a firm bonding with the surrogate mother of their child, living together as a family. All of the above cases stated by the author are excellent examples of perfect families who live together and function as a firmly bonded unit. However, not many such families exist in the United States. There is growing concern regarding the deterioration of the American family structure which is believed to be a direct consequence of the individualistic culture and autonomous values prevalent in American society.

There is a consensus on the degenerative changes which have occurred in the structure of the American family “from a generation ago “and have “negatively impacted America’s place in the world” (Dolliver, 2006). Studies indicated that there are many reasons believed to be the cause of this drastic and counterproductive change in the family system. Statistics indicate that nearly half of the people believe that the dual-income structure with both parents working has impacted the family in a major way while more than fifty percent of individuals surveyed believe that “consumer culture” can be blamed for the degenerating family system in the United States of America (Dolliver, 2006).

There are additional reasons with fifty-three percent of the people affirming that “same-sex couples” have negatively impacted the family structure while a huge majority, seventy-one percent blame the degeneration to be the result of television (Dolliver, 2006). Similarly, “divorce rates” were noted as the most influential factor with a whopping majority of eighty-eight percent believing it to be having a negative impact on the family system of the US. In the same survey, forty-one percent of respondents had expressed that children and families run by same-sex couples are “not at all acceptable” while an alarming minority of only three percent believed it to be unacceptable for single mothers to raise their children (Dolliver, 2006).

Voicing a similar opinion in his article, “The new American family”, Phyllis McGinley states that if domestic virtue is decaying”, the actual cause is the “rapid disappearance” of “sweet and delicate atmosphere of family ties” due to which individuals have taken to “socialism and drinking” which has a direct effect on children who then tend to be “ill-clothed, ill-fed, ill-bred”. While there are many crucial reasons for the deterioration of the American family structure, “the most immediate” of them all is believed to be “lack of space” which has resulted in the inability of children and grandparents to mingle with one another (McGinley).

The author also notes that current generations do not have the “wish” to live together because “privacy has become their passion” with newly married couples deeming it an inordinate hardship to live with parents”. The article states that not only are the young couples lacking in their will to stay with their parents and in-laws, the aging generations also voice similar opinions and have strong desires to never have to stay with our children” (McGinley). This concept of privacy has resulted in “loneliness” not only for the aging grandparents but also the young children of the family who no longer can spend time with their elders and are deprived of the “wisdom” which can be passed by the older generations to “blossoming families” (McGinley).

Additionally, middle-class working members of the family are shuttled from about “from city to city” by their companies “like puppets” which often results the family being thrown into alien societies with “varying cultures” and communities so that children and parents have to adjust to the new culture which results in the “disruption of fixed values” leaving the parents adrift” and children confused and “disoriented” (McGinley). McGinley asserts that the result of transportation on families especially children is “a new wilderness” because of the instability of culture, values, community and a sense of belonging to family members. The author notes that the “most dramatic difficulty for modern families is the disappearance of household help” which necessitates parents to cope with responsibilities of the house, work, children “singlehandedly” so that there is no one relative in the form of an aunt, grandparent or neighbour to help in times of “childbirth or illness”, a “solace” which is not available to the newly married couples or even the ‘well-to-do” families.

Thus, it is apparent that the structure of the American family is failing. The primary reason for this is the autonomous culture of the United States which stresses autonomy and independence as a result of which important values and traditions are not transferred to the younger generations from the older, experienced, and senior generations. Living in nuclear families is an accepted norm and privacy is considered to be more vital as an issue than anything else. Consequently, children grow lonely and parents have no time to attend to them due to busy schedules of work and other responsibilities. This individuality and independence have directly resulted in the breakdown of the transfer of values and traditions which are crucial aspects in the upkeep of morals values and traditions of communities.


Dolliver, Mark. Maybe the Good Old Days Weren’t So Bad When It Came to Family Life. Adweek; 2006, Vol. 47 Issue 42, p24-24, 2/3p, 1 bw. Web.

Richards Sarah Elizabeth. THE CHANGING SHAPE OF THE AMERICAN FAMILY. McGinley Phyllis. The new American family.