Social Institution of Family in the USA

Subject: Family, Life & Experiences
Pages: 7
Words: 1802
Reading time:
7 min
Study level: College

Birth Control

Birth control defines a series of methods that both men and women use to prevent pregnancy. Cherlin (2009) says the introduction of birth control changed the structure of family formations (mostly from the 1960s to 1980s). Birth control helped to isolate sex and reproduction thereby giving women a platform to change their roles as caregivers and homemakers to breadwinners (Andersen & Taylor, 2007). Indeed, through birth control, women have been empowered to make decisions about their careers and motherhood (mostly strike a balance between the two). Low fertility rates and delayed marriages are some outcomes of this trend

No-fault divorce

A no-fault divorce highlights the dissolution of a marital union without providing the grounds for doing so (irreconcilable difference). This type of dissolution has an effect on family formation because it has contributed to increased cases of wife abandonment and loss of complete parental support for children (because of high divorce numbers) (Andersen & Taylor, 2007).

Social capital

James Coleman (cited in Andersen & Taylor, 2007) introduced the concept of social capital (in sociology) to explain the quality and depths of social relationships. Social capital is crucial for the improvement of the well-being of children and families because it promotes a common set of values and expectations.

Living Apart Together (LAT)

The concept of living apart together defines a relationship where two people have an intimate relationship, but live apart. This type of union is relevant to the understanding of the sociology of the family because it provides a new form of unconventional relationship where partners may pursue an “and/or” solution in partnerships. Cherlin (2009) says this union has contributed to the high rates of cohabitation relationships and instability among marriages.

Concerted Cultivation: Concerted cultivation refers to a parenting style (mainly adopted by the upper class and middle-class parents) where parents organize children’s leisure activities (Andersen & Taylor, 2007). Lareau (2002) says its implication on the sociology of the family stems from its role in creating a sense of entitlement among families.

Why do some women not marry yet bear children? Which kinds of women are especially disadvantaged or disconnected, and what are some ideas for how to help such women and their families achieve better lives?

Some women choose to have children, but not get married, because this lifestyle helps them to meet their care-giving and career needs. This lifestyle may contradict the traditional perception of families, but it denotes the power of feminism in today’s society (Andersen & Taylor, 2007). Women from low-income families and single-parent women are usually disadvantaged because they have low-quality social relationships, but empowering them financially and economically to overcome such challenges is the best way to help them.

Why does domestic violence appear to be related to social class?

Domestic violence relates to social class because economic stress causes most types of domestic violence. This is however an inaccurate reflection of domestic violence because many factors affect the prevalence of domestic violence as well (not just economic stress). The relationship of domestic violence to gender stems from numerous studies that depicted men as the main protagonists in domestic violence cases and women as victims (Zolotor & Runyan, 2006; Lareau, 2002; Andersen & Taylor, 2007).

Describe the U.S. population structure by age and explain how multigenerational ties may affect individuals and families, both positively and negatively, or not at all

A demographic analysis of the US population shows the largest age group comprises of people aged between 15 years and 64 years. This age group comprises 67% of the US population. About 20% of the people are between one year and 14 years, while 12% of the population is aged 65 years (and above) (Andersen & Taylor, 2007). Multi-generational ties affect family formations because they increase family ties and family sizes (many family members living together)

Present two different research methods used in sociological studies of family

Two common types of research methods used by sociologists include observation and surveys. Naturalistic observation and empirical researches are common types of observation research, while interviews and questionnaires are common types of survey methods. In his analysis of private and public families, Cherlin (2013) used the observational research method to present his findings. Comparatively, Zolotor & Runyan (2006) used surveys to investigate the relationship between domestic violence, social capital, and violence among North and South Carolina households.

One advantage of the observational method is its ability to form the basis for further scientific inquiry, but its biggest drawback is the interference of too many external factors in the observation. The greatest advantage of the survey method is its ability to provide a representative sample for a large population group, but its greatest disadvantage is its rigidity in the data collection process.

Is cohabitation a substitute for marriage?

Cohabitation is not a substitute for marriage because, as Cherlin (2013) suggests, cohabiting relationships are more unstable than marriages. Moreover, they do not provide an ideal environment for children to grow up in. Young adults have the highest likelihood of cohabitation. However, Cherlin (2013) says single parents are hesitant to pursue cohabiting relationships because they are wary of the implications of this union on their children. People who have strong religious backgrounds are less likely to cohabit at all, even for child-rearing.

What are the concerns reflected by discourses on father absence and its effects on families as well as on the fathers themselves?

Children’s cognitive and emotional well-being describes among the most vivid concerns for the effects of father absenteeism in families. From this background, Cabrera, Shannon & Tamis-LeMonda (2007) say fathers matter in family formations. They say their importance stems from their roles in improving a child’s cognitive and emotional growth (Cabrera et al., 2007).

Importance of children to the family and society

Children play a very important role in the family. However, the perceptual sensitivity of children has elicited crucial questions regarding the well-being of children in modern families. Cherlin (2013) says most families in America have undergone significant transformations in the last century. Low fertility rates, high divorce rates, increased prevalence of single-parent families are some changes that have characterized American families (Cherlin, 2013).

Most of these changes have not benefitted the children. In fact, several researchers say children have endured most of these changes (Cherlin, 2013; Cabrera et al., 2007; McLanahan, 1997). This section of the paper explores the importance of children to the family and the society within the wider realms of public and private families. Lastly, this paper explains how changes in American family life have affected children’s experiences, relationships, and outcomes.

Importance of Children, to the Family and the Society

Private Importance

Families have used children as a private good to perpetuate a family’s wealth, power, beliefs, and values. In medieval society, families (almost exclusively) regarded children as instruments of power because they provided the human resource needed on farms and industries. Broadly, children, in the private sense, ensured the economic survival of families (besides being the custodians of family values, beliefs, and systems) (Cherlin, 2013). Today, most families consider children as the culmination of the family as a social unit. Their presence makes a family complete.

Public Importance

The roles of children as public entities share a close relationship with the role of children as private goods. Indeed, private families nurture and care for children (private functions of the family) until maturity when they become responsible citizens of the society (public value of children). This way, children, therefore, create an extended benefit for society because they become workers, taxpayers, and responsible citizens (Cherlin, 2013).

Consequently, governments depend on the income of future generations to fund and implement public programs (like Medicare, Medicaid, and social security). Comprehensively, children play an important role as public goods because even if adults have all the money to take care of themselves, they would still need young people to assist them, physically and emotionally, to do what they wish.

Change of Children’s Experiences, Relationships, and Outcomes

Few researchers dispute the fact that changes in the American family structure have affected children. Increased divorce and remarriage rates stand out as the greatest influences on children’s well-being. Cherlin (2009) says increased rates of divorces and remarriages increase the likelihood of children developing cognitive and emotional problems in the future. The high rates of divorces have also increased the prevalence of single-parent families in America. Women lead about 80% of these single-parent households (Cherlin, 2013). This means that a significant number of children grow up without their fathers.

Cabrera et al. (2007) say the high number of children growing without fathers increases the likelihood of these children developing negative emotional and cognitive outcomes as well. This outcome has a greater implication on the ability of children to nurture quality and productive relationships in the future. Stated differently, emotionally broken and psychosocially impaired children have a low likelihood of nurturing productive relationships with other people when they grow up (especially in marriages).

As suggested by Cherlin, (2013), this situation shows that the high divorce rates in America depict an endless cycle that continues to hemorrhage the institution of marriage. Researchers have also linked increased divorce rates to increased rates of school failure, teenage pregnancy, and increased cases of single-parenthood (Cabrera et al., 2007; McLanahan, 1997).

The present-day demanding economic environment has also had a profound impact on the sociology of the family because it has forced both parents to work (to supplement family income). Consequently, many parents have left their children at home to grow up under the care of other people (nannies, extended family members, and the likes). McLanahan (1997) says that absentee parenthood has a profound impact on children because children who grow without their parents are highly vulnerable to child abuse.

This is mainly because absentee parents are unavailable to assess the welfare of their children. Moreover, Kelly & Emery (2003) say when parents work a lot and leave their children unattended, they may become confused and feel abandoned (depending on the age of the children). Such children may also develop a deep sense of distrust for their parents and later rely more on external support for their well-being, as opposed to relying on their parents for the same.


Comprehensively, modern-day changes in the family structure influence how children cope and grow. Cherlin (2013) believes that cultural and economic shifts in American society brought some of these changes. It would be difficult (almost impossible) to reverse these changes and re-live a 1950s setting where families lived together and mothers were always available to care for their children. Therefore, the pragmatic solution for this situation would be seeking better ways of caring for children, while meeting ordinary, economic, and psychosocial needs at the same time. Children are too important to the family and the community (both in a private and public sense) to pursue any other strategy.


Andersen, M., & Taylor, H. (2007). Sociology: Understanding a Diverse Society, Updated: Understanding a Diverse Society, Casebound. London, UK: Cengage Learning.

Cabrera, N., Shannon, J., & Tamis-LeMonda, C. (2007). Fathers’ Influence on their Children’s Cognitive and Emotional Development: From Toddlers to Pre-K. Applied Development Science, 11(4), 208-213.

Cherlin, A. (2009). The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today. New York, US: Knopf.

Cherlin, A. (2013). Public and Private Families: An Introduction. New York, US: McGraw-Hill.

Kelly, J., & Emery, R. (2003). Children’s adjustment following divorce: Risk and resilience perspectives. Family Relations, 52(4), 352-362.

Lareau, A. (2002). Invisible Inequality: Social Class and Childrearing in BlackFamilie s and White Families. American Sociological Review, 67(5), 747-776.

McLanahan, S. (1997). Father Absence and the Welfare of Children. Web.

Zolotor, A., & Runyan, D. (2006). Social Capital, Family Violence, and Neglect. Pediatrics, 117(6), 1124-1131.