There was a great article, “The Changing American Family”, written by Natalie Angier and published in the New York Times online version this past Monday the 25th. It gives an engaging and well-researched look into 5 types of families that are now common that do not fit the “traditional” family model of the past.
A few excerpts from that article (highlighting is mine) regarding:
Marriage and Children
- 41 percent of babies are now born out of wedlock, a fourfold increase since 1970.
- The trend is not demographically uniform, instead tracking the nation’s widening gap in income and opportunity. Among women with a bachelor’s degrees or higher, 90 percent adhere to the old playground song and put marriage before a baby carriage. For everybody else, maternity is often decoupled from matrimony: 40 percent of women with some college but no degree, and 57 percent of women with high school diplomas or less, are unmarried when they give birth to their first child.
- contrary to all the talk of an epidemic of teenage motherhood, the birthrate among adolescent girls has dropped by nearly half since 1991 and last year hit an all-time low, a public health triumph that experts attribute to better sex education and birth-control methods. Most unmarried mothers today, demographers say, are in their 20s and early 30s.
One change that caught many family researchers by surprise was the recent dip in the divorce rate. After many decades of upward march, followed by a long, stubborn stay at the familiar 50 percent mark that made every nuptial feel like a coin flip, the rate began falling in 1996 and is now just above 40 percent for first-time marriages.
The decline has been even more striking among middle- and upper-middle-income couples with college degrees. For them, fewer than one in three marriages is expected to end in divorce, a degree of stability that allows elite couples to merge their resources with confidence, maximally invest in their children and otherwise widen the gap between themselves and the struggling masses.
Also démodé is the old debate over whether mothers of dependent children should work outside the home. The facts have voted, the issue is settled, and Paycheck Mommy is now a central organizing principle of the modern American family.
The share of mothers employed full or part time has quadrupled since the 1950s and today accounts for nearly three-quarters of women with children at home. The number of women who are their families’ sole or primary breadwinner also has soared, to 40 percent today from 11 percent in 1960.
- “African-American children living in lower-income, low-education neighborhoods are seven and a half times more likely than white kids to experience the incarceration of a parent
- “And by age 14, more than half of these kids with a low-education parent will have an imprisoned parent.”
- even accounting for factors like poverty, the children of incarcerated parents are at heightened risk of serious behavioral problems, of doing poorly in school or dropping out, of substance misuse, of getting in trouble with the law and starting the cycle anew.
- In a telling sign,“Sesame Street” recently introduced a Muppet named Alex, who looks as glum as Eeyore and is ashamed to admit why only his mother shows up at school events: Dad is in prison. The show offers an onli ne tool kit for children and their caregivers, “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration,” with a coloring book, cutout mobile and “how am I feeling?” cards (angry, upset, sad).
Perseverance helps. “My top priority is to stay relevant in my kids’ lives,” said Rob, an athletic 46-year-old who has been in prison four years and has three teenage daughters. “I put them first as much as I can.”
He calls each girl once a week and prepares conversation notes ahead of time. He sends gifts h e’s drawn or crocheted. They have a family book club. His daughters seem to be doing well: One is at Bryn Mawr College, and another is at Tabor Academy, a highly competitive prep school. But with nine years of hard time yet to go, who knows if all the threads will hold?
Each of the trends described in the article poses unique challenges for parents and children. The sooner we all embrace the fact that there are large numbers of people in each of these groups, the sooner we can support the parents and children appropriately. They all deserve a life of love and productivity.