Term Paper: Marriage and the Family

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Marriage and the Family

The institution of marriage and the family is a contentious topic in contemporary society for a number of reasons. One of the most important issues under debate is the decline of marriage and the family in society. Research studies clearly show that the institution of marriage as well as the cohesion of the family is seriously threatened in modern society. The very ideals of marriage are being questioned by many young people who feel that marriage no longer serves a necessary purpose in society. The institution of the family is also being affected by this questioning and by various arguments which suggest that the conventional structure of the family is socially or culturally relative and not a necessary ideal to strive for.

However it is my contention that marriage and the family are essential and vital cornerstones of any modem society. The fact that these institutions are being debated is in itself is not a negative factor. Healthy debate and the search for improvements and possible alternatives are part of the growth and development in society. What is more worrying is that the ideals of marriage and family are being discredited us "unnecessary" and "old-fashioned" by many people and on many levels. The demise of marriage and the family will, in my opinion, mean the destruction of civilized society.

Research indicates that in terms of statistics there is certainly real cause for alarm with regard to marriage and the family. The marriage rate in the United States is at an all-time low. The figures for 1999 show that there were.86 marriages per 1,000 citizens in 1999. The divorce rate for the same year was 4.1 per 1,000 of the population. (Maher B. 2003. p. 56) The increase can be seen in that these figures are almost twice those recorded in 1966. Furthermore research has projected that married couples have about a 50% chance of divorce. Researchers project that. "According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 20% of first marriages end within 5 years and 33% within 10 years. Over one million children annually experience their parents' divorce." (Maher B. 2003. p. 56) Consequently there has also been in increase Cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births. "In 2000, there were 4.7 million cohabiting couples, compared with 500,000 in 1970." (Maher B. 2003. p. 56)

The above statistics, which can be bolstered by many more reports and studies, indicate a central reason why the institution of marriage and the family cannot be allowed to disintegrate. Besides the many religious, moral and ethical reasons that surround this debate there is the primary issue of child care and development that is being negatively affected by the current trends. As the above figures state: "Over one million children annually experience their parents' divorce." This has serious implications for society,

As Bridget Maher states in her study Patching Up the American Family, "Married couples who have previously cohabited have a much higher incidence of divorce, domestic violence, and communication problems than couples who do not live together before marriage. "(Maher B. 2003. p. 56)

In another study Waite states that "The decline in marriage is intimately connected to the rise in cohabitation -- living with someone in a sexual relationship without being married." (Waite, L.J. 1999. p. 46) Waite also suggests that this change from adherence to an institution with clear parameters and responsibilities to a more 'relaxed' and less structured view of marriage and family is a serious development. He states that the real concern is that it reduces the sense of commitment and responsibly that are an integral part of a healthy and long - lasting relationship. "...a valuable social institution arguably is being replaced by one that demands and offers less. "(Waite, L.J. 1999. p. 46) Waite substantiates his view by stating that "....on a number of important dimensions, married men and women do better than those who are unmarried. The evidence suggests that this is because they are married." (Waite, L.J. 1999. p. 46)

This has important implications for the important issue of parenting. What Waite and others stress is that the decline of marriage has also led to a decline in the ability of society to adequately care for and provide a firm developmental foundation for its children. Many researchers and educators are of the opinion that a solid parenting foundation is essential for healthy child development on many levels. Thy are also of the opinion that marriage and the institution of the family is the best way of providing this essential foundation.

One of the central components in the harmonious development of child cognition as well as cultural and social integration is the child's relationship with parents and family. This is a crucial factor that impinges on all aspects of the child's developmental growth. What studies have found is that the high divorce and separation rate in the Western world is also indicative of a breakdown of this essential parental concern and commitment to the child. "It is not marital dissolution, as such, that undermines parental investment in children, but rather the more fundamental lack of commitment between husbands and wives, which makes it difficult for them to cooperate on a permanent basis for the purpose of raising children." (Barber N. 2000. p. 4)

If we bear in mind that statistics seem to indicate that couples who raise children outside the institution of marriage tend to be less responsible and stable than married couples, then the situation in terms of child care and development becomes alarming. This is especially the case with regard to very young children. Studies show that very young children are especially vulnerable and dependent on parental care. There is also much concern about how infant child care will affect a child's emotional attachment to his parents and shape his future behavioral profile. Studies emphasize that poor parental control and care creates conflict which children not only find upsetting but which is outside their control. This leads to numerous psychological and mental health issues. (Barber N. 2000. 159)

However the reality is that marriage as an accepted institution is on the decline. Even the most cursory research makes it evident that marriage as an important part of the social fabric is less popular among Americans than in the past. The surge in divorce rates seems to indicate the imminent demise of the structure of marriage and the family. However the most important aspect that many experts are becoming more aware of is the aforementioned change in attitudes towards parenthood. As Maher states, "Perhaps the most disturbing change in marriage appears in its relationship to parenthood." (Maher B. 2003. p. 56) Maher clearly outlines the damage that has already resulted due to the decline of marriage and family structures.

Children have suffered tremendously from America's explosion of family breakdown. Youngsters with divorced, never-married, or cohabiting parents are likely to suffer emotionally, academically, and economically. The psychological impact of divorce on children is especially devastating. (Maher B. 2003. p. 57)

Judith Wallerstein has found that young children often experience negative and debilitating effects from divorce and the breakdown of the family structure, which can have lifelong repercussions. Youngsters can "... experience feelings of rejection, loneliness, anger, guilt, anxiety, fear of abandonment, and a deep yearning for the absent parent. Five years after the divorce, 37% of the children she studied were moderately or severely depressed." (Maher B. 2003. p. 58)

There are also numerous studies, which indicate children who experience divorce are more likely to be delinquent and afflicted by emotional problems as well as depression. Furthermore, family breakdown can also have negative economic consequences. It has also been found that,

Children living with a single mother are six times more likely to live in poverty than are children with married parents. A 1999 study found that women who have children out of wedlock are likely to have a much lower income than married women do; they are six times more likely to be on welfare and 40% less likely to be working full time. (Maher B. 2003. p. 58)

Researchers and commentators offer many solutions and scenarios for the future of the family. One of these solutions is to enter into a positive debate intended to reanimate the meaning and importance of marriage and the family in a more contemporary and relevant context.

We could enact family-friendly reforms such as skills training and re-training programs for the economically dispossessed, we need to enlarge our image of what a family is and extend recognition and respect to all the families we have, especially single-parent families and gay and lesbian couples who are eager to get married and take up family life. (Smith, G. 2002)

In conclusion, the institution of marriage and the family is an important if not vital component of modern society. While there is a heated debate on the subject from a religious and ethical point-of-view, more practical considerations suggest that it extremely important to ensure that marriage and the family are not further degraded or… [END OF PREVIEW]

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