Marriage and Family

Read this chapter for a review of marriage and family. As you read each section, consider the following topics:

  • Read about Christina and James as an introduction to the topic of marriage and family. When reading about Christina and James, consider their mothers' reactions to living together or getting married. How are their reactions different, and how might these attitudinal responses indicate social ideas about living together or being married?
  • Take note of society's current understanding of the family. Recognize changes in marriage and family patterns, paying close attention to cohabitation.
  • Read about variations in family structure, acknowledging and understanding the prevalence of single parents, cohabitation, same-sex couples, and unmarried individuals. Think critically about how the politicization of sexuality has affected the family structure as well as our social construction of the family.
  • Take note of the social and interpersonal impacts of divorce, focusing also on children of divorce and remarriage. Also take notes on the problems of violence and abuse in the family.

Introduction to Marriage and Family

 A photo of a man pushing a baby in a stroller down the street

Figure 14.1 What constitutes a family nowadays?

Chapter Outline

  1. What Is Marriage? What Is a Family?
  2. Variations in Family Life
  3. Challenges Families Face

Rebecca and John were having a large church wedding attended by family and friends. They had been living together their entire senior year of college and planned on getting married right after graduation.

Rebecca's parents were very traditional in their life and family. They had married after college at which time Rebecca's mother was a stay-at-home mother and Rebecca's father was a Vice President at a large accounting firm. The marriage was viewed as very strong by outsiders.

John's parents had divorced when John was five. He and his younger sister lived with his financially struggling mother. The mother had a live-in boyfriend that she married when John was in high school. The Asian step father was helpful in getting John summer jobs and encouraged John to attend the local community college before moving to the four-year university.

Rebecca's maid of honor, Susie, attended college with Rebecca but had dropped out when finding out she was pregnant. She chose not to marry the father and was currently raising the child as a single parent. Working and taking care of the child made college a remote possibility.

The best man, Brad, was in and out of relationships. He was currently seeing a woman with several children of different parentage. The gossip had this relationship lasting about the same amount of time as all the previous encounters.

Rebecca and John had a gay couple as ushers. Steve and Roger had been in a monogamous relationship for almost ten years, had adopted a minority daughter and were starting a web-based business together. It was obvious they both adored their child, and they planned on being married at a Washington destination ceremony later in the year.

This scenario may be complicated, but it is representative of the many types of families in today's society.

Between 2006 and 2010, nearly half of heterosexual women (48 percent) ages fifteen to forty-four said they were not married to their spouse or partner when they first lived with them, the report says. That's up from 43 percent in 2002, and 34 percent in 1995. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the number of unmarried couples has grown from fewer than one million in the 1970s to 8.1 million in 2011. Cohabitating, but unwed, couples account for 10 percent of all opposite-sex couples in the United States. Some may never choose to wed. With fewer couples marrying, the traditional U.S. family structure is becoming less common.

Source: Heather Griffiths and Nathan Keirns for OpenStax,
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