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.


What Is Marriage? What Is a Family?

Sociologists view marriage and families as societal institutions that help create the basic unit of social structure. Both marriage and a family may be defined differently - and practiced differently - in cultures across the world. Families and marriages, like other institutions, adapt to social change.

Variations in Family Life

People's concepts of marriage and family in the United States are changing. Increases in cohabitation, same-sex partners, and singlehood are altering of our ideas of marriage. Similarly, single parents, same-sex parents, cohabitating parents, and unwed parents are changing our notion of what it means to be a family. While most children still live in opposite-sex, two-parent, married households, that is no longer viewed as the only type of nuclear family.

Challenges Families Face

Today's families face a variety of challenges, specifically to marital stability. While divorce rates have decreased in the last twenty-five years, many family members, especially children, still experience the negative effects of divorce. Children are also negatively impacted by violence and abuse within the home, with nearly 6 million children abused each year.