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Changes in Families During the Past 50 Years

by John Willis

The American family has undergone fundamental changes over the last five decades. By definition, a traditional family is a married couple and their child or children. The women's movement, the ERA, and many associated social changes from a migration of women into the workplace to Roe v. Wade changed the profile of the typical family as it reshaped the potential for American women.

Divorce and Mixed Families

The divorce rate in the last fifty years began growing sharply around 1962 and continued to grow until the late seventies. While many think the divorce rate has continued to increase, it actually plateaud in the late seventies and saw a gradual and slight decline into the following decades. As divorce was more common, so was remarriage, giving rise to the "mixed family" as immortalized in the TV series "The Brady Bunch."

Working Women and The Age of Married Couples

The percentage of women in the workforce approximately doubled in the last fifty years. Economic opportunities for women have expanded dramatically. As a woman's opportunities have expanded, her decision to marry has been delayed. The median age of a woman's first marriage has steadily increased from 1960 and continues to climb. Couples getting married at older ages has generally translated into couples having children at older ages.

Roe v. Wade

Regardless of your position on Roe v. Wade, many of its effects are objective and measurable. Its passage in 1973 gave women the legal right, in most cases, to have an abortion. While few people have prescribed abortion as a first-choice form of birth control, it is undeniably, at least, a last-choice option. Roe v. Wade has given not just unmarried women, but married women as well, far greater reproductive control. With greater reproductive control, greater economic and personal freedoms have come their way. This has directly impacted the size and timing of family dynamics.

Youth Entertainment, Media and Recreation

While social change for women has directly translated into change for families, it has been both a blessing and curse in many ways. While women are afforded greater economic and social freedom, they haven't necessarily traded domestic work for the job place. Rather, women often do both---working and being a primary caretaker of children. The time-burden has left a void to be filled in many children's lives. Media from television to video games has become a surrogate babysitter in many cases. Homes with TVs, the number of TVs per home, and the hours of TV watched per child have all increased over the last five decades. A Veronis Suhler Stevens report indicates that video game consumption has grown alongside TV consumption.

About the Author

John Willis founded a publishing company in 1993, co-writing and publishing guidebooks in Portland, OR. His articles have appeared in national publications, including the "Wall Street Journal." With expertise in marketing, publishing, advertising and public relations, John has founded four writing-related ventures. He studied economics, art and writing at Portland State University and the Pacific Northwest College of Art.

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