Crisis and comeback
Buffeted by winds of social change, economic uncertainty, and moral ambiguity , America's families are beginning to fight back. The onset of the 1980s finds millions of Americans debating, questioning -- and earnestly searching for ways to shore up family life and to adjust to the enormous changes affecting the institution of the family. It is almost as if a national grass-roots movement were emerging to disprove, or at least counterbalance, the cry of the mass media that the family is "breaking down" and "in crisis."Skip to next paragraph
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"I have not seen so much interest in family and children in 10 or 15 years of working in this field," comments John Calhoun, commissioner of the US Administration for Children, Youth and Families. "We are on the verge now of a revolution of concern."
No one seriously believes that the institution of family and marriage is vanishing. On the contrary, it remains universally recognized as the bedrock unit of society, in which children are raised, adults share their affections and lives, and continuity is provided between generations. The vast majority of Americans, according to a recent Gallup poll, regard the family as "the most important" or "one of the most important" parts of their life and receive a high level of satisfaction from it. An overwhelming majority (91 percent) favor more emphasis on "traditional family ties" in the years ahead.
Yet an underlying malaise is widely felt. The same Gallup poll showed that 45 percent of Americans think family life has grown worse since the mid-1960s under the assaults of a rising cost of living, alcohol and drugs, and the decline of religious and moral standards. A high 37 percent think the situation will continue to deterioriate.
Because of the sexual revolution -- a revolution abetted by birth-control technology and mass communication -- and the surge of women into the labor force , family and marriage are indeed undergoing transformation.
* The divorce rate in the United States is the highest in the world. Almost 40 percent of all marriages today end in divorce. The remarriage rate is high -- 4 out of 5 divorced persons remarry -- but the divorce rate for remarriages is even higher than for first marriages.
* The number of couples living together out of wedlock has been rising dramatically. Fewer than 3 percent of all couples are unmarried (in Sweden the rate is 16 percent), but the numbers are increasing by 15 to 20 percent a year, according to the US Census Bureau. Today about 1.3 million unmarried Americans share living quarters with a member of the opposite sex.
* The incidence of births outside of wedlock, especially among teen-agers, continues to rise. About 16 percent of all births today are to unwed mothers (the figure is 9 percent for whites and 53 percent for blacks).
* Growing numbers of children live with single parents. About 45 percent of the children born in 1978 may spend at least part of their childhood with only one parent, according to the Census Bureau. One of every 6 children now lives in a family in which the father is absent (because of death, divorce, separation , or out-of-wedlock birth).
* A high incidence of violence within the family has come to light in recent years. It is rstimated that 1 million children are neglected or abused each year and that as many as 2 million women are "battered wives."
* Teen-age alcoholism and drug abuse are on the rise. Crimes by youths under 18 are rising at a faster rate than the juvenile population. The suicide rate among young people also is high.