Examining the changes in a representative Midwestern town from the 1920s to the 1970s, sociologist Theodore Caplow of the University of Virginia and other researchers found there is greater family solidarity, a smaller generation gap, better marital communication, more religion, and less mobility today. "With respect to the major features of family life, the trend of the past two generations has run in the opposite direction from the trend that nearly everyone perceives and talks about," Dr. Caplow writes in "Middletown Families," a book to be published by the university of Minnesota Press next year.
If these findings cannot be automatically applied to communities everywhere, they at least suggest that a more balanced perspective is warranted. Family patterns do seem to be changing, but trends are not inexorable and, in any case, need careful interpretation.
Because family issues are complex -- and the Monitor series has dealt with only some of them -- it is also well to avoid oversimplifications. It is as fallacious, for example, to say that mothers who work are neglecting their children as to say that women must have professional careers in order to "fulfill" themselves. It is equally fallacious to suggest that families have to have a certain configuration to be vital and strong. Few would deny that families with two working parents or with a single parent have special concerns and must make an added effort if children are to be nurtured properly. But all families, even those called traditional, have marital and other problems demanding both effort and wisdom to surmount.