Experts see Americans enjoying more time at home

In the future people will have more relatives, will spend more time in the home and will have to bear more financial responsibility for their relationships.

Those were among the predictions made by social scientists and family researchers at a recent conference sponsored by the American Council of Life Insurance. National community organizations gathered to analyze trends shaping the future and the American family.

High divorce rates and the strong tendency of divorced persons to remarry are combining to create a new family structure, blurring the traditional two-parent duties of child-rearing, according to sociologist Frank F. Furstenberg Jr. of the University of Pennsylvania. "A greater proportion of fathers are now willing and even eager to share child care, if not actual custody," he said.

Technological advances in the workplace could increase the amount of time parents spend in the home, said Isabel Sawhill, director of employment and labor policy of the Urban Institute, citing the advent of home computers. By the year 2000, she predicted, computers will have replaced all of today's blue-collar workers and will greatly simplify the tasks of white-collar workers.

If wage-earners never have to leave the home, "then a family disruption also becomes a work disruption," said sociologist Arlene Skolnick of the University of California, Berkeley. On the other hand, she added, families will have regained their economic reason for being, "and that could enhance their emotional function."

Sarah H. Ramsey, assistant professor of law at Claude W. Pettit College of Law, Ohio northern University, said state legal codes are already adapting to changing patterns of marriage and divorce. Supreme Court decisions have given wives a say in the disposal of jointly held property while making wives responsible for alimony payments in certain cases. Divorce courts no longer have to fix blame before dissolving a marriage and statutory provisions dealing with marriage and child support are mostly sex-neutral, Ms. Ramsey said.

Depersonalization in society and the workplace is increasing the emotional burden on the family, according to Graham Spanier, associate dean of the College of Human Development, Pennsylvania State University. He added that a current trend of young people toward delaying a first marriage means that husbands and wives of the future will have more experience, maturity, and economic security when they do marry -- increasing the likelihood of what he called "high quality and high stability" marriages.

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