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Changing family dynamics

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Does anyone know what a family is anymore?

The question is not as strange as you might originally believe. If you ask twenty different people that question, you’ll likely get twenty distinctly different answers. That’s because the past two generations alone have seen so many changes in the so-called ‘traditional’ family that the researchers who study ‘the family structure’ are loathe to admit that there is any such animal as a ‘traditional family.’ If, by traditional, we mean majority, then where do we stand?

Most of us would hearken back to the Norman Rockwell paintings that so vividly depicted the classical family sitting around the dinner table: the core family consisting of mom and dad and probably two kids, and maybe an aunt or uncle or grandparent representing the extended family. Yep, it’s nostalgic, but does it represent the majority anymore. Not by a long shot according to the researchers who study these things.

If we were to accept the figure of a 50% divorce rate that has been much bandied about, then a lot of families are being headed by single men and women. When divorced parents re-marry, the result is often a ‘blended family’ that brings in kids from previous unions. And what about the families being headed by two ‘married women’ or two ‘married men?’ It’s something Norman Rockwell never imagined. Not only do modern families look differently, the philosophical, racial and ethnic unions are all over the map. Whites routinely marry blacks, heathens routinely marry Christians, Southerners cohabit with Northerners and Democrats have even been known to shack up with Republicans. Not only do many of these unions survive, some actually thrive.

The traditional family usually began with a marriage. That hasn’t been the case for quite some time, at least among the lower socio-economic strata of our society. While it’s true that the vast majority of college educated women do get married before the birth of their first child (according to the experts), for other women the first child often comes before marriage. And amongst these unwed mothers, according to the experts, fully 25% of them cohabit with a partner other than the child’s biological father. It’s not only a matter of economics, but the very notion of marriage has undergone a tectonic shift for these women. Whereas marriage formerly signaled the initiation of a bond of love and devotion, many women now find that bond coming at the end of a period of living together: a marital trial run, so to speak.

Metro Atlanta, perhaps because of the presence of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, has one of the highest incidences of Asian immigrants in the nation. Interestingly enough, it is in the Asian-American community that we are most likely to find the so-called ‘traditional’ American family. It is a community where over 50% of adults have college degrees and 80% of their children are raised by two married parents. With the highest average household income of any ethnic group, only 16% of Asian-American children are born out of wedlock. If Norman Rockwell were still with us, we would no doubt recognize his subject matter even if we didn’t recognize the ethnicity of the family at the table.

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