The Challenges of the Family as a 21st Century Social Institution: Part 2


The United States of America

Whether the union of people (with all its functions, except for educational), who are connected/not connected by marriage, do not have children and are not even going to have any, and who are just cohabiting, may be called a family? Perhaps, this question is no longer actual, especially in the developed countries of the world. 

According to the 2014 data of the Institute for Research on Poverty of the University of Wisconsin, the USA, the American family has undergone substantial changes in the period between 1960 and 2010. The term “classical” family is no longer actual (unlike in the 1960-1970-ies). More divorces, less marriages, including among pregnant women and in the families where children have grown up without fathers. The next worrying aspect is the inequality in the economic income of American families: according to the data of 2012, this inequality was higher in families with children, than in those with no child. The growth of this inequality leads to a greater difference of social classes between the couples who are forming a family. A decline has been recorded also in the opportunity of men with low education to earn money, making them less attractive as life partners, as well as according to the data of 2010, among ill-educated people there has been recorded a fact of having children by more than one partners (thus they are trying to form a family again, which generally does not succeed, either), therefore increasing the number of single-parent families.

It should be mentioned that in 1976 the 59% of women aged 40-44 had three or more children, and in 2010 this figure went down to 29%. In its turn it results in a decline in relationships and in the emergence of more single-parent families. Five years after the birth of the child the women who were cohabitating but were not married when the child was born, no longer live with the father of those children.

In the year mentioned, there were mainly two types of families in the USA: the first type was the family formed by the couples who had a high education and high income, and the second type was formed by the couples with a poor education and low income.

It seems that the history is repeating itself.  Till the 19th century it was accepted to live under the same roof with own children and the orphaned children of the community, looking at them as labor force from a certain age. The term parent with our current perception was hardly used, as at that time it was necessary to work, and any person who was able to work could live in that family and get along with them. The head of the colonial American family was the father who was also responsible for any kind of education (including religious) of the children. The difficult times of that period were also characterized by parents’ death and an increase in the number of orphans, which later, in the second half of the 20th century and nowadays, seem to continue being conditioned by other causal relationships. As going on a date was a rare thing in that century, and passing a long way every time was difficult, couples often stayed in the families of their lovers for a long time, also serving as additional workforce. This led to pregnancy and later to a compulsory marriage. For that reason in case of one third of marriages the young woman was already pregnant.

In the 20th century along with the wave of the liberalization of human rights the term childfree (began gaining popularity especially in the 1990-ies) emerged in the USA which claimed that the absence of children was one of the privileges of developed societies. According to the data of the US National Center for Health Statistics, nowadays the number of women who deliberately do not want to have children makes up 25%. It is no secret that the higher is the level of education and financial security (first of all among women), the lower is the birthrate. This correlation is absolute and appears in different corners of the world, including in developing countries.

According to the researchers, the most common argumentations of this phenomenon are:

  • the absence of desire to sacrifice the personal space for the sake of the child,
  • the absence of convincing motives for having a child,
  • the waste of time,
  • the open antipathy towards children.

Naturally, in addition to having a social nature (in this case the acceleration of the pace of aging of the society is one of the mildest consequences), this phenomenon has currently received some political coloring in the USA, as well as, for example, in Australia.

If above we spoke about the structure, significance and role of the nuclear family, it is gradually becoming obvious that it is preserved with all its possible variations only in the strictly traditional eastern and mainly Muslim countries, where, it should be confessed, the religion plays a significant role.

The Family, either with or without a child, is the choice of any person, but its rejection can hardly be justified, even if the families formed by homosexuals want to have a child.

Scandinavia: Sweden

The welfare model of Scandinavian countries (Finland, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden) calls for supporting women’s movements opening a wide field of possibilities also for men, so that they can also be involved in education and work. The state encourages both sides to participate in building a better life for the child. Being the initiators of the implementation of a more complete idea of the gender policy, the governments of the above mentioned countries have a maximum participation in all the fields of each citizen’s life, providing financial aid to the family since the child’s infancy and economic support to single parents, ensuring the security of each person and investing public care services for juveniles and adults.

If in Japan the existence of families with several generations is no longer actual, and the elderly can die completely lonely and forgotten by everybody, in Scandinavian countries it is just the opposite: grandmothers play an essential role in the education and care of their grandchildren, thus helping them in the job market. And it is not difficult to guess that the labor policy followed by these countries (social democracy) allows to keep the problem of the care of the elderly in the centre of attention of each family and to make the generation gap possibly less visible. The Scandinavian family model was developed 60-70 years ago when different types of financial support in the form of pensions (maternal) and tax regulations were of primary importance, besides the main objective was the development of such a policy that would allow the involvement of women, especially mothers, in the job market, which would provide a larger flow of income into the family. The next step towards this goal was the redistribution of resources between the families with children and those without children, with the approach that the child is not only under the direct responsibility of his parents but also that of the society. And, for example in Sweden, single mothers are granted special allowances for raising the child alone. In these countries the state family policy itself provided the basis for gender equality (particularly with regard to the children’s care by fathers). The principle of freedom is existent in forming a family (as in case of divorces). There the spouses are not obliged to provide each other with financial support throughout their whole life, but they bear financial and social responsibility for their children at least until they become adults.

Nevertheless, it should be stated that since the 20th century new kinds of marital and family relations have significantly influenced the way of living in Danish and Norwegian societies, like in the Swedish one:  the value of the family, particularly the attitude towards maternity and children, has changed. The tolerance towards same-sex marriages resulted in the legalization of such marriages in Scandinavian countries in 1995: nowadays around 160.000 children live in families formed by two homosexuals, where their sexual education begins from a very early age (3-4 years).  Interestingly, not only the technical development may lead to loneliness, but surprisingly also the life which is maximally provided by the state, as it was referred above. Unlike other countries, the Swedish society is on the first place by the number of single women above 30, and probably this has also resulted in the increase in the number of children born through artificial insemination in the above mentioned countries.

The next problem typical of Scandinavian countries is the decline of the woman’s role in the family as a result of the Scandinavian women’s liberation movement (mainly in Sweden). Here her career achievements and political activity are inversely related to her responsibilities as a mother and the keeper of home hearth which have been assigned to her for centuries. Although in this case she is the breadwinner of the family, her role and reputation as a mother and wife are significantly falling first of all in the eyes of her own child: hence comes the manliness which is not typical of women and the decrease of maternal instinct. According to one of the Armenian Catholicoses, ”The family is like a church where the priest is the mother.”

According to the census data of 2011, in Germany every fifth person lives alone, while in Sweden every fourth one (the number of lonely people is especially high in Stockholm among women above 30). Nowadays there are different kinds of cohabitation in Sweden which complicate the work of statisticians in carrying out investigations and data collection. There may be cases when the couples are living separately but are viewed as spouses.


In the 21st the so-called family is a broad concept. It has been constantly changing, at the same time trying to maintain at any cost its stable position as a social institution with functions and issues typical only of itself. The entry of the institution of the family into a new phase has some objective reasons. And at this new phase the institution of the family, like a number of other social institutions, will continue to be transformed acting in a variety of ways. Perhaps in comparison with the previous periods, now this institution is transforming more rapidly, adapting to the challenges faced by other social institutions which are directly connected with the institution of the family. But the fact is that no matter how hard we want it, no one and nothing can stop this process any more.

The family as a 21st century social institution with its integral parts (marital and family relations, reproductive, joint economical and a number of other functions) is still trying to somewhat maintain its stability, but as we can see this is highly possible only either in case of patriarchal or closed societies, or mainly in Muslim countries.

As it can be seen, those changes first of all have adverse effects on interpersonal relations, thus making the requirement of forming a family more controversial for each member of the society. Modern living conditions allow the spouses to live separately and run separate households but to be called a family. The moral crisis of our times is actually due to the fact that that the family has ceased to be a hearth and has become a mere place to live in. Nevertheless, based on the studies carried out at the end of the 20th century, we can confidently mention that the family has not lost its actuality yet and still acts as a means of man’s earliest and primary socialisation.


  1. Զրույցներ Ջիովաննի Գաույտայի հետ, Գարեգին Ա Ամենայն Հայոց Կաթողիկոս, Ս. Էջմիածին, 2001
  2. Оксана Железняк, “ПАРАСАЙТО СИНГУРУ. Почему японская молодежь не спешит
    расставаться с родительским домом?”
  3. В.Молодяков <Японская молодежь накануне третьего тысячелетия>
  4. Гуров, С.В.Япония в поисках новой идентичности. М.: Вост. лит. РАН, 2010. С. 254.
  5. ПрасолА.Modern Japan. Origins of the Mind: Japanese Traditions and Approaches to Contemporary Life. Singapore, 2010. 352 p.; Прасол, А. Япония: Лики времени. М.: Наталис, 2009. 414 с.
  6. Kamo, Y. (1990). “Husbands and Wives Living in Nuclear and Stem Family Households in Japan”.Sociological Perspectives 33 (3)
  7. Tasha R. How “Marriages and Families in the 21st Century: A Bioecological Approach”
  8. Bahira Trask “Changing american families”, an article
  9. ULLA BJÖRNBERG & MAI HEIDE OTTOSEN “Challenges for future family policies in the Nordic countries”, The Danish National Centre for Social Research, Copenhagen 2013

Author: Hripsime Dayan: © All rights are reserved.

Translated by Lusine Marutyan