The Challenges of the Family as a 21st Century Social Institution: Part 1


For millenniums the nuclear family[i], as the main social institution, with a number of its features, its typical functions (reproductive, educational, socio-classificational, value-spiritual, recreational – recovery of physical and mental capacities, economical), has been a system with a stable structure where two or more people are connected by blood, marriage or adoption, and inside the family they themselves create a culture of interpersonal communications and have a common systematic point of view upon some phenomena of life.  Family is one of the most important components of man’s primary socialization which for centuries has provided the basis for communicating with other institutions of the social world, first of all with the state, institutions of rights, public opinion, religion, education and culture, and has ensured the further existence of the institution of the family. A number of problems arise when the family appears to be in the most vulnerable position. 

Any social change, even the slightest one, has its impact first of all on the institution of the family, and it should be stated that nowadays the latter does not much change (still in the 1960-s French sociologists have announced that the classical model of the family does not exist anymore), but rather enters a completely new state inclined to fundamentally ruin our traditional perceptions of this institution. The sociology of family studies the operations of the family as a social institution, its structure and functions, marital-family relations and patterns of family behavior typical of one or another cultural type or social group. It does not observe the family as an unalterable and invariable institution. On the contrary, it observes the family under the dynamic historical and socio-cultural changes of society.

Recently, this institution has undergone a number of evident changes which evokes some questions, particularly:

 ‘’ whether the family has the same significance for the society nowadays as it had, for example, some centuries ago,

 ‘’ whether the technological achievements do not directly endanger the further existence of the institution of the family,

” whether the statement that the development of any country first of all endangers the functions of the institution of marriage is true.

Let us take into consideration that in the most developed countries of the world marriage is not a requirement for forming a family, or that the number of divorces increase and the number of marriages decrease.

 (In Armenia, according to the statistical data of 2004-2014, a decline has been recorded in the number of marriages and an increase in the number of divorces. Particularly, according to the data of 2012, the number of marriages was 19063, in 2014 it was 18912, and the number of divorces in 2012 was 3250 and in 2014 it was 4496). According to one of the conjectures, under the conditions of technocratic society a growing tendency in the percentage of single people around the world has been recorded. It turns out that the institution of the family, to put it mildly, is no longer in an advantageous position.

Now the demographic profiles of Japan, the USA and Sweden and the changes occurring inside their institutions of family will be discussed.


According to the predictions of a number of experts who study the institution of the family, the marriage will gradually occupy less space in social relations and additional changes will be required in the legal field in some developed countries. First of all, I would like to present the institution of the family in the country with the third largest economy in the world, Japan, where it seems that the youth completely denies the statement of  S. Freud, according to which, all our actions are based on two motives: the desire to become famous and the satisfaction of sexual needs.

Still at the beginning of the third millennium, some Western, Japanese and Russian scientists carried out a number of researches about the youth of Japan, their interests, way of life, intergenerational and interpersonal relations, as well as about the life, family and marriage. It should be mentioned that the situation in the 1990-s was already disturbing, and in the 2000-s the researchers confidently stated that it may gradually become more alarming. Currently, to everybody’s surprise, there has been created a situation where the youth of Japan, who are responsible for the social security of the older generation, the implementation of the reproductive function and the maintenance of the originality typical of the Japanese due to the amazing combination of the traditional and the modern, adopts the most negative aspects of Westernization.

For quite a long time the institution of the family in Japan has been operating on the basis of Confucius’ moral rules, but in time it gradually became less actual, and now the concepts of the three-generation family, the provision of social security, care and solicitude of the older generation by the younger one, are gradually being pushed out of theoretical, as well as daily practical use.

In the last decade, many words and expressions typical to the Western world, and particularly American colloquial English, have penetrated into the language thinking of the youth of this country and have been phonetically adjusted by them to adapt to the Japanese pronunciation. As a result, it is often difficult for the representatives of the middle and older generations to understand this language flavored with ”innovations” on the communication level.

The other problem of the progressive youth is connected with the future, building their own lives, creating a family, keeping at least the minimum level of birth rate and the implementation of the reproductive function. The point is that the youth here does not want to go on a date with the loved ones, to marry, or even to have  sex, as it simply does not interest them (this phenomenon has been called “Celibacy syndrome”). And this in the case when the number of the elderly is bigger than that of the young people who must provide their old age with their taxes. One of its main reasons is the loss of the sense of reality: along with the technical progress, the Japanese youth becomes more and more connected with different heroes and games of the virtual reality.

It is not difficult to imagine what the demographic profile of Japan will be like: according to experts, in 2020 the population of Japan will be the oldest in the world. If in the 70-s of the 20th century the Japanese people retired at the age of 55, now they retire at the age of 60.

According to the statistics of 2006, Japan has the ninth highest suicide rate among males aged 20-44, and in 2009 this rate has increased by 2%, occupying the third place (the causes are the unemployment, depression and social pressure) (according to the data of 2011, Sothern Korea’s rate is the first). Currently the inconsolable demographic profile of Japan is becoming more and more disturbing. Particularly,

  • Japanese men no longer want to form a family and take the responsibility for the latter. The latest researches show that they are more interested in animes and robots than in women, and they almost do not take any initiative to form a family.
  • Having a stable job and insurance, but no family, they continue living with their parents, which is the main cause for the decline in birth rates. The latter in its turn results in a decline in the consumer demand in the Japanese society (already observable in 2003-2004): they do not purchase real estate, household appliances and furniture, which causes substantial losses for the country’s economy.

Speaking of the inclination of Japanese men aged 30-40 for infantilism and irresponsibility and their attempts to cut themselves off from the real life, Japanese experts state that they do not seek to make plans, to form a family in the future or at least think about it, but they rather feel happy and proud of the achievements of their favorite virtual hero and share this with their real and virtual friends.

As for Japanese women, after World War 2, Japan, like a number of other countries, has been penetrated by the issue of women’s liberation, and if formerly women’s responsibilities were limited to home and family affairs and were molded in accordance with the traditional perception about women, since the 1960-70-s the Japanese women began not only to take part in the management of the family business with their husbands, but also got involved in the socio-political life of the country. But the changes which have occurred at the beginning of the 21st century show that many Japanese women are not ready and are afraid that they will not be able to be a caring mother and a loved woman and at the same time equally successfully demonstrate themselves in different spheres of the social life. In other words, the modern Japanese woman prefers to build up a career rather than to devote herself to the family. The realization of the fact that young husbands cannot provide them as much as their parents do is another reason for Japanese women to marry late or not to marry at all. As a result of this fear, young girls have begun to enter relationships with men who are much older than themselves, which can end in a marriage, obviously taking into account the fact of financial security.

The next problem of Japanese families is the maintenance of Japan’s leading position in the number of lonely people till today, which is viewed mostly among the elderly. Special services learn about their death only days or weeks later. This phenomenon has been called kodokushi or “lonely death”. This may naturally lead to the suicide which has been the integral part of the Japanese psychology for centuries. But if centuries ago it was a publicly praised deed of a man of dignity and noble ideas, nowadays it is the reflection of loneliness and the worrying demographic picture.

At the end of the 20th century and at the beginning of the 21st century the society has become more tolerant towards single-parent families, and a woman can raise her child alone. It is known that the more developed the society is, the more “blurred” and “general” gender roles become, and both men and women become more detached from the classical concepts of the “purely male” and the “purely female”. More opportunities arise for finding self-realization in different fields. Certainly, the lion’s share of this phenomenon belongs to the women’s liberation movements at the beginning of the 20th century (in some countries of the world they are still going on). Does this change of gender roles strike a blow at the institution of the family? Definitely yes, if we look at the question from the point of view of the traditional family (father, mother, child/children) and not from the perspective of the postindustrial society (everyone has the right to manage his life in the way he considers proper and the society should be maximally tolerant, if necessary it should welcome and support but should not interfere in anybody’s personal life). It becomes obvious that it refers to a new type of family where (especially in the case of countries which are in a difficult socio-economic situation) in the same family which makes its living working abroad, after a while, one way or another, the distribution of gender roles changes (the woman becomes the main workforce of the family), which later leaves its impacts on the generations’ perceptions of the quality of the family life and the operations of the family as a social institution. After all, the family is a small sovereign state, where the child should learn to adapt to the social conditions where he is living. That is, the individual’s adaptation to the social environment and adoption of norms, values and models of behavior typical to the society.   The crisis of the institution of the family and the low birthrate cause serious changes in the social value system which on the one hand attempts to change the mechanisms which have become traditional for this institution and show that there are more important phenomena in the postindustrial society (mainly of economic nature), and on the other hand attempts to maintain the reproduction as an indispensable condition for the further existence of that society.


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[i] Nuclear family consists of the parent/parents and child/children, and the latter’s relations come to the fore. It is opposed to the complex and patriarchal family of the traditional type.

Author: Hripsime Dayan: © All rights are reserved.

Translated by Lusine Marutyan