This is the sixth in a series about 21st century families.
Q: What are more changes in 21st century families?
A: Regarding incomes of elderly individuals and elderly families with no children, median incomes rose 50 percent. Earnings for many workers failed to keep up with inflation. Especially for younger ages, researchers found adding a second wage earner to the family or increasing the other wage earner’s salary frequently was needed to keep the family income from falling. These work patterns have resulted in parents, especially mothers, having less time with their children, less leisure time and fewer children.
The incidence of divorce and the record of support and maintenance payment after divorce tell women of all ages there are no public or private guarantees of financial support in exchange for fulfilling the care-taking role. Paid employment out of the home is now the accepted form of self-insurance for women and men. Fringe benefits are necessary today, such as health insurance and Social Security are mandatory elements for self-sufficiency when one takes into account increasing longevity.
As women have moved into the paid workforce, the workforce is no longer gender-based. But the home and children are still more of the woman’s domain than the man’s. The physical and emotional energy required to maintain families and work, especially with families whose children are young, is just beginning to be appreciated by policy-makers and society at large.
The changing relationships of men and women to work is changing the pattern of expectations and rights in marriage. Individuals who have to be economically self-sufficient are less tolerant of unequal family relationships than persons who are economically dependent. As women’s participation in the paid workforce strengthens, they are becoming more assertive in their rights to power and control in family decision-making. When their rights are not respected, many women either do not marry or divorce, as do men.
In the last census of the 20th century, approximately one-third of children lived in poverty. A majority of the families below the poverty line were female-headed households (51.4 percent).
With the advent of the 21st century, the time and energy necessary for child bearing and rearing, the importance of the time needed for intimate relationships, and the need for family policies that address diversity and changing families will have to be understood and appreciated in society.
Child bearing is now optional. That option must be made more appealing and less expensive for women and families, or more women and families will limit child-bearing. Raising children is costly and continues for years. With the majority of women with small children working, there needs to be a better plan in society to help families.
Progress in family friendly policies has been made. There are paternity leaves, maternity leaves, child care subsidies, tax credits or extra tax deduction for children. But these benefits are not consistent among policies for families.
Also worth noting is the resistance of many women to relinquishing control of the care-taking role in the family. That role provided women with a sense of power, social value and self-satisfaction. The trade-off would be greater power in the workplace and the public arena.
In the 21st century, families need to look at various options. For example, a mother will small children could work part-time, provide some of the child care herself. The work week could be shortened or made more flexible for parents with young children. Health care insurance could be available for parents and children at no cost. With increasing longevity, adults could have two successive careers providing a second career that is not physically taxing.
Society needs to recognize that care-taking in the family teaches management skills, prioritizing and negotiation that can transfer to a job. Therefore, successfully raising children and managing a household equates with career achievement. Hopefully, innovations in the social spectrum will evolve in the 21st century that will equal the technological advances of the 20th century.
The next information is from an article by Angie Blackwell called “Families of the 21st century.” Blackwell has a bachelor’s degree in public policy, an associate’s degree in early childhood education, and a certificate as a family life educator. She is head of a coaching firm that works with 21st century families.
This particular article deals with the losses and changes that families have undergone in the last half a century. The traditional family with two biological parents and their children who had extended family nearby is now a marked minority. Most families require two full-time breadwinners and the majority of the time the children are a mix of biological siblings, half-siblings and step-siblings. Grandparents no longer might be close or available as extended family role models. Many of them still work until they are older because of increased longevity.
Along with the loss of grandparents close by and available for helping out, there is the loss of community. Neighbors no longer are lifelong friends. Fewer Americans attend church so the support of church members is nonexistent for many. Many people commute anywhere from 30 to 60 or more miles to work. So there is no physical proximity to those with whom people work.
Besides the combination of biological, step and half siblings, there is the issue of children going back and forth between parents on some pattern such as weekends, weekly or monthly. If there is a combination of children of the above types, then the children might be running back and forth to different households with different patterns.
Children today have lost some valuable supports: close grandparents or extended family, neighborhoods, church activities and a sense of community. The present 21st century family is not consistent with two married, biological parents, full siblings, close neighborhoods, community activities and supported extended family members who live close by and are a resource for parents.
• Judy Caprez is professor emeritus at Fort Hays State University.