Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Family: The Making of an Idea, an Institution, and a Controversy in American Culture

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Family: The Making of an Idea, an Institution, and a Controversy in American Culture

Article excerpt

Family: The Making of an Idea, an Institution, and a Controversy in American Culture. Betty G. Farrell. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. 1999. 199 pp. ISBN 0-8133-1545-X. $59.00 cloth, $20.00 paper.

In this concise book, Betty Farrell takes on the "family values" debate. By providing a portrait of the family as an adaptive institution, grounded in particular historical contexts, Farrell hopes to dispel nostalgic and inaccurate views of family life. The author has done a commendable job of synthesizing research from various disciplines to highlight that change has been a permanent feature of American families. The chapters are clear, readable-and familiar. Farrell's focus on previously summarized research extends the works of Stephanie Coontz (1992) and Andrew Cherlin (1992), but packages it somewhat differently.

The book is made up of four chapters about key life stages: childhood, adolescent sexuality, marriage, and aging. Farrell begins by asking whether children were more protected in the past than they are today. A review of the treatment of children in Puritan and Colonial times sets the stage, as does a thorough detailing of the demographic context in which children grew up in these time periods. She then turns to challenges facing children in the late 20th century-the growth in single parent families, mother's employment, the ongoing question of who is responsible for children's well-being. The chapter on adolescent sexuality proceeds in much the same vein, marshalling the historical literature on American adolescence, focusing on the changing roles of young adults (particularly young women) in work, school, and leisure, before jumping to a discussion of contemporary adolescent issues, such as teen pregnancy. Although both chapters do a good job of synthesizing the historical literature on the family, there is little new material here. Surprisingly absent are references to the research on men's involvement in sexual activity and parenting and intrahousehold exchanges that have shifted the contemporary debate in the past decade. …

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