This chapter has discussed some of the main themes in research on the sociology of families and households in Australia. It has focused on four main areas – research on demographic trends in family formation and dissolution, research on the historical construction of the family, research on the gender division of labour in families and, finally, research on state regulation of family life. The account is undoubtedly sketchy and necessarily brief, but it does provide an outline of key themes and the contributions made by various scholars in each of these areas.
Australian research on families and households has been distinctive in its critical stance on issues to do with gender inequality.The feminist critique of gender roles has permeated all areas of the sociology of the family and has provided the underpinnings for all of the research discussed above. Feminism has not only promoted equality within families, but has also influenced the way we view families and, in part, the way the state has responded to family diversity and changes in family patterns. Some of the developments that have taken place in social policies around family life, including recent moves to introduce paid maternity leave, have stemmed from a long history of 'femocrat' agitation around issues of gender equality from within the bureaucracy
Undoubtedly there will be further debate over the future of family life. Nostalgia for the familial and cultural ideals that dominated in the 1950s and 1960s will probably continue for some time. But with each successive generation, new ideals and new benchmarks will be established.This global revolution in family life (Giddens 2000) is bound up with other changes that are taking place in postindustrial societies around the world. In response to those who argue that family life is in decline, we may well argue that families are more important than ever. The declining marriage rate, declining fertility level and rising divorce rate may all in fact indicate the increasing importance that individuals now place on personal relationships (Giddens 2001).The task of sociologists of families and households is to help unravel and explain these continuing changes and the diversity and uniformity of family life.
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