Family, Marriage, and Parenthood

By Howard Becker; Reuben Hill | Go to book overview

Chapter Twenty-Six
Plans for Strengthening Family Life*

REUBEN HILL

THE story of the family, marriage, and parenthood which has been told in the preceding chapters is one of growth, of strain and stress, of change, but of survival. Yet when we contemplate the future of these domestic institutions we perceive many paradoxes. Marriage in America has never been more popular, yet decisions to divorce are more numerous, too. It is now generally accepted as proper to put asunder by legal process those whom God has obviously not joined together. Moreover, the group of individuals between twenty-five and thirty-five most likely to marry is neither the single nor the widowed, but the divorced. Although disappointed in their first experiment, they affirm their approval of the married state by remarrying in record numbers.

Family living is no longer compulsory. A man can get his meals cooked and his clothes mended rather more cheaply without a wife than with one. Most able-bodied women can provide themselves with better clothes through their own efforts than out of the pay envelope of a husband. Economically, marriage has become a luxury and parenthood a positive expense. Most couples actually live more frugally together than they did separately; they economize to marry.

If marriage is uneconomical, if it is not compulsory, if it is often so painful that divorce ensues, why do people continue to marry and remarry in such numbers? Is family life just a bad habit which foists itself on the newborn babe and persists from generation to generation in that wise?

A review of some of the facts presented in the rest of the book may make the task of answering these questions easier. Certainly we are going to need a perspective which includes both past and present if we expect to cast our eyes very far into the future.


A SUMMING UP

The introductory chapter called attention to the fact that the family is interwoven with two contrasting types of society, sacred and secular. As one pole is approached, kinship and neighborhood are paramount; toward the other extreme, individualism and anonymity hold sway. The shift from one to the other not only alters the functioning of the families involved, but also calls forth changes in the members of the families. Amoral, demoralized, immoral, marginal, regulated, decadent, and liberated personalities appear; and the consequences of their actions affect, in turn,

____________________
*
Special thanks are due Howard Becker, Evelyn M. Duvall, Sylvanus M. Duvall, and R. A. Schermerhorn for suggestions and constructive criticisms at crucial stages in the writing of this chapter.

-773-

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