Families, They Are A' Changing

By Scharlach, Andrew; Damron-Rodriguez, Joann et al. | Aging Today, March/April 2003 | Go to article overview

Families, They Are A' Changing


Scharlach, Andrew, Damron-Rodriguez, Joann, Robinson, Barry, Feldman, Ronald, Aging Today


The demographic revolution has had a profound impact on the structure of the American family-an impact demanding that professionals in social work pay close attention to the aging of the population. Longevity has created an unprecedented opportunity for people at all stages of life to interact in a complex web of kin relationships. In 1900, only 21% of the United States population had a living grandparent, but by 2000 this figure had more than tripled to 76%. Furthermore, as Jill Quadagno noted in Aging and the Life Course (Boston: Mc-Graw-Hill College, 1999), in the century since 1900, the chance that a person age 60 or older would have a living parent grew from 18% to 44%.

Adding to the complexity of the contemporary American family, since 1900 the divorce rate has quintupled to 50% in the United States. Research has shown that only one-fifth of older Americans have no children. Also, the family system in the United Stares is experiencing what sociologists call "verticalization." As never before, families may contain four and five generations, with fewer members in each succeeding generation. The more horizontal families of the past included multiple members of a single generation. Increasingly, however, individuals will spend more years than ever occupying intergenerational roles. Social workers have the opportunity to lead in both research and practice with the new intergenerational family. …

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