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The first study of marital power was performed in 1960. Researchers found that the person with the most access to value resources held the most power. As money is one of the most valuable resources, men who worked in paid labor outside of the home held more power than women who worked inside the home (Blood and Wolfe 1960). Conflict theorists find disputes over the division of household labor to be a common source of marital discord. Household labor offers no wages and, therefore, no power. Studies indicate that when men do more housework, women experience more satisfaction in their marriages, reducing the incidence of conflict (Coltrane 2000). In general, conflict theorists tend to study areas of marriage and life that involve inequalities or discrepancies in power and authority, as they are reflective of the larger social structure.

Symbolic interactionism

Interactionists view the world in terms of symbols and the meanings assigned to them (LaRossa and Reitzes 1993). The family itself is a symbol. To some, it is a father, mother, and children; to others, it is any union that involves respect and compassion. Interactionists stress that family is not an objective, concrete reality. Like other social phenomena, it is a social construct that is subject to the ebb and flow of social norms and ever-changing meanings.

Consider the meaning of other elements of family: “parent” was a symbol of a biological and emotional connection to a child; with more parent-child relationships developing through adoption, remarriage, or change in guardianship, the word “parent” today is less likely to be associated with a biological connection than with whoever is socially recognized as having the responsibility for a child’s upbringing. Similarly, the terms “mother” and “father” are no longer rigidly associated with the meanings of caregiver and breadwinner. These meanings are more free-flowing through changing family roles.

Interactionists also recognize how the family status roles of each member are socially constructed, playing an important part in how people perceive and interpret social behavior. Interactionists view the family as a group of role players or “actors” that come together to act out their parts in an effort to construct a family. These roles are up for interpretation. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, a “good father,” for example, was one who worked hard to provided financial security for his children. Today, a “good father” is one who takes the time outside of work to promote his children’s emotional well-being, social skills, and intellectual growth—in some ways, a much more daunting task.

Summary

People's concepts of marriage and family in the United States are changing. Increases in cohabitation, same-sex partners, and singlehood are altering of our ideas of marriage. Similarly, single parents, same-sex parents, cohabitating parents, and unwed parents are changing our notion of what it means to be a family. While most children still live in opposite-sex, two-parent, married households, that is no longer viewed as the only type of nuclear family.

Short answer

Explain the different variations of the nuclear family and the trends that occur in each.

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Why are some couples choosing to cohabitate before marriage? What effect does cohabitation have on marriage?

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Further research

For more statistics on marriage and family, see the Forum on Child and Family Statistics at (External Link) , as well as the American Community Survey, the Current Population Survey, and the U.S. Census decennial survey at (External Link) .

References

Bakalar, Nicholas. 2010. “Education, Faith, and a Likelihood to Wed.” New York Times , March 22 . Retrieved February 14, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

Biblarz, Tim. J., and Judith Stacey. 2010. “How Does the Gender of Parents Matter?” Journal of Marriage and Family 72:3–22.

Blood, Robert Jr. and Donald Wolfe. 1960. Husbands and Wives: The Dynamics of Married Living . Glencoe, IL: The Free Press.

Coltrane, Scott. 2000. “Research on Household Labor: Modeling and Measuring the Social Embeddedness of Routine Family Work.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 62:1209–1233.

Crano, William, and Joel Aronoff. 1978. “A Cross-Cultural Study of Expressive and Instrumental Role Complementarity in the Family.” American Sociological Review 43:463–471.

De Toledo, Sylvie, and Deborah Edler Brown. 1995. Grandparents as Parents: A Survival Guide for Raising a Second Family . New York: Guilford Press.

Hurley, Dan. 2005. “Divorce Rate: It’s Not as High as You Think.” New York Times , April 19 . Retrieved February 14, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

Jayson, Sharon. 2010. “Report: Cohabiting Has Little Effect on Marriage Success.” USA Today , October 14. Retrieved February 14, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

LaRossa, Ralph, and Donald Reitzes. 1993. “Symbolic Interactionism and Family Studies.” Sourcebook of Family Theories and Methods: A Contextual Approach . New York: Plenum Press.

Lee, Gary. 1982. Family Structure and Interaction: A Comparative Analysis . Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Roberts, Sam. 2007. “51% of Women Are Now Living Without a Spouse.” New York Times , January 16. Retrieved from February 14, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

U.S. Census Bureau. 1997. “Children With Single Parents – How They Fare.” Retrieved January 16, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

U.S. Census Bureau. 2009. “American Community Survey (ACS).” Retrieved January 16, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

U.S. Census Bureau. 2010. “Current Population Survey (CPS).” Retrieved January 16, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

U.S. Census Bureau. 2011. “America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being. Forum on Child and Family Statistics. Retrieved January 16, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

Venugopal, Arun. 2011. “New York Leads in Never-Married Women.” WNYC , December 10. Retrieved February 14, 2012 ( (External Link) ).

Waite, Linda, and Lee Lillard. 1991. “Children and Marital Disruption.” American Journal of Sociology 96(4):930–953.

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Source:  OpenStax, Introduction to sociology 2e. OpenStax CNX. Jan 20, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11762/1.6
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