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American Family Decline, 1960-1990: A Review and Appraisal

David Popenoe
Journal of Marriage and Family
Vol. 55, No. 3 (Aug., 1993), pp. 527-542
DOI: 10.2307/353333
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/353333
Page Count: 16
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American Family Decline, 1960-1990: A Review and Appraisal
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Abstract

Contrary to the view of some academics that the family in America is not declining but just changing, the thesis of this article is that family decline since 1960 has been extraordinarily steep, and its social consequences serious, especially for children. Drawing mainly on U.S. Census data, family trends of the past three decades are reviewed. The evidence for family decline is appraised in three areas: demographic, institutional, and cultural. It is argued that families have lost functions, power, and authority, that familism as a cultural value has diminished, and that people have become less willing to invest time, money, and energy in family life, turning instead to investments in themselves. Recent family decline is more serious than any decline in the past because what is breaking up is the nuclear family, the fundamental unit stripped of relatives and left with two essential functions that cannot be performed better elsewhere: childrearing and the provision to its members of affection and companionship.

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