Two powerful forces make American families more fragile

Compiled by Lois M. Collins, Deseret News National Edition

Published: Tue, July 29, 2014, 6:00 a.m. MDT

 Parents enjoy time with their children.

Parents enjoy time with their children.

(monkeybusinessimages, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The American family has become less stable because of two shifts that have combined to batter its once-solid foundations, according to a family expert.

"Over the past 40 years, the geography of family life has been destabilized by two powerful forces pulling in opposite directions and occasionally scraping against each other, much like tectonic plates," wrote Stephanie Coontz, professor at Evergreen State College and director of research for the Council on Contemporary Families, in an opinion piece this week for The New York Times.

"One is the striking progress toward equality between men and women. The other is the equally striking growth of socioeconomic inequality and insecurity," she wrote.

She describes the internal workings of families as "more egalitarian," with more women working outside the home for pay than in years past and more men helping out within the home as well. Women now have more security in the workforce, including more equal pay and stature and more legal rights, she said.

"But while the sexes have become more equal, society as a whole has become far less, producing especially deep losses for young men," she said. "In 1969, by the time men reached age 25, three-quarters were earning wages that could support a family of four above the poverty line. By 2004, it took until age 30 for the same percentage of men to reach this income level. And while in 1969 only 10 percent of men ages 30 to 35 were still low earner, by 2004, almost a quarter of men in that age range remained low earners."

Andrew J. Cherlin, sociologist and author of "The Marriage-Go-Round," said earlier this year that just finding better jobs for young adults, especially males, would help families that are just starting out. His comments were reported in an article published jointly by The Atlantic and the Deseret News.

"Experts have been surprised by the real drop in divorce among the college-educated, who still can get good jobs. (Cherlin) said young people need more job training opportunities and apprenticeships, especially if they’re not college-bound," the article stated. "Making sure tax policy doesn’t discourage marriage and providing a modest earned income tax credit for disadvantaged childless young adults would also encourage formation of stable relationships."

In "The Negative Effects of Instability on Child Development," one of the Low-Income Working Families Fact Sheets series for the Urban Institute, Heather Sandstrom and Sandra Huerta identified five types of instability that impact children, including economic instability, family instability, employment instability, residential instability and instability in places outside the home like child care or school.

The Council on Contemporary Families plans to publish a more in-depth look at family instability later this week.

Email: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

1. Diligent Dave
Logan, UT,
July 29, 2014

I have long pondered what the following scripture points to— "As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths." —Isaiah 3:12

For a long time, I thought the reference to women (ruling) ovr them meant politically. Now, I'm more inclined to think it might mean culturally. And for this, I have several examples.

Educationally, women, today, rule. By far and away, the majority of college students, and hence graduates, are women. This seems to put them in a position to call the shots, and to prevent men, more and more, from doing so. Hiring is to a great extent today based on an individuals education. Women, from elementary school to graduate school are being advanced more and more than men. This has it's consequences, and they are not good for many men.

Politically, while women are still very much in the minority as office holders, they do often prevail at polling booths in who they vote for. Clinton and Obama won 4 elections because of women.

2. Ranch
Here, UT,
July 29, 2014

That's right, Dave, blame it all on the women. Forget that the 1% takes more and more of the rewards and gives the actual producers less and less.

3. John Charity Spring
Back Home in Davis County, UT,
July 29, 2014

There is a far more pernicious influence responsible for destroying families: the influence of so-called popular culture.

Modern Hollywood has an open and stated agenda of promoting substance abuse and wanton sexuality as part of its quest to destroy traditional marriage and family. This article ignores this factor, to the peril of the readers.

4. Bloodhound
Provo, UT,
July 29, 2014

I think the article makes some good points. Selfishness is a big problem. Both feminism and the Playboy philosophy emphasize the individual's ego and needs over the needs of the family. Technology has also taken a toll. The introduction of birth control pills, relatively safe legal abortions, and hard core pornographic filth being pumped into every digital device imaginable has contributed to an anything goes mentality regarding human sexuality. Unfortunately, we all pay a price in destroyed marriages and marriages that are never formed in the first place.

5. Mom of Six
Northern Utah, UT,
July 29, 2014

As a college educated working mother, my husband and I would absolutely love it if I could stay home. In this day and age though, it is difficult to live off of one salary alone. My husband makes far more than I do as a teacher.(However, my insurance coverage for healthcare is better than his.) I think the main problem has to do with the outsourcing of jobs, and the fact that wages have not moved up to support the ever growing inflation. Also we pay for things now that they didn't in the 60's. We have to pay more for transportation, health care, and housing. We also pay more out of choice, for internet, and cell phones. What the article failed to mention was the fact that those who are not college educated struggle to find decent paying jobs, due once again to outsourcing. There is also a good many single moms who have children without being married (+40%), which is looked on as ok in popular culture, but in reality makes life far too difficult.