Departmental Papers (Sociology)

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Book Chapter

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Diversity and Its Discontents: Cultural Conflict and Common Ground in Contemporary American Society

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Future historians of the family will undoubtedly look upon the final decades of the twentieth century as a time of upheaval, when a major shift occurred in the form and function of the Western family. During the last third of the century, the nuclear family built around durable conjugal ties and a distinct division of labor based on gender has given way to a multiplicity of kinship types. This new (or some would argue renewed) diversity of family forms has provoked considerable commentary and controversy on the consequences of these changes for producing basic civic values required for social order.

In this paper I first examine the transformation that has taken place and the reasons why it came about. Then I consider some implications of the changes in family structure for the quality of family life, especially as viewed from the vantage point of children. I shall explore, though surely not resolve, the question of whether the deterioration of the nuclear family form is compromising the future stability of American society, as so many observers believe to be the case. This issue cannot be addressed without considering the roiling public debate over family values that has been generated by political and policy differences over how to address the "problems" created by the decline of marriage, or at least the decline of marriage "as we have known it."

Copyright/Permission Statement

Chapter 7, “Family Change and Family Diversity” by Frank F. Furstenberg from DIVERSITY AND ITS DISCONTENTS: Cultural Conflict and Common Ground in Contemporary American Society edited by Neil J. Smelser and Jeffrey C. Alexander. Copyright © 1999 by Princeton University Press. Reprinted by permission.



Date Posted: 14 June 2017