Family Diversity Is a Natural Part of Postmodern Society
Postmodernists argue that postmodern family life is characterized by diversity, variation and instability and that Choice is increasingly a central part of Western culture and the rising family diversity reflects this. Beck-Gernsheim argue that such choice and diversity has led to the renegotiation of family relationships as people attempt to find a middle ground between individualization and commitment to another person and/or children. They trace the origins of the process of individualization back to a range of factors, including the influence of urbanization and secularization in post-modern societies.
Society is increasingly fragmented, with a broad diversity of subcultures rather than one shared culture. People create their identity from a wide range of choices, such as youth subcultures, sexual preferences and social movements such as environmentalism. New technology such as the internet, email and electronic communication have transformed our lives by dissolving barriers of time and space, transforming patterns of work and leisure and accelerated pace of change making life less predictable. As a result of these social changes, family life has become very diverse and there is no longer one dominant family type (such as the nuclear family). This means that it is no longer possible to make generalisations about society in the same way that modernist theorists such as Parsons or Marx did in the past. Judith Stacey argues that women have more freedom than ever before to shape their family arrangement to meet their needs and free themselves from patriarchal oppression. Through case studies conducted in Silicon Valley, California she found that women rather than men are the driving force behind changes in the family. She discovered than many women rejected the traditional housewife role and had chosen extremely varied life paths (some choosing to return to education, becoming career women, divorcing and remarrying). Stacey identified a new type of family “the divorce-extended family” – members are connected by divorce rather than marriage, for example ex in laws, or former husband’s new partners.
However, some works, like Charles, et al. 2013, challenge the extent to which individuals marry educationally similar others, finding that a significant amount of marital sorting is attributable to social origin (i.e., the wealth of the parents of these individuals). Other scholars posit that changes in spatial segregation, social networks, and the dramatic growth in income inequality are at least partially responsible for this trend. After World War II, socioeconomic and ethnic residential segregation declined, driven mainly by economic improvement, assimilation by immigrants, and upward economic mobility unleashed by the postwar economic boom. In the 21st century, the social mobility characterizing the 1960s began to disappear as a result of an emerging global economic structure that resulted in stagnant incomes, rising inequality, and growing class rigidity. The era since 1973 is characterized by an economic structure wherein high-paying jobs exist for the well educated, while low-paying jobs exist for the modestly schooled and those with little schooling. These changes are linked to dramatic changes in the family in the 21st century, including a rise in the number of women entering the labor force, an increase in the share of children living with single mothers, the rise of cohabitation, and growth in the number of non-European immigrants (Massey 1996, Lichter 2013).
In a word, these points are different from modern values which say that human history shows continued progress, that rules (such as natural law) are not flexible and that the individual defines themselves. Interestingly, the views of postmodernists are very similar to premodernists especially when it comes to family. Whereas modernist values set the traditional family as a mother, father and children, both premodern and postmodern views on what a family is are much broader. In the premodern era (prior to the eighteenth century) the core family group consisted of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and sometimes friends as well as the immediate family members. Postmodernists take this same expansive view to the definition of family.
Massey, Douglas S. 1996. The age of extremes: Concentrated affluence and poverty in the twenty-first century. Demography 33:395–412.
Charles, Kerwin Kofi, Erik Hurst, and Alexandra Killewald. 2013. Marital sorting and parental wealth. Demography 50:51–70.
Rugles, Steven. 2015. Patriarchy, power, and pay: The transformation of American families, 1800–2015. Demography 52:527–550.
Schwartz, Christine R. 2013. Trends and variation in assortative mating: Causes and consequences. Annual Review of Sociology 39:451–470.