A New Definition of Family

Reviewed Jun 24, 2017

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Summary

  • American families are increasingly diverse.
  • Strong families have attributes unrelated to family arrangement.
  • Some modern families face stigma. 

Today, most households no longer look like the “traditional” family of days gone by. Modern-day homes include:

  • Married couples without children
  • Couples that live together with or without children
  • Single-parent families
  • Blended and stepfamilies
  • Same-sex partnerships and marriages, with or without children
  • Grandparents raising grandchildren
  • Committed couples who live apart

The drop in marriage rates and traditional families worries some people. But it doesn’t seem to worry most. A 2010 Pew Research survey found that two-thirds of Americans think that family diversity is good for society or does not matter. Other research suggests that family type matters little to family strength.

Who counts as family?

The answer depends on who you ask. Government, businesses, and other groups most often define family based on biology, marriage, or household. They often leave out people who we might count as family if given the choice. One study that asked people to point out their most significant family members found they might include:

  • In-laws
  • Distant relatives
  • Close friends
  • Life partners
  • Step-relatives

Do declining marriage rates mean that people no longer value family and family life?

Not at all. Three-quarters of the poll takers said their family is the most important part of their life. Eight in 10 said that the family they live in now is as close as or closer than the family in which they grew up.

What challenges do modern families face?

Many people who love and care about each other are not recognized as family by law. This is very true for LGBT Americans. LGBT families face legal blocks to marriage, adoption, money, and other aids given to married couples. LGBT families and single parents also face stigma, creating stress. Stigma also isolates families in need of social support the most.

Children being raised by same-sex couples face discrimination and bullying at school. Even other parents and society may feel that same-sex couples are not suited to raise children. This is despite the fact that fewer families actually resemble what might be considered a traditional household. 

What makes families strong?

A 2012 Search Institute study reviewed American families with children. It used many factors or assets that help with family strength. The assets fall into five themes:

  • Nurturing relationships. Family members show love and communicate well. They respect and care about each other's feelings. They support personal and common interests.
  • Setting up routines. Family life is guided by predictable routines and customs.
  • Keeping up expectations. Family roles are well-defined. Members hold each other accountable and work through problems.
  • Adapting to challenge. Families cope with large and small issues. They are resilient and work with change together.
  • Connecting to community. Families are tied to the larger community in which they live.

The study found no difference in the number of assets across traditional, single-parent, and same-sex families. In other words, family type did not change family strength. The more assets a family has, the more likely it will thrive. And, the more likely children raised in the family will grow up healthy and well-adjusted.

Resources

Family Equality Council
www.familyequality.org

Pew Research Social & Demographic Trends
www.pewsocialtrends.org

By Christine Martin
Source: Vespa J, et al. (2013) America's Families and Living Arrangements: 2012, Current Population Reports, p20-570, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, D.C.; (2010) "The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families." Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C.; Family Configurations: A Structural Approach to Family Diversity by Eric Widmer. Ashgate, 2010; A Sociology of Family Life: Change and Diversity in Intimate Relationships by Deborah Chambers. Polity, 2012; Syvertsen, A K, et al. (2012) Key findings from The American Family Assets Study. Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute; Movement Advancement Project.
Reviewed by David Lally, LCSW, MBS, Director, Communications and Policy, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • American families are increasingly diverse.
  • Strong families have attributes unrelated to family arrangement.
  • Some modern families face stigma. 

Today, most households no longer look like the “traditional” family of days gone by. Modern-day homes include:

  • Married couples without children
  • Couples that live together with or without children
  • Single-parent families
  • Blended and stepfamilies
  • Same-sex partnerships and marriages, with or without children
  • Grandparents raising grandchildren
  • Committed couples who live apart

The drop in marriage rates and traditional families worries some people. But it doesn’t seem to worry most. A 2010 Pew Research survey found that two-thirds of Americans think that family diversity is good for society or does not matter. Other research suggests that family type matters little to family strength.

Who counts as family?

The answer depends on who you ask. Government, businesses, and other groups most often define family based on biology, marriage, or household. They often leave out people who we might count as family if given the choice. One study that asked people to point out their most significant family members found they might include:

  • In-laws
  • Distant relatives
  • Close friends
  • Life partners
  • Step-relatives

Do declining marriage rates mean that people no longer value family and family life?

Not at all. Three-quarters of the poll takers said their family is the most important part of their life. Eight in 10 said that the family they live in now is as close as or closer than the family in which they grew up.

What challenges do modern families face?

Many people who love and care about each other are not recognized as family by law. This is very true for LGBT Americans. LGBT families face legal blocks to marriage, adoption, money, and other aids given to married couples. LGBT families and single parents also face stigma, creating stress. Stigma also isolates families in need of social support the most.

Children being raised by same-sex couples face discrimination and bullying at school. Even other parents and society may feel that same-sex couples are not suited to raise children. This is despite the fact that fewer families actually resemble what might be considered a traditional household. 

What makes families strong?

A 2012 Search Institute study reviewed American families with children. It used many factors or assets that help with family strength. The assets fall into five themes:

  • Nurturing relationships. Family members show love and communicate well. They respect and care about each other's feelings. They support personal and common interests.
  • Setting up routines. Family life is guided by predictable routines and customs.
  • Keeping up expectations. Family roles are well-defined. Members hold each other accountable and work through problems.
  • Adapting to challenge. Families cope with large and small issues. They are resilient and work with change together.
  • Connecting to community. Families are tied to the larger community in which they live.

The study found no difference in the number of assets across traditional, single-parent, and same-sex families. In other words, family type did not change family strength. The more assets a family has, the more likely it will thrive. And, the more likely children raised in the family will grow up healthy and well-adjusted.

Resources

Family Equality Council
www.familyequality.org

Pew Research Social & Demographic Trends
www.pewsocialtrends.org

By Christine Martin
Source: Vespa J, et al. (2013) America's Families and Living Arrangements: 2012, Current Population Reports, p20-570, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, D.C.; (2010) "The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families." Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C.; Family Configurations: A Structural Approach to Family Diversity by Eric Widmer. Ashgate, 2010; A Sociology of Family Life: Change and Diversity in Intimate Relationships by Deborah Chambers. Polity, 2012; Syvertsen, A K, et al. (2012) Key findings from The American Family Assets Study. Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute; Movement Advancement Project.
Reviewed by David Lally, LCSW, MBS, Director, Communications and Policy, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • American families are increasingly diverse.
  • Strong families have attributes unrelated to family arrangement.
  • Some modern families face stigma. 

Today, most households no longer look like the “traditional” family of days gone by. Modern-day homes include:

  • Married couples without children
  • Couples that live together with or without children
  • Single-parent families
  • Blended and stepfamilies
  • Same-sex partnerships and marriages, with or without children
  • Grandparents raising grandchildren
  • Committed couples who live apart

The drop in marriage rates and traditional families worries some people. But it doesn’t seem to worry most. A 2010 Pew Research survey found that two-thirds of Americans think that family diversity is good for society or does not matter. Other research suggests that family type matters little to family strength.

Who counts as family?

The answer depends on who you ask. Government, businesses, and other groups most often define family based on biology, marriage, or household. They often leave out people who we might count as family if given the choice. One study that asked people to point out their most significant family members found they might include:

  • In-laws
  • Distant relatives
  • Close friends
  • Life partners
  • Step-relatives

Do declining marriage rates mean that people no longer value family and family life?

Not at all. Three-quarters of the poll takers said their family is the most important part of their life. Eight in 10 said that the family they live in now is as close as or closer than the family in which they grew up.

What challenges do modern families face?

Many people who love and care about each other are not recognized as family by law. This is very true for LGBT Americans. LGBT families face legal blocks to marriage, adoption, money, and other aids given to married couples. LGBT families and single parents also face stigma, creating stress. Stigma also isolates families in need of social support the most.

Children being raised by same-sex couples face discrimination and bullying at school. Even other parents and society may feel that same-sex couples are not suited to raise children. This is despite the fact that fewer families actually resemble what might be considered a traditional household. 

What makes families strong?

A 2012 Search Institute study reviewed American families with children. It used many factors or assets that help with family strength. The assets fall into five themes:

  • Nurturing relationships. Family members show love and communicate well. They respect and care about each other's feelings. They support personal and common interests.
  • Setting up routines. Family life is guided by predictable routines and customs.
  • Keeping up expectations. Family roles are well-defined. Members hold each other accountable and work through problems.
  • Adapting to challenge. Families cope with large and small issues. They are resilient and work with change together.
  • Connecting to community. Families are tied to the larger community in which they live.

The study found no difference in the number of assets across traditional, single-parent, and same-sex families. In other words, family type did not change family strength. The more assets a family has, the more likely it will thrive. And, the more likely children raised in the family will grow up healthy and well-adjusted.

Resources

Family Equality Council
www.familyequality.org

Pew Research Social & Demographic Trends
www.pewsocialtrends.org

By Christine Martin
Source: Vespa J, et al. (2013) America's Families and Living Arrangements: 2012, Current Population Reports, p20-570, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, D.C.; (2010) "The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families." Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C.; Family Configurations: A Structural Approach to Family Diversity by Eric Widmer. Ashgate, 2010; A Sociology of Family Life: Change and Diversity in Intimate Relationships by Deborah Chambers. Polity, 2012; Syvertsen, A K, et al. (2012) Key findings from The American Family Assets Study. Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute; Movement Advancement Project.
Reviewed by David Lally, LCSW, MBS, Director, Communications and Policy, Beacon Health Options

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