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Sociology of the Family

According to Gerson (5), “fallback strategies” are second-class hybrid ways of coping with the challenges that come with the dilemma of marriage and commitment to demands of the work, as the egalitarian ideal becomes elusive. The strategy, therefore, presents a big difference between the male and the female than what is experienced in an ideal situation. For instance, Gerson notes that 70% and 80% men and women respectively adopted the egalitarian ideals. However, these ideals have been marred by a number of fears including those related to marriage, careers, as well as parenting. For example, some people fear marriage because of the possibility of experiencing a divorce while others fear parenting because it would be tasking to take up the responsibility while working at the same time.

Both male and female genders have, therefore, come up with a number of fall back strategies. The first strategy is for those who have seemingly agreed to share both their paid work and the roles within their families. In another strategy, either male or female may want to introduce the aspect of being independent of the other party in marriage. It was found out that more women resorted to the self reliance recording 70%; which was 40% more than the number of men who considered the same option. Finally, the strategy a neotraditionalism strategy in which both the genders have their roles being clearly defined. Gerson found out that 70% of men resorted back to the neotraditional strategies as compared to the women’s 30% only.

Gerson, therefore, concludes that men are thus inclined to favor a second-class strategy that retains a distinct line between breadwinning and care giving. No matter of the circumstance, she contends, men will consider themselves as the breadwinners while the mothers will remain to be care givers whenever they hold paid jobs. She observes that giving women a chance to work conforms to their demand for independence, but does not alienate men’s assertion that their careers should come first. This gives rise to gender divide. According to her, gender divide is the point of deviation between men and women in response to the dilemma of balancing the marriage life and commitment to work demands.   

Gender socialization, according to Gerson (10), is the gradual learning of what is expected of one’s sex. The theory can, therefore, be used to explain the fears experienced by both females and males. For example, the major reason why the males fears committing permanently to marriage is the stress that comes with having to balance between work and the family responsibilities; having been socialized to believe that it is their responsibility to provide for the family. On the other hand, the women have been socialized to assume lesser roles than their male counterparts. This means that those women who would want to remain independent would always have reservations when it comes to committing to a permanent marriage union. Socialization makes men and women to view a certain role as being a woman’s or a man’s role.         

Gender divide can also be explained by interaction theory. Gerson (10) observes that the theory contends that relationships between men and women do occur in a structural context of roles which is unequal between men and women. This is more profound in situations where there is a difference in power and status. This difference is usually confounded with gender in what is seen as a recreation of gender by men and women in every day interactions. For example, a man is more likely to interrupt a woman in conversation (Gerson 11).

Poor people view marriage in different ways. According to Edin and Kefalas, poor people do not view marriage as an “institution that does not apply to their family formation strategies” (104). In their study, they established that relationships among the poor proceed at a fast speed. A simple kiss proceeds to sex leading to pregnancy and cohabitation within months. This trend, they established, is intertwined in the cultural fabric in which these people live. For the men, siring a child is an attestation of a “woman’s charm and beauty.” They add that for such poor women, child bearing is way of being involved in an important social role, and an avenue for avoiding loneliness and preventing the risk of infertility occasioned by waiting for marriage for a long period.

They also established that both poor men and women believed that childbearing establishes a strong bond between two people. This is as opposed to marriage. In fact, they contended that they would rather bear children outside marriage rather that marry only to later engage in a divorce. However, the study established that the poor men who are found involving themselves in such acts will normally deny responsibility. This is largely so because most of them have no means to sustain a family.

There is a sharp contrast between the middle class women and the poor women. Edin and Maria (104) observe that, while women in the middle class view marriage as the entrance to the adult good and look forward to grow into it, poor woman consider it a dead end of their social mobility and maturity. The poor women view marriage as an ultimate goal to be reached at the peak of their youthful years. The two scholars also adds that poor women  hold a very pessimistic view of marriage in that they view it as lacking independence and that it exposes them. According to them, this is the reason poor women, who want to get marriage delay the process. This is due to what the study established as the “need to do it once” (Edin and Kefalas 138). However, most of them also get married due to pregnancy.

For a long time, research, policy and program interventions have primarily focused on couples within marriage separately. Edin and Kefalas (187) observe that this approach did little to consider the effect of couples’ behaviors and decision making as a unit. They observe that the attention of the policy makers is, therefore, increasingly being drawn to the relationships that do exist between the poor, as well as their plights. Such policy debates, as the need for increased funding for program evaluation efforts, and innovative research among scholars studying poor young and unmarried couples, and the formation of the choices they make.

Overall, the findings in studies such as that by Edin and Kefalas are changing the government’s thinking and, therefore, its approach in addressing out of marriage child bearing.  Edin and Kefalas observe that this situation has a huge impact on government policies. It translates to a huge public cost payable by taxpayers’ money. It occasions in rising crime rates, educational failures, advent of chronic disease, and entrenchment of a poverty cycle. Costs incurred to arrest such ills of unwed marriages and divorce could translate to huge amounts. Because of these new phenomena, suggestions have been made to the government on how policies could be instituted to arrest the situation.

This means that the government will have to institute policies that tackle the main causes of unmarried childbearing and encourage marriage. Of key importance is, therefore, policy interventions aimed at reducing the level of poverty (Lecture 20). This way, men will be empowered to take responsibility of raising their children. In addition, there is a need for women empowerment policies, such as those aiming at securing education opportunities for women, to enable them have some level of independence and control over what is happening in their lives. Such policies should also be able to address the cultural factors that make women be seen as objects of satisfaction in the society.

This way, even the women who view marriage as a dead end because of fear of losing their independence will be encouraged to enter into marriage. However, the government’s marriage promotion policies should not, however, appear to force women into marriage. Government should seek avenues for helping, be it through faith-based organizations or private sector, to encourage poor women to enter into and build successful marriage for the betterment of their lives and that of their children. These could be done through policies that remove disincentives to marriage thereby relaxing marriage eligibility rules (Lecture 22).

Family instability has been defined as “the degree to which families fail to provide continuity, cohesiveness, and stability for children” (MacLanahan and Sandefur 6). They note that there is a growing number of children facing one or another form of family instability. This is a result of factors ranging from changes in the environment or moving in of a new partner. Though divorce is the major cause of such instability, Coontz (97), observes that other factors such as a sudden change in the parents’ financial conditions, profound health conditions of the parents, demise of the parents, and or relocation to a new country can also cause it.

MacLanahan and Sandefur (116) observe that this is an area of great interest to researchers given the detrimental effects that face the children in such an unstable family both behaviorally and emotionally. They are concerned with the effect such instability has on children in the fragile families. Coontz describes a fragile family as one where two unwed couples bear a child. Studies conducted have concluded that children born in fragile families fare worse than those born in a conventional marriage setting. Researchers identified key pathways that link a child wellbeing and family structure. This, according to MacLanahan and Sandefur (79), includes parental resources, parental mental health, parenting quality, and father involvement. These scholars also reckon that, growing in fragile family does not produce uniform results. Family instability matters more than family structure for the cognitive and health problems. They also observed that a single parenthood, no matter how stable it may be, has an impact on the behavior of the children. In general, fragile families tend to have fewer socio-economic resources than married couples do. It is this outcome of family instability that makes concerned about the well-being of fragile families (Lecture 15).

In conclusion, the family as a unit has been undergoing important transformations with young women and men coming up with new strategies to cope with the challenges that life brings especially as they enter marriage. This has had significant implications on the policies that the governments put in place with a view to regulating the challenges faced by such families as those considered fragile to avoid further instability caused by forces, like divorce.

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