The Changing Realities of Work and Family

(Blackwell_Claremont Applied Social Psychology Series) Amy Marcus-Newhall, Diane F. Halpern, Sherylle J. Tan - The Changing Realities of Work and Family-Wiley-Blackwell (2008)

The heterosexual two-parent family with 2.2 children and a stay-at-home mom who cares for the children is no longer the typical American family. The demographics of American families have changed. For example, the number of people per household is getting smaller with only 10 percent comprised of 5 or more people in 2005, down from 21 percent only one generation ago in 1970. In 2005, 73.5 million children (67 percent) under 18 lived with two heterosexual married parents, but they were often step-parents given the high proportion of marriages that end in divorce.

An additional 17.2 million children lived with a single-parent mother and 3.5 million lived with a single-parent father. Grandparents lived in 8 percent of all households with children (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2005). In 2003, approximately 20 percent of male gay parents and 33 percent of female lesbian parents had children under the age of 18 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2003). These are just a few of the changes in family structures that defy our stereotypes of the “typical” American family.

The workforce also has changed over the past several decades, with more mothers employed outside the home than ever before. The most common family type in the United States is a dual-earner mother and father, with both parents working to provide the necessary income for their family (White and Rogers, 2000). The romanticized sitcom families from the 1950s are in no way a reality of today’s typical American family. Today, 71 percent of all mothers are in the labor force (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006).

Although both the nature of families and the composition of the work force have changed, there have been relatively few adjustments to the way we manage work and family life so that they are aligned in ways that promote strong families and a strong economy. There is no agreed upon “reality” regarding what it means to achieve work-family “balance,” rather there are multiple realities, and there are many who object to the idea of “balance” because it necessarily implies that any gain in one sphere of life causes a loss in the other (Halpern & Murphy, 2005).

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