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Trends in Scholarly Writing on Family Structure Since 1977 in the Journal of Marriage and Family: Part 1 March 7, 2007

Posted by Ninja Clement in Sociology.
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Source: “Trends in Scholarly Writing on Family Structure Since 1977 in the Journal of Marriage and Family, Part One – The Shift: Scholarly Views of Family Structure Effects on Children, 1977-2002″, by Norval Glen and Thomas Sylvester for the Institute for American Values (2006)

What are the effects of family structure on children? Over the past few decades, that question has been a major source of controversy within family scholarship. Two opposed camps have squared off in debate. One perspective—call it “concerned” or pro-marriage—holds that the decline in marriage has been a troubling trend, especially for children. Its adherents argue that father absence and divorce tend to have important negative consequences for child well-being. The opposing perspective—call it “sanguine” or pro-family diversity—holds that families haven’t been weakened by divorce and unwed childbearing but have just changed in form. Advocates of the sanguine view argue that the supposed effects of family structure for children are exaggerated, if they exist at all. There are of course views intermediate to these two, including that negative family structure effects on children exist but only because other institutions have not adapted to changes in the family.

In the 1970s, while the divorce rate was skyrocketing, the sanguine view seemed ascendant among family scholars. By the mid-1980s, however, some observers noticed an apparent shift underway. In 1987, the Journal of Family Issues published 18 essays by prominent scholars in a special edition on “The State of the American Family.” The majority of commentaries expressed more concern than optimism about recent increases in divorce and single-parenting.

…Since the dramatic shifts in children’s living arrangements began four decades ago, scholars have had time to study the effects of divorce and single parenting. Most family scholars apparently now agree that the preponderance of the evidence indicates that children tend to do best when they grow up with their own two married parents, so long as the marriage is not marred by violence or serious conflict. The debate now centers on the exact nature and size of family structure effects and on whether or not societal adjustment to new family forms can substantially reduce their negative effects…

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