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Trends in Scholarly Writing on Family Structure Since 1977 in the Journal of Marriage and Family: Part 2 March 23, 2007

Posted by Ninja Clement in Sociology.

Source: “Trends in Scholarly Writing on Family Structure Since 1977 in the Journal of Marriage and Family, Part Two – The Denial: Downplaying the Consequences of Family Structure for Children″, by Norval Glen and Thomas Sylvester for the Institute for American Values (2006)

In an earlier paper (Glenn & Sylvester, 2006), we reported a study of the articles (266 in all) published in the Journal of Marriage and Family (JMF)* from 1977-2002 that dealt with the relationship between family structure and child well-being. We found that, over that period, family scholars became more concerned about the impact of divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing on children. Despite the overall shift in scholarly views, a number of family scholars still maintain relatively sanguine views about the increase in single-parent families and its implications for child well-being. In the course of our research, we found a number of recurring arguments from this perspective.

In this paper, we discuss common arguments employed by authors of articles in the JMF who took relatively sanguine views toward unwed childbearing and divorce. We find that, in many cases, the apparent scholarly disputes about family structure are merely matters of rhetorical emphasis. Some arguments from scholars who take a sanguine view provide useful antidotes to overly gloomy views of divorce and father absence, but others appear to be ideologically driven efforts to discount and minimize strong evidence for consequences of family structure for children. A few of the arguments suffer from fundamental analytical errors, and even more serious, a few scholars seem to want family researchers to stop asking questions about the impact of family structure—an apparent example of the anti-scientific view that a lack of knowledge is better than knowledge.


The Instability of Common-Law Coupling March 15, 2007

Posted by Ninja Clement in Sociology.

It might be thought that common-law unions tend to be more stable than legal marriages, since the very point for many couples is to “test the waters”, seeing if they are compatible with each other or not. Of course, not all cohabiting and common-law couples intend to legally marry, but those that would like to tie the knot eventually, with their current partner or somone else, can be considered the “try before you buy” kind. On this view, cohabitation and common-law living ought to make for more comprehensive and committed relationships down the road, once unsuitable candidates have been eliminated.  

The trends, however, show that such optimism is quite misguided. Common-law unions end in dissolution at higher rates than married unions do. Whether or not the co-habiting couple eventually weds makes little difference. The 1995 Canadian General Social Survey found that, among women aged 30 to 39, almost two-thirds of those whose first relationship was a common-law arrangement had separated by 1995 (either separating from a common-law partner or separating from a married partner whom the woman first co-habited with), compared to one-third of women whose first relationship was a marriage. A similar pattern is evident among women in their 40s – those who co-habited first were more likely to separate than those who married first (60% versus 36%).

It can also been seen from this that relationship instability is higher among younger common-law couples than older ones. Confirming this is the Survey finding that 45% of common-law unions formed between 1990 and 1995 dissolved within five years, compared to only 23% of pre-1980 formed common-law unions dissolving within five years. At present, if a common-law union does not turn into a marriage, about half of them dissolve within five years.

If the focus is restricted to former common-law couples who later marry, marital breakup risk is nonetheless found to be 50% higher for this group than for those couples who did not co-habit before matrimony. Contrary to popular wisdom, cohabitation before marriage increases the risk of divorce later on. Recent research also shows that children whose parents separated or divorced early to mid-way in the family cycle are more likely to find common-law living agreeable when they themselves grow up, suggesting the future perepetuation of a social cycle in some segments.

Bibliography: “One Hundred Years of Families” and “Changing Face of of Conjugal Relationships”, Canadian Social Trends, Spring 2000, No. 56 (2000), “Would you live common-law?”, Canadian Social Trends, Fall 2003, No. 70 (2003) and “Dynamics of Formation and Dissolution of First Common-Law Unions in Canada”, 1999

The Rise of Common-law Coupling in Canada March 8, 2007

Posted by Ninja Clement in Sociology.
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Common-law coupling has been on the rise in Canada for decades now. Census data from 1981, 1991 and 2001 shows the following trends in family types:

Family Type 1981 1991 2001
Married with children at home 55.0% 48.1% 41.5%
Married without children at home 28.1% 29.2% 29.1%
Lone parent families 11.3% 13.0% 15.7%
Common law with children at home 1.9% 4.0% 6.3%
Common law without children at home 3.7% 5.8% 7.5%

As of 2001, 13.8% of family types in Canada are of the common law variety. This figure only stood at 5.6% in 1981.

The growth of common-law coupling is even more apparent when the data on conjual relationships in general is considered. Between 1995 and 2001, the number of married couples increased by only 3.2%, from 6.2 million to 6.4 million. Over the same period, the number of common-law couples climbed from 1.0 million to 1.2 million, a 20% increase. Nationally, 16.0% of all conjugal relationships as of 2001 are common-law. 

Underlying the national rate, it should be noted, is considerable regional variation. In Québec, more than one in four couples is in a common-law union – as high as the rate in Sweeden (30%) and higher than that in Norway (24.5%), Finland (18.7%) and France (17.5%). Indeed, the proportion in the rest of Canada excluding Québec is only 11.7%.  [Common-law unions are also popular in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut].

Common-law coupling is, not surprisingly, a more popular option among those under the age of 40. As of 2001, more than 42% of men and more than 53% of women aged 20 to 29 can be expected to choose a common-law arrangement as their first union. This drops to 40.5% for men 42.3% for women aged 30 to 39 [the survey presumably covers men and women who have been partnered at least once, through marriage or common-law]. The rate among men and women aged 40 to 49 is only 28.4% and 26.7%, respectively, and is much lower still within older male and female cohorts. 

Again, the pattern in Québec is exceptional. In that province, only 26% of women aged 30 to 39 in 2001 are expected to choose marriage as their first union, compared to 59% of women in the same age range in the other provinces. The remainder, 70% of Québec women aged 30 to 39, can be expected to start their first unions in common-law. This is more than twice the rate in the other provinces, at 34%.

Agreeable attitudes towards common-law coupling are more prevalent among domestic-born and non-religiously observant Canadians. A Statistics Canada survey shows that the odds of living in a common-law arrangement are 1.4 times higher for persons born in the country than for those born elsewhere. Non-religiously observant people (measured by rate of weekly attendance at a religious service) are 5.7 times more likely to be open to common-law living than those who attend religious services weekly.

Bibliography: Statistics Canada, “Profile of Canadian Households: Diversification Continues” 96F0030XIE2001003, 2001 Census of Population (2002), “Changing Conjugal Life in Canada89-576-XIE, General Social Survey – Cycle 15 (2002) and “Would you live common-law?”, Canadian Social Trends, Fall 2003, No. 70 (2003)         

Next up in Sociology – the instability of common-law coupling

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…