The American Family Structure By Stephanie Coontz 's Talk At Dickinson College

The American Family Structure By Stephanie Coontz 's Talk At Dickinson College

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In society today there tends to exist a nostalgia for the utopian family life of the past.
When envisioning the American family structure, one may usually picture the nuclear families
one sees portrayed so happily in 1950s shows: the husband is the breadwinner, the wife is the
homemaker, and the children are mischievous, yet lovable. While this ideal of the American
family structure is pervasive through the media, it does not represent most families throughout
history. Families with single parents and step families and divorced spouses have not been
uncommon at all, yet they seem to have been excluded from the narrative of American families
in the 20th century. In Stephanie Coontz’s talk at Dickinson College, she addresses the evolution
of marriage in American society and the extent to which it affects women.
While many believe that single parent families and step families are a convention of
modern society, they have in fact been in existence for centuries. The reason for them today is
not always the same as it was historically, as Stephanie Coontz explains that “one parent families
were the norm throughout most of history because of high death rates” (Coontz). Without
modern forms of medicine or care, many parents died of health issues or childbirth, leaving the
other parent behind often with children and the need for a new spouse in order to care for the
home and provide for the children. This leads to families whose children are a mix of different
marriages and parents, and in fact “many step families of the past had many more problems than
the ones that we think of today” (Coontz) because marriage was oriented around property and
power. It may have been likely that children in these older step families fought over money and


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...een so consequential to American life because they
have allowed women to be vocal about marriage rape and the desire to divorce, to move away
from home without being married, and to be independent of men with their own finances without
needing marriage at all. Stephanie Coontz believes that these changes in the concept of marriage
have revolutionized lives to the extent that the industrial revolution changed the ways in which
people worked at the beginning of the 20th century. Since marriage is now socially separated
from sex and there is no longer a need for a full time caretaker in the home, women can find their
places sexually, in the work force, and economically without marriage as a necessity. While
divorce can be painful to children and adults alike, they deliver people from difficult and
sometimes abusive situations, and should be a right to both men and women.

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