Changing Family Structure
FAMILY SIZE HAS DECREASED. It is no-secret that the 'twelve-child families of the last century are rare today. The birthrate in the Western world began falling about a century ago. It reached a low 'during the Great Depression of- the 1930!j~'when' in. the' United States it fell to 16.6 births per thousand in 1933, rose to 26.6 in 1947, and fell to 14.7 by 1976, rising to 16.2 in'1980. Today's "smaller family," however, does not mean that all families are proportionately smaller. As Figure 10-2 shows, small families are about as common as they were a half century ~go, but very large families are increasingly rare. The "Women's Liberation Movement has, encouraged women to view childbearing as an 'option not as a duty. The proportion of couples who choose to remain childless has increased [Veevers 1980], and more women are-delaying parenthood, with about one third having their first child at 25 or older [Wilkie, 1981}. Why has overall family size declined in the Western world? Contraceptive devices have, provided the means but not the motive-Contraceptives are not the cause of smaller families any more than ropes arc the cause of suicides. The motives for desiring smaller, families carry us into many other aspects ot', , the culture, The shift from an illiterate agricultural society to a literate, specialized, in- , industrialized society has changed children from an economic asset into an. expensive burden. Shifts 10 patterns of recreation, in aspirations, for education and social mobility, and changing concepts of individual rights have all united to curb indiscriminate childbearing. At present, the traditional idea that raising a large family is a noble service to society is. rapidly being replaced by the idea that bearing, many children is an act of irresponsible self indulgence. Thus changing technology changing economics, and changing values are all involved in the change in family size.