Families in Global Perspective

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Families in Global Perspective
As the nature of family life kd work has changed in high-, middle-, and low-income nations, the issue of what constitutes a "family' has been widely debated. For many years. the standard so.:topological den nit ion of family has been a group of people who are related to one another by bonds of blood, marriage, or adoption and who live together, form an economic unit, and bear and raise children. Many people believe that this definition should not be expanded-that social approval should not be extended to other relationships simply because the persons in those relationships wish to consider themselves a family. However, others challenge this definition because it simply does not match the reality of cornily life in contemporary society (Lamanna and Riedrnann, 2009). Today's families include many types of living arrangements and relationships, including single-parent households, unmarried couples, lesbian and gay couples. and multiple generations (such as grandparent, parent, and child) living in the same household. To accurately reflect these changes in family life, some sociologists believe that we need a more encompassing definition of what constitutes a family, Accordingly, we will def ne families as relationships in which people live together with commitment, form an economic unit and care {or any young. and consider their identity to be significantly attached to the group. SC>'L1 Expression and parent-child relationships are a part of most, but not all, family relationships. Although families differ widely around the world,
they also share certain common concerns in their everyday lives. For example, women and men of all racial-ethnic categories, nationalities, and income levels face problems associated with child care. Various nongovernmental agencies of the United Nations have established international priorities to help families. Suggestions have included the development of "social infrastructures for the care and education of children of working parents in order to reduce their ... burden" and the implementation of flexible working hours so that parents will have more opportunities to spend time with their children (Pietila and Vickers, 1994: 115). How do sociologists approach the study of families? In our study of families. we will use our sociological imagination to see how our personal experiences are related to the larger happenings in society. At the mlcrolevel, each of us has a "biography" based on our experience within our family; at the macrolevel, our families are embedded in a specific social context that has a major effect on them. We will examine the institution of the family at both of these levels. starting with family structure and characteristics.