Family structures and processes affect and are affected by numerous social and cultural trends, and changes in any one of these can lead to new familial functions, forms, and relationships. As mentioned elsewhere, families can be envisioned as society's shock absorbers of change, absorbing, for instance, socio-cultural changes in gender roles, intergenerational relationships, racial relationships, demographics (such as new waves of immigrants), in the division of labor, and shifts in the stratification order. Of course, such broad changes vary in their familial impacts by social class, region of the country, and so forth.

Consider the impacts of such cultural trends as industrialism, urbanism, individualism, and feminism on family structures and processes. A rich study can be made of the influence of Margaret Sanger and the birth control movement of the teens.  Reacting against the 1873 Comstock Law  (officially the Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use) which prohibited birth control information and devices,  outraged at the premature aging of working class women whose bodies were worn out by fifteen or twenty pregnancies, Sanger, Emma Goldman, Mary Ware Dennett (founder of the Voluntary Parenthood League)  and others saw reproductive rights as the key to women's economic and social freedom.

Margaret Sanger Papers Project from New York University's Department of History
The Emma Goldman Papers from UC Berkeley


Religion affects family systems in numerous ways, from premarital counseling, staging of marital and baptismal rites-of-passage, and prescribing moralities of procreation and definitions of gender roles.

Here let us consider those Americans who identified themselves and their spouses as being either Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or having no religious affiliation, and consider the bearing of their faith on familial matters.


% AGED 30+
PROT-PROT 66.7% 8.7% 18.3% 59.2% 44.0%
CATH-CATH 65.9 8.4 9.2 20.3 6.6
PROT-CATH 62.5 13.6 18.6 4.5 17.2
CATH-PROT 64.5 15.0 22.9 4.3 16.8
NONE-NONE 49.6 23.0 18.2 2.5 < 0.5
JEW-JEW 69.2 6.6 8.8 1.8 0.3
JEW-PROT/CATH 52.7 18.9 12.7 0.4 1.8
PROT/CATH-JEW 62.2 12.5 39.1 0.3 1.9
PROT-NONE 56.7 11.5 30.5 3.7 2.9
NONE-PROT 49.6 13.3 27.2 0.3 4.8
NONE-CATH 50.4 15.4 21.3 1.5 1.9
CATH-NONE 58.9 9.8 20.8 0.6 1.1
TOTAL 65.1% 9.6% 17.1% 15,403

Here's a table brim-full with information about religious homogamy in America and some of its implications. Moving from the right-most two columns, you can compare the percentage of unions that could be expected by chance with the percentages actually observed. In the "Percent of Total" column, we find over 80% of married Americans are in Protestant-Protestant, Catholic-Catholic, or Jewish-Jewish (in (husbands' religion-wives' religion order) unions. Notice how among mixed Protestant-Catholic relations, the proportion of Protestant husbands-Catholic wives unions is roughly the same as Catholic husband-Protestant wives unions. On the other had, in Jewish-Christian marriages, Jewish male-Christian female unions are 37% more likely than the other way around.

Looking at the percentage of these unions that are remarriages, observe how Protestant-Protestant couples are about twice as likely as Catholic-Catholic couples to have a previously married spouse. The proportion of Jewish families that are first marriages are the highest (91.2%) of any of these twelve categories of relationships (whose total is 82.9%), while Christian husband-Jewish wife relations are most likely to involve a remarriage (39.1% vs. 17.1% in total).

There are some interesting variations in the fertility of religiously homogamous vs. heterogeneous couples. Among once-married couples where the respondent is at least thirty years of age (just to give them time to reproduce), observe how, for instance, families with Jewish husbands and Christian wives are 2.8 times more likely (18.9% vs. 6.6%) to have no children than Jewish-Jewish relations. Among couples with one Christian spouse and one who is not religiously-affiliated, those where it is the husband who is not religious are less likely to have children than when it is the wife who is not religiously affiliated--and this difference is twice as great for Catholics (15.4% vs. 9.8%) than Protestants (13.3% vs. 11.5%).

Marital happiness is greater in religiously homogonous unions, with over two-thirds of spouses in PROT-PROT, CATH-CATH, JEW-JEW unions reporting being "very happy" in their marriages. Lowest rates of marital happiness involve those where one spouse is religious and the other has no religious affiliation, especially where it's the wife who is not religious.

In addition to matters of spouses' faith, there are the ways in which religion shapes attitudes toward a variety of moral issues. Click below to see:

The Religion, Culture, and Family Project of the Divinity School of The University of Chicago

Inter-faith marriages: Beliefs and policies of different faith groups (from

The Rockford Institute--striving "to contribute to the renewal of Christendom ... through: the defense of the family; the promotion of liberty; the decentralization of political and economic life; ...

Christian Coalition Main Menu


What issues come to mind when thinking about families and the economic order?

Center for Work and Family (Alfred P. Sloan Foundation/Boston College)

Center for Family Policy and Practice--mission is "to help create a society in which low-income parents - mothers as well as fathers - are in a position to support their children emotionally, financially, and physically"

Family and Work Institute, source of the The 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce

Hastings Law School's WorkLife Law Center

Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy

University of Michigan's Center for the Ethnography of Everyday Life (an Alfred P. Sloan Center for the study of Working Families)

Department of Labor's "Futurework - Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century" -- Work & Family  

Policy Paper of 1994 Intl. Conference: Work and Family Life

Click here for further elaborations on the division of household labor within families.

Economic Policy Institute's DataZone. Includes such tables as husbands' and wives' hours of work, effect of wives' earnings on income shares among married couples 1979-94

CareGuide: Child and Elder Care Directory: descriptions of care options, articles, how-to guides, and checklists of considerations


Scientific advances, such as in biomedical research, are having profound effects on family systems. For instance, click here for a Washington Post story about a surrogate mother who was impregnated with the egg (fertilized by an anonymous sperm donor) of a deceased woman whose parents had arranged for the production of a grandchild. As the author, Rick Weiss, observes, this is "just one of an increasing number of ethical predicaments to emerge ... as a dizzying array of reproductive technologies has redefined the meaning of `parent' and `child'..."  


The time has come to establish the principle that children belong to the Republic before they belong to their parents.

--Georges Jacques Danton, French revolutionist, 1791

Consider the broad range of state interventions in family life: mandatory education (along with course curriculums and school busing), care for the old, passage of no-fault divorce and family-leave laws, pursuit of absent/nonsupportive parents, interventions in family violence, inheritance taxes, and tax relief for families with children. According to the Luxembourg Income Study, apparently such interventions do not go far enough in the United States, which lags behind all other industrial nations in actively lifting its children out of poverty.

In 1996, perhaps the major family-related Congressional debate centers around the Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act (H.R.1946: and S.984), which would get government out of childrearing interventions and reinforce parental control over the upbringing of their children against educational, public health and liberal organizations. Interesting coalitions have emerged, with proponents including groups from conservative religious faiths and political conservatives pitted against an alliance of the National Education Association, the National P.T.A., the American Association of School Administrators, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Administration for Children & Families

Andrew Cherlin, "Should the Government Promote Marriage?" Contexts 2(4), 2003

Will marriage solve the 33% poverty rate of single moms? It's not that simple according to Stephanie Coontz and Nancy Folbre's "Marriage, Poverty, and Public Policy" (2002)

"The Russian Effort to Abolish Marriage" The Atlantic (July 1926)


Family Law Materials
Texas Family Legal Codes


In  August 2001 the conservative Parents Television Council reported the findings of its study of six weeks of “family-hour” television programming during the 200-2001 season.  Compared with the 1998-99 season:

Make you angry? Fed up with the trash on television? Then join or, a project of the American Family Association.

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