[Answers in Sociology] Chapter 12: Family

As part of my BSN program I’m taking a Sociology course. Each week we have to answer questions from each chapter and post them to our online discussion board. I’m reposting some of my answers here if I find them to be insightful or conducive to conversation. Our textbook is You May Ask Yourself: An Introduction to Thinking Like a Sociologist, by Dalton Conley.

CHAPTER 12: Family

Define Nuclear family and elaborate on how it became the norm.

According to Talcott Parsons (Conley, 2011, p. 428), the nuclear, or traditional, family is the term given to the family unit consisting of the idealized model of a male breadwinner, a female homemaker, and their dependent children. This model emerges after the end of WWII and the return of the troops to the labor force, and the women who had taken over their duties to the home space. In the 1950s, it accounted for the majority of families in America, with 86% of children living in a two-parent household, and 60% of children born into homes that fit the description (Conley, 2011, p. 428-29). Parsons argued that the nuclear family was the ideal family model because it fulfilled “society’s need for productive workers and child nurturers (Conley, 2011, p. 432).”

Is this still the traditional family form in the United States?

Not by a long shot. According to Livingstone (2014), based on a Pew Research Center analysis, “Less than half (46%) of U.S. kids younger than 18 years of age are living in a home with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage[,] a marked change from [73% in] 1960, and [61% in] 1980.”

If not, what other forms of ‘family’ have emerged and discuss the social causes for their emergence?

There’s quite a variety of family arrangements beyond the traditional model; many of them have always been present, but were silently ignored as they were not the norm. Whether divorce rates are rising (Ingraham, 2014) or falling (Cain Miller, 2014), remarriages are actively on the rise, with 15% of children, whether born to the remarried couple or from a previous union, living in a remarried household (Livingstone, 2014). There is also cohabitation, where couples are in an intimate relationship not formally sanctioned by a legal or religious body; single-parent households, like the one I grew up in, with my mother raising three children; extended or multigenerational families, with various generations of the family living together for cultural or economic reasons; and even no-parent families, where children live with another relative.


Cain Miller, C. (2014). The divorce surge is over, but the myth lives on. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/02/upshot/the-divorce-surge-is-over-but-the-myth-lives-on.html?_r=0&abt=0002&abg=0

Conley, D. (2011). You may ask yourself: An introduction to thinking like a sociologist. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Ingraham, C. (2014). Divorce is actually on the rise, and it’s the baby boomers’ fault. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2014/03/27/divorce-is-actually-on-the-rise-and-its-the-baby-boomers-fault/

Livingstone, G. (2014). Less than half of U.S. kids today live in a ‘traditional’ family. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/12/22/less-than-half-of-u-s-kids-today-live-in-a-traditional-family/