American families today are often noted for their wide variety of guises. Among the mix are single-parent families, childless-by-choice marriages, nuclear families, multigenerational families, and same-sex couples. This diversity among family life that has come under the scrutiny of everyone from politicians to the media, however, is not a recent development of contemporary culture. Although nuclear families with a mother, father, and children tend to be the presumed historic norm, people have always resided, to varying extents, in an assortment of family formations. Bringing together essays by twenty-one distinguished scholars who have helped shape the field of family sociology in the last decade, this interdisciplinary anthology examines variation within family experience, especially as it has evolved across racial, ethnic, social, gender, and generational lines. The essays place historical and institutional frameworks at the center of the discussion.
Part one focuses on the development of socially constructed dominant ideologies, demographic shifts in family composition, and historical perspectives on family rituals and mythmaking, including courtship practices and family bonding time. Essays in the second part provide a historical perspective on the interdependence between the family as a social institution and other institutions. Selections highlight changes in women's roles, the impact of economic, racial, and social inequalities on household labor and child care, the effects of war and military service, and the implications of the political climate for family welfare policy. In-depth chapter introductions, along with critical questions to spark class discussion make this an ideal text for courses focusing on family composition, trends, and controversies in the United States.