Over the past centuries in Western world and overseas European populations, the institutions of marriage and family were fundamental in forming the lives of individuals and their relationships with the larger community. The activities of daily life, authority relationships, the means of production, and consumption were largely structured within families and households. Marriage and family life in these cultures were totally gendered for centuries, with those gendered relationships were strengthened with religion, social behavior, and legally. The husband was generally considered the head of the family, with the wife a junior partner in the family enterprise and with the husband having the authority to represent the family in the larger community. Though individuals in marriage did have substantial independence of their own and these were widely in%uFB02uenced by important community norms and sanctions that prohibited and suggested some style of behaviors. Specifically, the roles of men and women, the formation and dissolution of close unifications, childbearing, and childrearing were strongly structured by these norms and in%uFB02uence of the larger social and religious community.
Changes in Family
A significant theme of Western family history is the changes that have occurred in all of these aspects of family life and relationships. Marriage has become less central in consolidating and guiding life course changes, individual identities, intimate relations, living arrangements, childbearing, and childrearing (Axinn and Thornton, 2000). Associating with these changes in social organization have been wide changes in religious structures, with substantial increases in religious diversity, a decreased sense of shared morality, and reduced ability of the churches to speak in a uni%uFB01ed voice on family matters (Hunter, 1991). In addition, Religion has become increasingly interpreted in isolated and unusual terms rather than within the discourse of loyalty to speci%uFB01c religious organizations, with the norm of tolerance becoming especially widespread (Browning et al., 1997).
Changes in family and social relationships have been particularly dramatic in the second half of the 20th century. Women's employment, including that among the mothers of young children, has dramatically increased in the past few decades, especially for White women (Cohen and Bianchi, 1999). The marriage and baby booms after World War II were followed by substantial subsequent declines (Fitch and Ruggles, 2000). A century-long increase in divorce accelerated in the 1960s and 1970s (Cherlin, 1992). The reported incidence of premarital sex, nonmarital cohabitation, and out-of-wedlock childbearing also increased during this period (Bumpass and Lu,2000). Another important event during this period was the introduction of the birth control pill and other effective contraceptives. We have also witnessed a powerful intervention of biology, with the epidemic of the HIV virus and the associated rapid and well-publicized increase in AIDS-related illness and mortality.
In conclusion, the growing changes in attitudes and family behavior in recent years have strengthened the long time discussion on whether families are in decline or not (Davis, 1937/1997). Meanwhile, different scholars have interpreted the changes based on their personal view and argument. For instance, some interpret the changes as representing family decline and disintegration that are bad for individuals and societies (Popenoe, 1993). However, there are those who suggest that the family is merely changing rather than declining and that those changes can be evaluated as good, bad, or a mixture of the two (Coontz, 2000). Conclusively, it is difficult to decide on this debate, since family failure is a metaphor that could be difficult to measure which assessments of its good and bad is subject to the value of viewers.