Stepping Up to the New Nuclear Family

The scene around the family Christmas tree may look somewhat different than it did 50 years ago.This weekend, take a close look at the group of people surrounding the family Christmas tree. Do these guests in your home have the same relationship as the siblings, partners, parents and loved ones had in your home five decades ago?

It seems the pillars of western civilization are beginning to buckle and crack. For example, a growing number of Millennials (18- to 29-year olds) significantly downgrade the importance of marriage as opposed to the X Generation just preceding it. The reasons may be puzzling for public affairs professionals and marketers trying to determine community attitudes.

Understanding the voting tendencies of youth may hold the key for passing education and transportation funding measures or promoting new services. In the end, the emerging viewpoint on marriage may have more to do with indifference toward marriage than any strong moral position for or against the institution. But the declining few who do support the traditional views of marriage and family will be tenacious in holding onto their views

The Pew Research Center has released a series of reports throughout the year, posting a summary of its work earlier this month. The transformative trends of the past 50 years that have led to a sharp decline in marriage and a rise of new family forms have been shaped by attitudes and behaviors differing by class, age and race. A few fascinating conclusions:

The decline of marriage and rise of new families

“The pre-eminent family unit of the mid-20th century — mom, dad and the kids — no longer has the stage to itself. A variety of new arrangements have emerged, giving rise to a broader and evolving definition of what constitutes a family.” In a section called A Portrait of Stepfamilies, Pew says "Today, more than four-in-ten American adults have at least one step relative in their family — either a stepparent, a step- or half-sibling or a stepchild.

For Millennials, parenthood trumps marriage 

“Today’s 18 to 29 year-olds — members of the so-called Millennial Generation — see parenthood and marriage differently than today’s 30-somethings (members of Generation X) did back when they were in their late teens and twenties. 

The public renders a split verdict on changes

“The American public is sharply divided in its judgments about the sweeping changes in the structure of the American family that have unfolded over the past half century. About a third generally accepts the changes; a third is tolerant but skeptical; and a third considers them bad for society.”

For extra fun, talk about the Pew findings around the Christmas dinner table with Aunt Mildred or cousin Bob. The football game playing on the new wide-screen in the other room may draw a larger crowd.