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Marriage and Alternative Family lifestyles Essays

Introduction
            Marriage refers to a union between two people whose interpersonal relationship is acknowledged by the religious authority or the state in which the individuals belong to.  The social status of the two individuals usually changes when they get married.  The reasons why people get married include legal, social and economic stability.  Some people will get married in order to form a family unit to obtain citizenship to legitimize sexual relations and to procreate.  Different marriage forms exist; monogamy, polygamy and recently same sex marriage. The marriage institution has been experiencing a lot of changes over the recent past.
Thesis statement
            In many parts of the world the marriage institution has undergone social, cultural and economic related changes.  These changes have in turn changed the marriage styles and the structures.  The styles and structures within a marriage depend on the social and cultural beliefs of the society.  In the contemporary world both the marriage style and structure have changed.
Early American marriages
            In the early American marriages the institution was acknowledged for being a very common arrangement for bringing up children.  Most Americans viewed a marriage as an ideal institution of forming a family (Ernest, W., and Harvey J. 1945).  The age at which people married was higher as compared to the modern world age of those getting married.  For instance in the 1890s men married at twenty-six and women at twenty-four.  Marriage styles such as cohabiting were very rare then. Most children who were born then were born inside a legal marriage institution.  It is also vital to note that the divorce rate in early American marriages was very low.  Single parent families were few and usually resulted from death of one partner (parent) or divorce women in early American marriages were often dependent on men to provide for the family.
Definition of a marriage
            The definition of a marriage has been changing with time.  One of the definitions indicates that a marriage is a personal union between two individuals of the opposite sex.  Their union is usually acknowledged by the religious authority or the state law.  People who get married do so for various reasons and the marriage forms they adopt are also different.  Through marriage the individuals who are involved have both legal and normative obligations. The individuals to be married are always expected to do so willingly and will full consent.  Factors such as race, nationality, color and religion have all been recognized to affect the choice of a partner to whom one should get married.  It is through the process of courtship that people who wish to get married identify and learn more about each other before they get married.  Forced marriages occur when an individual is compelled to marry someone against her or his wish.  Such kind of marriages attracts harsh criticism.  Weddings are recognized worldwide as ceremonies through which a marriage is formalized.  The marriage structure and style changes have in turn changed the definitions of a marriage, the accepted forms and the roles of married couples. The marriage institution has greatly changed and it is most likely to continue changing.
Discussion
 A. Defining Marriage
      1. Early Marriage
            An early marriage refers to a marriage institution where people who are in their young age are joined together to live as a man and a wife.  In early marriages, adolescents who are usually below the age of 18 or children get married.  Early marriages are very common in some regions of the world while in others they are rare.  For instance, in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa early marriages are common with girls at very young ages married.  Early marriages are very common in societies that display traditional lifestyles.  In addition marriage between individuals shortly after puberty is witnessed in North Africa and Middle East.  Latin America and Eastern Europe are some of the areas where teenage girls take part in marriage.  While some early marriages are arranged, others are forced where the parent make consent on behalf of the young teenagers.
            Over the past few years, there has been a rapid increase in the rate of early marriages.  Many early marriages experience financial problems which create tension within a marriage.  This may then undermine a healthy marriage relationship.  Personal maturity in early marriages is an issue of concern.  Individuals in such marriages show immaturity and irresponsibility which act as pitfalls of the marriage relationship.  Some early marriages fail to succeed when individuals get married in order to escape problems at home.
2. Family life
            A family refers to a group of people who are joined together by blood and marriage.  The family is the basic unit of a society as well as a primary economic unit.  A family life integrates reproduction as the continuity of the society.  It is within a family that the children who are born are taken care of in relation to their development and socialization.  A family forms an economically productive household where parents get involved in the economic production of the society within which the family exists.  A family has a great role to play in encouraging love, trust and intimacy.  This assists the family members to escape the modern society dehumanizing forces through the love, warmth and understanding they get.  A contemporary family however has shown declined idea of protection due to the internal conflicts that are witnessed.
3. Age of marriage
            The age of marriage gives an individual’s age during the time of his/her marriage.  Depending on the social, cultural and religious influences individuals get married at different ages.  Some may marry at an early age while others at the average age.  The age at which people get married in the modern world greatly varies from that of the people in the past.  For instance, individuals who got married during the late 1800s and early 1900s did so at twenty four and twenty six.  In the modern world, individuals are getting married at a much younger age.  In most states, the age of majority is used to determine whether an individual ceases to be a minor.  Those who attain this age are allowed to get married even without the consent of the others.  Currently individuals can get married at a very young age.  For example, in many parts of the world individuals as young as 16 are considered to attain the marriageable age with the courts permission or parental consent.
 B. Function of the family
     1. Family structure
            A family structure determines the number and the type of individuals who make up a family (Kathleen, K. 2001).  Since the World War II, the family structure has undergone great changes which have resulted to differences in the structure.  These differences have in turn made families successful.  Examples of family structures include nuclear family, extended family, single parent families, step families and older parent families.  The nuclear family is made up of the parents and the siblings.  The two parents have the responsibility to take care of the children and to rise up the family in accordance with the social expectations and ethics.  An extended family compliments the nuclear family in taking care of the siblings and in building a closer family bond.  A family that has working parents boosts the financial ability of the household such that all the needs of the family are catered for ( Hernandez, E.1993).  A single parent’s family faces the challenge of one parent being the sole provider.  The parent provides for the child financially, emotionally and socially.  Having older parents in the family promotes more financial stability and security at home and at the place of work. Younger parents have a tough role of taking care of the family while at the same time seeking appropriate education and satisfying careers.  Step families offer a great opportunity for members to build new long lasting and loving bonds.  A family that adopts a child has great responsibility to bring up the child according to the expectations of the society.
  2. Extended family
            An extended family refers to a family whose structure incorporates the members of a nuclear family and the close relatives.  Also referred to as a consanguineous family the members are all brought together in a close-knit community.  Members of the family include the spouses, children, uncles, aunts, cousins and foster children.  The mature adults within the family exercise collective responsibility in taking care of the children.  The mature members share work and teach children etiquette manners and the native language.  Conflicts and disputes are solved by the elder members of the family.  In some areas of the world such as East Asia, Africa, Middle East and India extended families are recognized as the basic family units.  In such a family structure shared responsibilities of the tasks is incorporated.
3. Patriarchal family
            In a patriarchal family the male adults act as the heads of the family.  The fathers usually exercise primary responsibility for the family welfare (www.catholiceducation.org/articles/marriage/mfoo60.html).  The wife in this family is required to be chaste and to make self-sacrifices for the family.  The children are expected to show a high level of obedience and discipline while the father has to submit all the personal feelings to meet the family interests.  The moral tradition that the patriarchal family created is very important in the modern marriage aspect.  Values such as modesty, honor, chastity and responsibility are all derived from the patriarchal society.
4.  Social status
            The social status of an individual determines the level of honor and prestige ones get in the society.  The position one holds in a family influences his/her social status.  Based on one’s position in the family a person is accorded a more dominant position or a much lower one.  A person who acquires a more dominant position has more privileges and power.  For instance, in the conjugal family, parents have a higher social status in the society than those without siblings.  Extended families recognize the elderly as people of high status in the society who have the responsibility to provide guidance to the other family members and solve disputes.  Mature adults who fail to get married may sometimes be accorded a much lower social status than those of the same age who are married.  Single parent families in some societies are given a very low social status and may sometimes be seen as social dysfunction (David, E., and Christopher, J. 2004).  This is common in societies that still maintain the traditional definition of a marriage.  However, in the modern world single parents are now easily accepted and given a social status equal to that of the married.
5. Facts and statistics
            The functions of the family have been changing due to the ever changing family structures.  A nuclear family is the most common family structure in the world.  The idea of nuclear family dates thousands of years ago and it remains a common household arrangement.  In the United States an estimated, a quarter of the total number of the households is a nuclear family.  The nuclear family was found to be the most common in Australia according to the 1996 census figures.  The family structure had also declined in relation to its predominance by over 10% for the last 20 years (Nancy, C. 2000).  In the USA the number of nuclear households has also has also declined with less than a quarter of the families being made up of nuclear families (couples with their children).  The family functions have changed based on the structure.
D. Arranged marriage
            An arranged marriage involves the union of two individuals who get married through an arrangement made by other people other than themselves(Savage, L.2008)  This kind of a marriage is considered to avoid courtship with the matchmaking being done by an agent a trusted third party or an online matrimonial site. Arranged marriages occur when a couple desires to form a new family unit are influenced by economic or legal factors within the society.
1. Marriage rules
            In an arranged marriage it is very important that one marries a person who is of an ideal age.  The idea of early marriage is supported but a large generation gap is advocated against. Individuals who are married through an arrangement are required to try and understand each other as a life long assignment.  One is also expected to involve the families and the society in their marriage so that they can fulfill the society’s expectations.  In order to succeed in marriage one will be required to seek the support of the whole family so that one’s become compatible with the family values, religion and the social status.  Doing a self-assessment is crucial so that those who desire to get married maximize their chances of living with the person successfully.  Individuals need to have a good personality as well as behavior so that they fit in the criteria of those who are qualified to be married.  A person who marries through an arranged marriage will need to compromise in order to accommodate the other partner.

2. Facts and statistics
            Arranged marriages are very common in South Asia, Middle East and some parts of Africa.  Some of the nations in Asia that practice arranged marriages include Iraq, Iran, India and Japan.  Cultural diversity which is cherished in North America has also promoted arranged marriage in the society.  For instance, in Japan parents begin to seek for their daughter’s appropriate suitor when she reaches 25.  It is very important that the two families where two individuals come from (in an arranged marriage) have a strong bond.  In order to secure the social status, property or land may be used to seal a marriage agreement.  The divorce rate in arranged marriage is low as compared to marriages formed out of love (like in USA).
Arranged marriages are closely linked to forced marriages, shotgun weddings and child marriages. Forced marriages are very rare in the western states.  Child marriages are usually done due to the political and economic influences. The shotgun weddings are planned in order to marry off females with unwanted pregnancies.  A more modern form of arranged marriage is through the website.
  3. Religion
            The religion in which an individual belongs to influences the rate of arranged marriages in the society.  Many religions all over the world, advocate for marriage.  The arranged marriages are viewed to be very prominent in Muslim societies.
(E) Transformation of the family
        1. Statistics
            Both the marriage styles and structures have greatly changed over the years.  The changing family systems have attracted great attention.  Some of the ways in which the family has changed can be witnessed through the changes in the marriage and divorce rates, sexual behavior and cohabitation.  The transformation has however not affected the desire of people to marry and start a family.  Cohabitation is very common today as compared to the early and mid-twentieth century.  It is seen as a trial marriage.  For instance, about 39% of people cohabited and lived with children of their partners in 1995 (USA).  There has been a declined rate of marriages while cohabitation has increased.  The number of births outside marriage has increased (about 35%) in developed countries (USA), while a half of unmarried first-time mothers are often adolescents.  The divorce rate has gone up.
    2 .Decline of the Traditional family
             A traditional family which was established in the 1950s is described as the one that has a married couple with two or more children.  The mother had the role of staying at home to take care of the house, children and husband.  The father acts as the sole provider of the family. The traditional family has now declined due to the socio-cultural changes that the family has experienced for the last three decades.  Only a very small percentage of households incorporates the ‘traditional family’ idea (Philip, M. 1993).  Some of the causes include, disappearance of the traditional gender role socialization view, changing political environment, gender role changes and religion. The declination of traditional family in the modern societies has resulted to single parents’ family, same sex marriages, two working parents’ families, stepfamilies and families with adopted children. Some families also lack children either by deliberate intention or undeliberate.
    3. Childless couples
            a family that lacks children is a common family structure that has emerged due to the changes that have transformed the traditional family structure.  In this type of a family two people get married even when they know that they are unable to conceive.  Those who chose not to have children even when they can do so indicate that they have their personal reasons.  Sometimes having no children result from the couples busy lives (working) which makes it easy for them not to have any children.  Others feel that they do not have the nurturing desire, hence do not see the need to have children.  Some couples prioritize their happiness and decide not to have children.  Childless couples may lack children if they lack the biological ability to do so.  In this case, they may choose to remain without children.
4. Women in Labor force
            Women in the traditional family set ups were dependent on men and they lacked direct access to the economic opportunities.  This has however changed. Women are now being employed in the labor force and they have even managed to take similar job positions with the men.  Since 1960s the women’s role has changed and a high number of women have become highly educated.  This has given them an equal opportunity to compete with men in the public arena, business and profession.  The women can now share family financial responsibilities with the men.
    5. Statistics of women staying home to men
            Though women can now be employed just like men the number of women who go to work still remain low compared to that of the men.  Societies that still hold the idea that a man should work and the woman should not has great difference in the number of working women to men.
6. Working parents
            Families that have two working parents have experienced both the negative and the positive results of having the two of them work.  One advantage is that the financial ability of the family is boosted since both parents earn. This has changed the social status of a woman financial independence of the woman has also changed her role in the family.  The employment of both men and women has increased economic production in nations where women are playing a big role in economic productivity (Elise, R.2003).  However, in some societies, only one parent is allowed to work (the father) while the mother has her duties limited in the household.  A family that has two parents working has denied children enough time with the parents.  For instance a research conducted by the office for National statistics in Britain indicated that working parents spend less than 20 minutes with their children daily( Barrow, B. 2006).
F Re-marriage and stepfamilies
       1 Statistics –effect of re-marriage on children
            Re-marriage refers to the marriage of an individual who was earlier married to another person other than the first-marriage partner.  Re-marrying by parents has effects of the children.  Children in step families are less well adjusted to the social changes as compared to those in other families.  Children of re-marriage often show a greater risk of experiencing academic difficulties when compared to those from first-marriages. Behavioral problems are common in children from step families and they are more susceptible to peer pressure and deviant relationships.  The risk of drug abuse is also high.
G. Smaller Households Vs. Big Household
            A smaller household has a low number of family members as compared to a big family member.  The size of a household is influenced by the economic status, social beliefs and the available resources.  Modern Households are much smaller than the households in the past years.  In 1990 the number of people per household was 2-4.  in 2001 the number declined to 2-3 persons.  This indicates that there has been a long-lasting trend by families towards much smaller ones.  For instance, in 1960s an average household was estimated to 3-3 persons. (Norway)
modern families prefer smaller households due to the changing roles of the family members.  Working mothers prefer to have small households than the non-working ones.  Big households are seen as a financial burden to those who earn very little.  The value attached to having bigger households has declined.
H. Opinion for change in marriage and family structure
    1. Changing family morals
            Family morals refer to the rules and standards that are socially accepted as appropriate in the family institution.  This depends on the society within which the family is found.  Some of the family values that are viewed as important in setting standards that are acceptable include loyalty, honesty, trust, tolerance and competence.  Changes in the family styles and structures have been viewed as the main cause of increased decay in the family morals and values.  The changes have led to lack of clear and certain moral standards.  This has been acknowledged as a big problem that needs to be addressed through a good moral code.
   2. Great concern on money
            Modern family members are usually concerned more about maximizing their financial productivity rather than the family.  This is because the financial independence of an individual is being viewed as more important than having a family.  For instance, couples can be seen nowadays to choose not to have children due to the business in work.  Those who have children spend much of their time working rather than with the family single parents who concentrate very much on the work and spend little time with their children are seen to contribute to their children’s deviant behavior.

 3. Divorce is not a way to fix everything
            The divorce rate has been increasing one major cause being the changing family structures.  Some of the causes of divorce include communication problems, domestic abuse, incompatibility, financial problems and sexual problems.  It is important to note that though a marriage may experience such problems divorce is not the way out.  This is because a divorce greatly affects the two individuals and the children.  Solving these problems should be done by all means.

                                 References
Barrow, B. 2006 .19 minutes- how long working parents Give their children Daily Mail
www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-396609-19-minutes–long-working-parents-children.html.
            Retrieved on August 4, 2008
David, E., and Christopher, J. 2004. “The Uneven Spread of Single-Parent Families: What         Do We Know? Where Do We Look for Answers?” in Social Inequality, edited by            Kathryn M. Neckerman .Network: Russell Sage Foundation, pp. 3–118.
Elise, R.2003. Boom Times a Bust: Declining Employment among Less-Educated Young            Men     .Washington: Center for Law and Social Policy,;
             available at www.clasp.org/DMS/Documents/
Ernest, W., and Harvey J. 1945.The Family: From Institution to Companionship .New York:     American Book Company,.
Hernandez, E.1993.America’s Children: Resources from Family, Government, and Economy     New York: Russell .Sage Foundation.
Kathleen, K. 2001. “European Perspectives on Non-marital Childbearing,” in Out of Wedlock: Causes and Consequences of Non-marital Fertility, edited by Lawrence L. Wu and    Barbara Wolfe New York: Russell Sage Foundation, , pp. 77–108.
Nancy, C. 2000. Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation .Harvard University Press
Philip, M. 1993. “Racial Differences in Household and Family Structure at the Turn of the        Century,” American Journal of Sociology 98  798–828.
Savage, L.The Reality of Arranged Marriages
            ezinearticles.com/?The-Reality-of-Arranged-Marriages&id=606. Retrieved on August 4,            2008
The patriarchal family in History Dawson, C. Catholic Education Resource Center             www.catholiceducation.org/articles/marriage/mfoo60.html. Retrieved on August 4, 2008
 

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