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Four Decades of Trends in Attitudes Toward Family Issues in the United States: The 1960s Through the 1990s.

Publication Abstract

Thornton, Arland, and L. Young-DeMarco. 2001. "Four Decades of Trends in Attitudes Toward Family Issues in the United States: The 1960s Through the 1990s." Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(4): 1009-1037.

This article examines trends in family attitudes and values across the last 4 decades of the 20th century, with particular emphasis on the past 2 decades. The article focuses on attitudes toward a wide range of family issues, including the roles of men and women, marriage, divorce, childlessness, premarital sex, extramarital sex, unmarried cohabitation, and unmarried childbearing. More generally, the article considers trends in 3 broad contemporary values: freedom; equality; and commitment to family, marriage, and children. Five data sets are used for the article: Monitoring the Future, General Social Survey, International Social Science Project, Intergenerational Panel Study of Parents and Children, and the National Survey, of Families and Households. These 5 data sets reveal substantial and persistent long-term trends toward the endorsement of gender equality in families, which may have plateaued at very high levels in recent years. There have also been important and continuing long-term trends toward individual autonomy and tolerance toward a diversity of personal and family behaviors as reflected in increased acceptance of divorce, premarital sex, unmarried cohabitation, remaining single, and choosing to be childless. At the same time, marriage and family life remain important in the cultural ethos, with large and relatively stable fractions of young people believing that marriage and family life are important and planning marriage and the bearing and rearing of children.

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