Where does the modern family take place

German conditions. A social studies

Norbert F. Schneider

Norbert F. Schneider, born in 1955, has been director of the Federal Institute for Population Research in Wiesbaden since 2009; Before that, he was Professor of Sociology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz for twelve years. He is editor of Comparative Population Studies and co-editor of the Zeitschrift für Familienforschung. From 2008-2010 he was President of the European Society on Family Relations (esfr). In 2010 he was appointed as a member of the Expert Commission for the preparation of the Eighth Family Report and of the Demography Expert Council at the Federal Minister of the Interior. His work focuses on family, population and mobility research. Selected publications: (Ed.) Textbook Modern Family Sociology. Theories, methods, empirical findings. Opladen: B. Budrich, (2008); Familiy and Parenthood in Contemporary Europe: Sociological Considerations and their Political Implications. Family Science, 2011, 1, 3-4, 135-143; Mobile Living Across Europe. Volume 2: Causes and Consequences of Job-Relagted Spatial Mobility in Cross-National Comparison. Opladen: B. Budrich, ed. With Beate Collet (2010):

The period between 1955 and 1968 was generally considered to be the heyday of marriage and family, because the marital nuclear family held a special monopoly position during this period. Since the end of the 1960s, a pluralization of lifestyles and individualization of the way of life has started. Today marriage offers only the legal framework for one way of life.

Our understanding of family change is still accompanied by numerous myths, misjudgments and clichés.

Three myths about historical change

A first myth is the widespread assumption that there has been a development from a pre-industrial large family to a modern small family. Based on the idea that the family in the past was typically the extended family in which three generations lived together under one roof, it is assumed that there has been a linear downsizing of the family, which has not come to a standstill to this day. From today's perspective, it is clear that the three-generation family was not widespread in the past, but rather the exception. In many cases, families in the 19th century were likely to have been smaller units with four to six people, for which, in contrast to today, the presence of servants was typical. The smallness arose for a variety of reasons. The high infant and child mortality rates were certainly among the most important. In some times and regions, up to half of all children may have died during their first three years of life.

The family cliché as a haven of harmony and happiness can also confidently be called a myth. Under the dictates of scarcity and hardship, the family was mostly not the harmonious space to which it is romanticized to this day. Rather, it can be assumed that the family was widespread a place of conflict, violence and oppression, from which women and children in particular and, after the farm was handed over, also the elderly suffered.

Furthermore, the interpretation must be countered that the change in the family took place in the sense of a progressive loss of function in which the family initially gave up the production function. According to the findings of historical family research, one cannot speak of a progressive loss of function in the family, at best of a certain specialization. The decisive factor does not seem to be the transfer of functions, but the changed form in which they are performed today. The hypothesis of functional change was linked to the assumption that this development had also had an impact on the relationships between the members of the family: the nuclear family, relieved of direct subsistence security, creates space for emotionality, intimacy and love between partners or between parents and children and put the modern family on a completely new footing. Such a characterization is likely to exaggerate the development, because there are definitely findings that also pre-industrial family relationships were not exclusively instrumental, just as, conversely, economic or pragmatic aspects are nowadays quite important when entering into a marriage or starting a family.

Legal turning points, increase in life expectancy and change in kinship

Crucial legal turning points In the course of the change from the pre-industrial to the modern family, there was the introduction of compulsory schooling, the transition from canonical to civil marriage and family law, and the implementation of the principle of free choice of spouse. Relevant demographic changes were the decline in infant mortality, which, with some time lag, led to a noticeable decline in births, and the decline in mid-adult mortality. The significant decrease in the mortality risk in middle adulthood extended the joint lifespan of family members considerably and, within the framework of the strict institutional structure of the family, led to the development of the typical early modern course of family development. With all the striking changes in the family, the change in family relationships was far more profound in comparison. As a formerly powerful social institution, kinship lost much of its importance from the middle of the 19th century. The nuclear family and its members, previously an integral part of the overarching kinship system and dependent on it, became increasingly independent and autonomous. The influence of kinship as a control and decision maker has declined and has largely disappeared to this day.

On the change of the family in Germany after 1955

The period between 1955 and 1968 is generally referred to as the heyday of marriage and the family, because the marital nuclear family held a special monopoly during this time - both factually and normatively. Premarital cohabitation, divorce, illegitimate births and long-term childlessness were rare, and the rate of marriage was high. Such a dominance of a single form of life and the associated pattern of lifestyle is historically an exception. Before, d. H. Especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a variety of ways of life, mainly caused by the great influence of the socio-structural situation on family forms, economically justified marriage bans and the high risk of widowhood at a young age. The pluralization of lifestyles and individualization of the way of life, which began in the late 1960s, therefore represent a return to the historical normality of diversity.

Structural causes of change

In addition to others, two main reasons for this change are of importance: the decreasing binding force of social norms and controls in the course of the general modernization of society as well as the increasing participation in education and employment of women, who are becoming more and more economically independent from men and marriage.

In this process, marriage lost its former importance as a social institution that had to be protected and maintained for its own sake, and today only offers the legal framework for a way of life that the spouses can otherwise shape individually as they wish. However, this does not mean that social restrictions have completely lost their importance. On the contrary: Structural recklessness continues to influence, i. H. the politically set priority of economic over family interests, the lack of public childcare facilities and the social disregard for services rendered in family work and upbringing, the family life and the development opportunities of families are considerable. But there is no doubt that the options and the variety of ways of life have increased, not in the sense of "anything goes", but in the sense of a separation from the inevitability of economic and social conditions, as they still existed in the 1960s.