As relates to human propagation and habitation, Webster's Dictionary defines family as 'the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their own or adopted children.' It has been stated that the purpose of the family as a social unit is to produce and reproduce persons, biologically and socially.
Family: artistic representation

This rather ambiguous representation
of a family - two parents and a child -
appears in the garden of the Palace of
Nations, Geneva, Switzerland.
Art work by Edwina Sandys.
Taken from Wikipedia.

Author John Russon states that the family serves to locate children socially and plays a major role in their enculturation and socialization1|. The conjugal, or nuclear, family includes only the husband, the wife, and unmarried children who are not of age.

Scholars immediately latched onto Darwin's theories to state that the family is evolving as a social unit2|. Such a convenience has led to a much broader modern interpretation of just exactly what family is, if it can be defined as anything 'exactly'. Darwin proposed a theory of the three stages of human progress, progressing from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilization3|. Friedrich Engels used such evolutionary analysis to define the changes of the family in society - specifically a class-divided society. Such analysis of 'family' seems to have held sway until the latter part of the 20th century when structural functionalism gained prominence. Structural functionalism simply states that family is one of the interdependent elements that make up a society.

The late cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead, was much more specific; she viewed the family as an essential social safeguard to continuing human progress. She writes, 'It is not without significance that the most successful large-scale abrogations of the family have occurred not among simple savages, living close to the subsistence edge, but among great nations and strong empires, the resources of which were ample, the populations huge, and the power almost unlimited4|.'

Ms. Mead is 'spot on' about the modern family. Societies close to the subsistence level need a strong family institution in order to organize social functions in an efficient way. Children are taught the proper morals, ethics and laws by their parents or guardians, and are given the support to assure their accession. In modern industrialized societies those unions which divorce does not weaken are shredded by single parents, foster parents, day care, drugs and alcohol, poor schools, child predators, street gangs. . . etc.

Divorce, or the final termination of a marital union, occurs at least as long ago as Old Testament times. The Catholic Church and Catholic communities are about the only modern institutions that still try to deter divorce among its members. Redefining 'marriage' has only clouded the picture even further.

'No-fault' divorce has taken precedence in Western post-Christian cultures. 'Pre-nuptial agreements' also add a dimension to today's divorce claims. Generally a civil court decision is necessary to make divorce 'official'.

All these factors have made it difficult to quantify divorce as a percentage overall. For example, 57% of women between 1985 to 1989 who married for the first time reached their fifteenth anniversary; second marriages lasted an average of three and a half years5|. The Barna Group, that does surveys among Christian groups, has documented more divorces when church attendance is poor, or the two marrieds are of different faiths6|.

There is likely little disagreement that the worst after-effects of divorce are reflected in the children. Children of divorced parents do less well in school, often drop out of high school, and are less likely to attend college7|. Young children tend to believe that they are the ones responsible for their parents breakup; older children often experience feelings of anger, grief and disorientation. Single parenthood often leaves the children with less parental guidance and can make them more prone to seek outside support relationships such as gangs, drugs and child predators.

One suspects that when a child sees their parents break their marriage vows [for better or for worse . . . 'til death do us part], the child places less value on honesty and commitment.

Children that have failed to find a close relationship with a parent will not feel encouraged by the prevalence of abortion - a parent totally rejecting the gift of life to an offspring.

The phenomenon of Babel makes it difficult to define the term abortion, just as it does with marriage and divorce. A broad definition of any of these terms results in an adjustment to the others. In the broadest terms, we will define abortion as 'voluntary induced termination of pregnancy prior to full delivery at birth.'

Abortion alternatives range from 'morning after' pills to short-term abortifacients such as RU-486 [often administered with prostaglandin: misoprostol] to medical surgical abortion right up to 'partial birth abortion'. Partial birth abortion is where the full-term baby is delivered feet first and then, holding the head within the birth canal, the skull is punctured and the brain vacuumed out; this maintains the pretense that the child has not yet been 'born'.

Partial-birth abortion techniqueChildren facing abortion question.< Well-known pictorial representation of the partial birth abortion procedure.

Children dealing with the >
partial birth abortion issue.

But the above lineage is not the complete range of choices. Some college professors are advocating 'post-birth abortions', what others call 'infanticide'. Princeton University's bioethics professor Peter Singer has found all sorts of rationalizations to evince the 'lack of humanity' of an infant up to eighteen weeks8|. In 1997 MIT professor of psychology Steven Pinker argued in the New York Times Magazine in favor of infanticide - which he terms 'neonaticide'9|. In terms of 'Babel', Professor Pinker completely muddles the meaning of the term 'birth', an idea we all thought we always understood.

Many advocates for abortion are not just comitted to their own point of view; they demand that everyone else embrace their philosophy. They also demand that a male has no portion of the 'fetus', that it is solely part of the woman's body. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says, 'know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?'

Pre-Columbian Indians as well as Near Eastern cultures in Biblical times practiced child sacrifice. Deuteronomy 12:31 implies that the kingdoms neighboring Israel sacrificed children. Genesis 22 implies that God's tasking Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, was common to local practice.

This is not to suggest that women who seek abortion are practicing heathen religious rites. However those who dogmatically promote abortion and fanatically drive the issue in the public forum might be suspect of having some innate relation to ancient child sacrifice.

Popular culture has established the incidence of 'group marriage', a broadening of the 'extended family'. Author Robert A. Heinlein [1907 - 1988] wrote a number of novels displaying group marriages, or what he terms 'line marriages'10|.
Group Marriage - 1973 film

Film poster for the
1973 movie
'Group Marriage' from
Dimension Pictures; it
is termed a 'sex
comedy film' directed
by Stephanie Rothman.

One Sunday morning this author sat in a WalMart coffee shop with a few friends when he noticed what appeared to be an 'extended family' group marriage sit down to breakfast across the room. There were six young adults, three men and three women, all lightly dressed and all with some sort of tattoo. There were two children accompanying the group. The children seemed quite comfortable with any of the adults, and all adults tended to the childrens' needs without fuss.

The atmosphere within the group seemed to be a happy one and peaceful. Still, one wonders about the long-term stability of such a family. Will all the partners remain until the maturity of the children? Or will 'parents' leave and others join the group? When they sign a lease or a contract, who is held responsible in a court of law? Certainly Western societies have yet to legalize group marriages. Will the children grow up well-adjusted and happy? Will those children, as adults, form stable relationships? Who will inherit what in the instance of tragedy?

This sort of family structure is not really only 'modern'. Many variations of group couplings have existed in all sorts of societies, among primitive hunter-gatherers as well as agricultural agrarian societies and developed societies such as those found in the Bible. As part of a communal social structure there is almost universal support for such extended family relationships. Societies with a shortage of one sex have been forced to adopt shared relationships with some form of stability.

What remains to be seen is how productive to social and individual development such structures will prove to be in the 'post-modern' context. As Margaret Mead points out, in small primitive societies there is vigorous support for the family in order to ensure the survival of the culture. In the 'post-modern' era it almost seems the family is under assault.

American historian and moralist Christopher Lasch [1932-1994] has lamented the displacement of the importance of the family in modern life. In his 1977 book Haven in a Heartless World he states, 'Without for a moment abating its claims to scientific objectivity, sociology began to work out a theory of the family's "functions" that could hardly fail to reassure those who worried about its decline—to reassure them, in part, just because it appeared to rest on an objective analysis having nothing in common either with conservative alarmism or with the attacks of radicals who not only predicted the death of the family but did everything possible to hasten it11|.'

Lasch folows up on this point in another work, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations; he writes, 'The Culture of Narcissism [was not] conceived of as a book about the "me decade" or the retreat from the political activism of the sixties. It grew out of an earlier study of the American family, Haven in a Heartless World, which had led me to the conclusion that the family's importance in our society had been steadily declining over a period of more than a hundred years. Schools, peer groups, mass media, and the "helping professions" had challenged parental authority and taken over many of the family's child-rearing functions. I reasoned that changes of this magnitude, in an institution of such fundamental importance, were likely to have far-reaching psychological repercussions12|.'

The book Diversity in Families [multiple editions] has picked up on Lasch's observation: 'This "family as haven" image of a refuge from an impersonal world characterizes the family as a place of intimacy, love, and trust in which individuals may escape the competition of dehumanizing forces in modern society13|.' The authors, however, feel that the modern family is little different from the family in the past: 'Desertion by spouses, illegitimate children, and other conditions that are considered characteristics of modern times existed in the past as well14|.'

In the spirit of Babel, many of today's commentators declare that the decline of family depends on the definition of 'family'15|. 'What we find is that people are moving away from a traditional definition of family and they're moving towards a modern definition of family. That includes a much greater array of living arrangements. They're including a much broader group of people, broader combination of people as families16|.' This quote by sociologist Brian Powell continues, '[We] identified three clusters of Americans: "exclusionists" who hold onto a more narrow definition of family; "moderates" who are willing to count same-sex couples as family if children are involved; and "inclusionists" who have a very broad definition of family16|.' The most common factor defining family in surveys done by the authors was if there were children included.

The Pew Research Center conducted surveys over a period of time. In 1960 72% of all adults in the United States were married; in 2008 the number was 52%. In 1960 76% of college graduates were married, 72% of high school graduates, a four point difference. In 2008 64% of college graduates were married, only 48% of high school graduates, a sixteen point gap. In 1960 68% of 20-somethings were married; in 2008 only 26% were. In 1969 68% of those polled believed that premarital sex was wrong, 21 % thought it was alright; in 2009 32% thought premarital sex was wrong, 60% thought it was acceptable17|.

The same Pew survey page says that, in the United States, among black women giving birth in 2008, 72% were unmarried; 53% of Hispanic women giving birth were unmarried as were 29% of white women17|.

In the year 2012 some school districts in America are insisting that they must feed children three meals a day: breakfast, luch and dinner. They claim that that is the only way to guarantee proper nutrition for children. Such a move would sever one of the last ties that bind the family into a 'cocoon' suitable for protection and social training. Children will become property of the state.

Fifty years ago if people noticed under-nourished children, the parents would have been investigated for poor child care, perhaps causing the courts to relieve the parents of custody. Today we are expected to believe that most parents are incapable of providing proper nutrition for their children. It is an ominous sign portending the end of the family social unit in the wake of an over-bearing government.

In ancient Israel detailed genealogies were kept, because one's birthright was their guarantee to access to the culture and to paradise in the after-life. The first requirement was to be a 'son of Abraham'. Nor were genealogical lists uncommon in other cultures of the ancient world. Pharoah Seti I lists his 76 predecessors on the walls of his temple at Abydos, Egypt.
List of kings by Pharoah Seti I

Rows of cartouches in the Temple
of Seti I representing the names of
76 of his predecessors - although
the names of a few controversial
Pharoahs - the female Hatshepsut
and the heretic pharaoh Akhenaton
for example - are omitted.
© 2003-2005 R. Fingerson

In today's Western cultures many cannot name their grandparents, and few can name their great grandparents. Perhaps their lot is not much worse than their great grandparents. This author worked for some years as a semi-professional genealogist. A century ago it seemed desirable to attempt to establish some nobility or royalty in the family bloodline18|, notably attached to the nobilities that took part in  the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066 CE. Many published genealogies were terribly inaccurate. Still, people of that time in America could normally name their great grandparents.

Total fertility rate is a method of measuring the birth rate, usually a national birth rate, in relation to the number of women of child-bearing age [about 15-47 years of age.] The highest fertility rates in the world for 2013 appear to be in equatorial Africa - 4 - 7 children born to a woman over her child-bearing years. The lowest fertility rates are generally Canada, Australia, China and a large part of the old Soviet Union, including Russia - 0 - 1 child19|. [China has a forced abortion law.]

Obviously if the number of children is 2 or below, replacing the two parents, then the population of that country is not growing; if the number is below 2 then the population is shrinking. Western Europe is below 2, except for France at 2.08 and Ireland at 2.01. The United States is 2.06. Japan is at 1.39. The world as a whole is at 2.47. Since the replacement level is considered to be around 2.1, the United States, France and Ireland would be considered 'on the edge'. This may explain why such countries tend to encourage more immigration.

One might presume that poorly developed countries would have a lower fertility rate but evidence shows that families in those conditions desire more children for labor and caregivers. One reason for low rates in developed nations is that women are more aware of birth control techniques, as well as greater wealth, education and urbanization. The United States fertility rate peaked after WWII at about 3.820|, obviously in response to a large loss of population caused by the war, plus less women in the workplace and the return of the male population post-war.

The Human Reproduction Update compiled by the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology attributes low fertility rates to instability of modern partnerships and value changes21|. The ESHRE report also cites government subsidies for increasing fertility rates, but finds government policies that pay cash to families for pregnancy and child support have a somewhat small effect on total fertility rate. Notwithstanding, Sweden claims some success by offering up to 18 months of government-paid family leave shared by both parents, plus subsidized day care22|.

Countries such as Canada and Japan face an aging population needing government services paid for by a shrinking younger working class. Canada has faced criticism for not doing more to compensate for the imbalance, although Quebec Province has singularly had some success with government subsidies for day care and other incentives23|.

The breakdown of the marriage pact as a foundation for societal security is highlighted in these statistics. The ESHRE report above citing 'instability of modern partnerships and value changes' may explain the decline of parenthood with marriage.

Christian family counselors such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family believe that same-sex marriage is destroying the institution of marriage. Dobson writes, 'The legalization of homosexual marriage will quickly destroy the traditional family. ... When the State sanctions homosexual relationships and gives them its blessing, the younger generation becomes confused about sexual identity and quickly loses its understanding of lifelong commitments, emotional bonding, sexual purity, the role of children in a family, and from a spiritual perspective, the “sanctity” of marriage. Marriage is reduced to something of a partnership that provides attractive benefits and sexual convenience, but cannot offer the intimacy described in Genesis. Cohabitation and short-term relationships are the inevitable result. Ask the Norwegians, the Swedes, and the people from the Netherlands. That is exactly what is happening there24|.'

Such comments have caused great controversy. In an article titled 'The End of Marriage in Scandinavia' The Weekly Standard states, 'The Nordic family pattern--including gay marriage--is spreading across Europe. And by looking closely at it we can answer the key empirical question underlying the gay marriage debate. Will same-sex marriage undermine the institution of marriage? It already has. More precisely, it has further undermined the institution. ... Instead of encouraging a society-wide return to marriage, Scandinavian gay marriage has driven home the message that marriage itself is outdated, and that virtually any family form, including out-of-wedlock parenthood, is acceptable25|.'

The Weekly Standard article makes the point that while divorce rates may not climb with the institution of same-sex marriage, marriage istelf declines and thus the statistics are misleading.

Authors Chris Kirk and Hanna Rosin take exception in an article in Slate Magazine. They write, 'Start with Massachusetts, which endorsed gay marriage in May 2004. That year, the state saw a 16 percent increase in marriage. The reason is, obviously, that gay couples who had been waiting for years to get married were finally able to tie the knot. In the years that followed, the marriage rate normalized but remained higher than it was in the years preceding the legalization. So all in all, there’s no reason to worry that gay marriage is destroying  marriage in Massachusetts26|.' Concerning divorce the article states, 'Another measure of the health of marriage is a state’s divorce rate. Have those changed since gay marriage was introduced? Not really. In each of the five states, divorce rates following legalization have been lower on average than the years preceding it, even as the national divorce rate grew. In 2010, four of the five states had a divorce rate that was lower than both the national divorce rate and the divorce rate of the average state.'

Perhaps the difference is in the amount of time elapsed: 25 - 30 years in Europe, 5 - 10 years in the U.S. Or perhaps a decline in marriage as a source of parenthood is just syptomatic of the times.

For those vigorously comitted to the theory of evolution perhaps the family reinforces their ideas. As Margaret Mead said above, the more we evolve into modernism the more the family becomes a beleaguered foundation stone of society.

        [All web links acquired in Summer of 2014]
1| John Russon, 'Human Experience: Philosophy, Neurosis, and the Elements of Everyday Life'; Albany:
    State University of New York Press, pp. 61–68; (2003).
2| Encyclopædia Britannica, 'Sociology/Founding the discipline'; see at:
3| Lewis H. Morgan (1818-1881), 'Ancient Society'; Cornell University Library, Title Page; (2009).
     Morgan was a model for socialism to Friedrich Engels and, to some extent, Karl Marx; Morgan
     married his cousin.
4| Margaret Mead, 'Male and Female'; Perennial Harper Collins, New York; pp. 180-181; (2001).
5| United States Census Bureau, 'Newsroom: Marital Status & Living Arrangements: Most People Make
     Only One Trip Down the Aisle, But First Marriages Shorter, Census Bureau Reports'; see at: ... [removed from web site; July 1, 2014]
6| Barna Group, 'New Statistics on Church Attendance and Avoidance'; see at:
7| Kathleen B. Rodgers, and Hillary A. Rose, 'Personal, Family, and School Factors Related to Adolescents´
     Academic Performance: A Comparison by Family Structure'; Marriage and Family Review, V33 n4.
     pp. 47-61; (2001).
8| Peter Singer, 'Rethinking Life and Death: The Collapse of Our Traditional Ethics'; St Martin's Press,
     New York; (1995; 2008). Professor Singer is also an animal rights advocate.
9| Steven Pinker, 'Why They Kill Their Newborns'; New York Times Magazine; November 2, 1997.
10| Robert A. Heinlein, 'Stranger in a Strange Land'; Ace Trade, NYC, NY; pp. 449; 486; (1991).
     'The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress'; Orb Books, NYC, NY; p. 42; (1997).
11| Christopher Lasch, 'Haven in a Heartless World; The Family Besieged' (Marriage as a Refuge from
     Modern Society); Basic Books (W.W. Norton & Comapny, Inc. NY, NY); p. 37; (1977). Oddly,
     Lasch identified himself as a 'socialist' before writing this book, but apparently had a 'come home'
     change of heart, citing the 'Left´s' lack of progress on social issues.
12| Christopher Lasch, 'The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing
     Expectations'; W.W. Norton & Comapny, Inc. NY, NY edition; p. 238; (1991)
13| Maxine Baca Zinn, D. Stanley Eitzen, 'Diversity in families'; Allyn and Bacon, Boston (6 ed.);
     p. 7; (2002).
14| Ibid, p. 8.
15| Diane Sawyer report on ABC World News, 'What Makes a Family? Children, Say Many Americans';
     John Berman, Enjoli Frances, Sept. 15, 2010; see at:
16| Ibid, Brian Powell, sociology professor, Indiana University
17| Pew Research Center Publications, 'The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families'; November
     18, 2010; see at:
18| One line that was worked by this author, dealing with a signer of the U.S. Constitution, had a
     late-19th century 'professional genealogist' that wrote at least four genealogies centered on that
     particular signer's last name. Each of the four was mostly different from the others yet traced back
     to a line of nobility in Stafforshire, England. A study of English parish records of the 17th century
     not only failed to support the published claims, but rather embarassingly proved a Staffordshire
     family in deep moral decline. The parish registers recorded the regular children of the unmarried
     daughters as filius populii - 'child of the people'.
19| Total Fertility Rate, The World Factbook (2014), Central Intelligence Agency.
20| Ben J. Wattenberg, 'The Good News Is the Bad News Is Wrong' (Chapter 11: The Birth Dearth);
     American Enterprise Institute; p. 63; (1985).
21| ESHRE Capri Workshop (2010), 'Europe the continent with the lowest fertility'; Human
     Reproduction Update 16, Issue 6; pp. 590-602. see at:
22| Elizabeth Bryant, 'European nations offer incentives to have kids'; San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday,
     August 10, 2008; see at (second page).
23| J. Bagnall, 'Subsidized child care is a proven way to increase birth rate'; Montreal Gazette, August 10,
     2007; read at.
24| Dr. James Dobson, 'Marriage Under Fire' (excerpt); see at:
25| Stanley Kurtz, 'The End of Marriage in Scandinavia'; The Weekly Standard, Vol. 9, No. 20; (Feb 2,
     2004); see at:
26| Chris Kirk and Hanna Rosin, 'Does Gay Marriage Destroy Marriage? A look at the data';  The Slate Group
     (Washington Post), May 23, 2012.

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