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March 1990, Vol. 113, No. 3
The changing family in international perspective
Far reaching changes are occurring in family structures and households living arrangements in the developed countries. The pace and timing of change differ from country to country, but the general direction is the same practically everywhere. Families are becoming smaller, and household composition patterns over the past several decades have been away from the traditional nuclear family - husband, wife, and children living in one household - and toward more single-parent households, more persons living alone, and more couples living together out of wedlock. Indeed, the "consensual union" has become a more visible and accepted family type in several countries. The one-person household has become the fastest growing household type.
In conjunction with the changes in living arrangements, family labor force patterns have also undergone profound changes. Most countries studied have experienced a rapid rise in participation rates of married women, particularly women who formerly would have stayed at home with their young children.
Scandinavian countries have been the pacesetters in the development of many of the non-traditional forms of family living, especially births outside of wedlock and cohabitation outside of legal marriage. Women in these societies also have the highest rates of labor force participation. However, in at least two aspects, the United States is setting the pace: Americans have, by far, the highest divorce rate of any industrial nation, as well as a higher incidence of single-parent households, one of the most economically vulnerable segments of the population. Japan is the most traditional society of those studied, with very low rates of divorce and births out of wedlock and the highest proportion of married-couple households. In fact, Japan is the only country studied in which the share of such households has increased since 1960. But even in Japan, family patterns are changing: sharp drops in fertility have led to much smaller families, and the three-generation household, once the mainstay of Japanese family life, is in decline.
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