A man and a woman meet in college; he courts her for a few years, and upon graduation, they marry. They both get jobs, working hard as school teachers, enjoying each other and their new life together. Soon, they are able to start the family. They bring into the world a wonderful baby girl, causing them to wonder what they lived for before her arrival. To make their family grow, they adopt a second child-a magnificent little boy. They are now a complete and happy family. The man and the woman enjoy a long-lasting marriage and raise two intelligent and well-adjusted children.
A model of a traditional family? Not according to the spin the media put on a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau. "The Diverse Living Arrangements of Children: Summer 1991." This report captured headlines across the country, claiming that the "traditional family" is nearly the exception, rather than the rule. As proof, the press highlighted the bureau's claims that only 50.8 percent of all children live in a traditional "nuclear" family. What got lost in the interpretation, however, was the fact that the report defined "traditional" as any family consisting of two married adults living with only biological children. Ironically, the father of the family described above, James C. Dobson, founder and president of Focus on the Family, is the nation's staunchest and best-known advocate of the "traditional family." The Census Report would not define his family as traditional because all the children raised in the Dobson home were not biological.
Using the Census Bureau's definition of the traditional family, many of the icons of family life we know through television would also be excluded. The Waltons miss out because they have Grandma and Grandpa living under the same roof. And forget the Brady Bunch, because Mike and Carol Brady created a blended family after their spouses died. Even Steve Douglas's My Three Sons fails to measure up because he was a widowed, single dad.
Whether or not the Census Bureau erred in the way it counted families, the press should have given this report the same scrutiny it gives to other stories it covers. Most news coverage of the report suggested that the traditional family is soon to become a minority. In fact, the Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1993 reports that of all households with children, 75 percent are headed by two married parents. That is the essence of the nuclear family. Stacy Furukawa, the author of the new Census Bureau report, commented on the news media's misinterpretation by explaining, "This was primarily a report on the living arrangements of children. You cannot draw any conclusions about family or household makeup based on this data." Unfortunately, that's just what the press did.
As a culture, it is in our best interest to encourage the coherence of the nuclear family. Extensive research shows the pressing problems of education, crime, poverty, health, and illegitimacy are linked, above other factors, to the health of the family. In the words of a leading family scholar, Urie Bronfenbrenner, "The family is the most human, the most powerful, and by far the most economical system known for making and keeping human beings human."
Families do not need to be told that their good efforts at staying together are not working when indeed they are. If the media give the false impression that the traditional family is about to become a minority, it fosters a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you were discouraged to learn that the traditional family is about to become extinct, take heart. Despite real-life problems and mistaken media, the traditional, nuclear family is still the standard model in America.
Glenn T. Stanton is social research analyst for Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
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