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A brief recent history of families
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Things have changed a lot during the 35 years we have been writing and speaking about marriage, parenting and families. Across much of the world, the trends away from families have become so dramatic that majorities have turned into minorities. - photo by Linda and Richard Eyre
Things have changed a lot during the 35 years we have been writing and speaking about marriage, parenting and families. It used to be that we could assume that the majority of people wanted to be married, wanted to make a total commitment to that marriage, wanted children and wanted to prioritize those children and raise them responsibly.

In many places we go, we sadly can no longer make these assumptions.

Across much of the world, the trends away from families have become so dramatic that majorities have turned into minorities and minorities have turned into majorities. Here are some of the tipping points that society has arrived at in each of the four categories (and we've documented them in our book "The Turning"):

Wanting to be married:

For the first time in our history, a majority of adults in the U.S. are single.

Only 25 percent of 20- to 29-year-olds are married compared with 70 percent of that age group in 1960.

In many major world cities, a majority of households are now occupied not by a family or even by a couple but by a single individual.

Wanting to make a total commitment to that marriage:

Far more couples now move in together in cohabitation than in marriage.

More than half of U.S. marriages now end in divorce. Similar percentages apply in most Western countries.

Wanting children:

Having a family is no longer the stated goal of the majority in many countries.

The majority of women between 20 and 40 in some Asian countries now say they do not want kids.

Both parents wanting to prioritize those children and raise them responsibly:

In the Western world (U.S. and Europe), more children are now born out of wedlock than to married parents.

70 percent of African-American children and 50 percent of Hispanic children in the U.S. are raised in a home without their father.

As our culture overemphasizes career achievement and the personal freedom of keeping all options open, and as it becomes exponentially harder to raise children, more and more people are turning away from traditional family ideals and aspirations.

And the question is: If families no longer fulfill the essential functions of procreation, raising the next generation of responsible citizens and giving children the unconditional love and sense of identity they need, what other element or institution of society can accomplish those things?

But before we all get too discouraged and decide that the world is doomed, consider some positive signs that indicate the pendulum is swinging back and families are getting stronger in some ways.

Most parents seem to be thinking and working harder at parenting than ever before. Parenting, a verb we didnt even use a generation ago, is becoming something of an art and a science and a skill set that people work on.

Dads are more involved than ever before, taking more interest in their kids and forming parenting partnerships with their wives.

Data show that the more educated people are, the more likely they are to get married and stay married and to adopt a stable family lifestyle. And this is the segment that generally sets the trends for the rest of the population.

So there is a lot to be concerned about in todays world when it comes to families and the destiny of our children, but there are some optimistic signs that more and more people are realizing that a family centric life is not only the right way to live but also the happiest and most fulfilling way.