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The Ever Changing Family: The Affects of Gender, Age, and Capitalism on the Modern Family







Kelsey Chambers, Anja Human

Abigail Lakey and Charlotte White,


University of the Western Cape


University of North Carolina


October 21st, 2009


Group facilitator: Prof. V. Bokalek and Prof. J. Aulette










Title page…………………………………………………………… 2

Table of contents…………………………………………………….3



Literature review…………………………………………………….5


Results and Analyses………………………………………………..22



















            This research study was undertaken as a result of the need to explore family in greater depth. This report focuses on the complexities of how families interpret the classical gender roles, generational differences, and the influence of race.  The literature search found that families are all composed differently and that the term family does not fall under a singular definition. The different social markers that co-exist in relation to the family determine how the family will be composed and how it will function.   The qualitative research paradigm was used to conduct the research study.  The unit of study in this case was South African citizens and two citizens from the United States of America.  A family life history as well as 4 interviews that were conducted by the participants was the research instrument that was used.  The results revealed that family practices all differ depending on various families’ markers in relation to race, gender and age, because these various factors all contribute differently to people’s upbringing and therefore bring about changes and generational differences in cultural beliefs and family views. In conclusion the study through the in-depth interviews conducted, portrayed different experiences and lean toward different theories and constructions which all differ and illustrate that ‘family’ are predominantly developing. 


Traditionally a family has been defined as a collection of two or more people who are related in some way, whether by blood, marriage or adoption and live together. Under this broad definition are many diverse types of families varying in structures, race, marriages, ages, living arrangements and income earners.  Families are constructed for many reasons, some which include economic benefits or continuity.  The situation of a single or multi-income family can be the difference in what type of home can be purchased, or the education offered to children in the household.  The many tasks that occur to keep a family running like household chores, food preparation, lawn care and educational services require individuals to work as a unit for the common goal of providing essential needs for everyone involved. Support and commitments are continuous, coherent among members of a family.  They provide long lasting reinforcement, comfort and sustenance for those considered components of the genealogy/relatives network.  Over time, generations have evolved and the purpose of the following paper is to determine how, why and in what ways the structures and constructions of families have changed.  During the study of families from both America and Africa, the central themes, commonalities and variances will be accordingly noted and organized to better relate current relations and structures in the ever changing family.  Comparisons will be derived from information collected about effects of racism on the family, their dwellings, income and property, lineage, any rituals they have as well as their involvement in the community.  Respondents will be assured of anonymity and asked to sign a consent form.  The purpose of this paper reflects the same ideals found in the definition of demographics, the study of population characteristics with regard to family size, marriage, ethnicity and race.  The analyses gathered by the individual group members will be collected and combined to form data on which the paper in its finality will be constructed.  This will provide an extensive view of how the family structure differs between the two countries, as well as within their own cultural boundaries. 

Literature Review

            According to Neal (2000) the notion of family is an intrinsic part of the way people think about their personal lives; it is also, for most people, deeply imbued with symbolic significance and can, therefore, be said to have some empirical validity as a concept.  Yet how families are constituted and experienced varies from individual to individual (Morgan 1996; O'Brien et al 1996; Smart and Neale 1999; Silva and Smart 1999).  In addition Neal(2000) states that 'the' family perceived as a natural, a-historical and essentialist institution does not exist and, on this basis some sociologists have advocated abandoning the concept altogether, although establishing that what does exist, of course, are fluid webs of relationships and practices through which we define our personal, familial and kinship ties.  Therefore understanding the ideology of family from different sources in view of their experiences is a process, every family functions around social markers.  These markers form boundaries, set family principles and living standards, and predetermine certain practices in relation to culture, duties and responsibilities, and working practices both within the household and employment industry.  Therefore family practices all differ depending on various families’ markers in relation to race, gender and age, because these various factors all contribute differently to people’s upbringing.  Thus for this paper the underlying concepts which it appends will be unpacked into three categories; namely; a) classical gender roles and issues, b) age and generational differences in views/beliefs and c) race.

a) Classical gender roles and issue relating to responsibilities and employment

Reid and Whitehead (1992) define gender as a cognitive and symbolic construct in the process of interacting with others within a given human community.  Therefore the social marker of gender is a fundamental concept in the family composition and predetermines responsibilities and roles to be fulfilled.  The norm still is in many families that mothers are the caregivers of children.  This is a patriarchal system incorporated many years ago, but the effects still linger on.  The responsibilities required women to remain in the household and act as caregivers to children. These tasks were unpaid.  Consequently, the perception that men and women are equal is strongly highlighted within society, although the idea of household chores and nurturing is still identified as being promoted toward women, as Silva and Smart used various studies done by Beck 1992, Arber and Ginn 1995 to indicate and question whether women’s role within the market and home have indeed changed.  Furthermore Williams (2004) placed great emphasis on the role of mothers, especially as both paid workers and care-giver, portraying the expanded responsibility adopted by women.  Additionally, this portrays that gender roles have become more liberal, women could make more rational decisions about working or not.  Changes within the family in relation to employment are now marked by self fulfillment and self interest. Consequently one can identify the debate of family roles and functioning strongly portrayed within the role of a mother and the extent to which the decisions women make are linked to cultural meanings.  Acknowledging that changes are occurring in and across families and a household directly correlates to the postmodern idea of family.            

 To the contrary Chapman (2004:55) states that there is a tendency to assume that there are few benefits to be gained from devoting time and energy to the task of homemaking and the assumed advantages to be gained from undertaking the male breadwinner role. In addition New (2001, cited in Chapman, 2004:55) argues that while men have participated in the oppression of women they too are subject to the repressive forces of capitalism which have ‘systematically mistreated them in the workplace.’ amplifying that ‘man as provider ideally’ is also being exploited. Thus West and Zimmerman (1987) similarly contend that as roles are learned and acted out in specific contexts men and women do gender all the time as gender is evoked, created and sustained daily through interaction and is an ongoing construction of social life.  In addition reveal how gender within the family construction shape and influence social networks, ethnicity and culture, and how local customs of male and female employment and caring are accordingly questioned. Hence one can identify the constant changes occurring in and across families, households and societies. Similarly Williams (2004:57) explains these changes by placing focus on “areas subject to the external worlds of work and community and finds moral questions in decision –making, which are rooted in people’s gendered and cultural identities and their commitments to others assume great significance. With this postulation one can identify that family is an adaptation process to the constantly occurring changes around us and if people are not able to adapt to the changing family constructions they will not survive in society, example dual employment. Dual employment has become imperative in order to cope with today’s living conditions. This composition of both partners working and sharing responsibilities is referred to as a dual- career couples, which leads to symmetrical family (Cheal, 2002:99).

 b) Age and generational differences in views/beliefs

According to Dallos (1991) family is concerned with not only personal belief systems, but how families construct shared systems of beliefs and values, which serve to guide the family member’s perceived avenues of choices, actions and thoughts. Thus by examining some images and concepts of family we can adopt a deeper insight into the family, which serves to bring together society’s general perception of what we expect family life and development to be like and how it has changed. According to Dallos (1991:7) families exist in environments which alter continuously and demand that families have the ability to make continual changes. Therefore in relation to changes in views and beliefs Chambers (2001) focuses on two key themes that have come to represent core arguments surrounding family values in western Anglophone nations; namely the persistent privileging of white ethnicity and the regulation of heterosexuality and patriarchy through family values. This gives deeper insight into the controversies existent between “white and non-white, heterosexuality and homosexuality and femininity and masculinity” and their relationship to the existence and functioning of families. A ‘family’ was a representation of parents and siblings a ‘norm’ which could constitute a mother, father and children. Although as times have changed, the members whom constitute a family have changed too, resulting in the dissolution of a ‘normal’ nuclear family. Hence one can identify the already differences highlighted and start to categorize their assimilation to the implementation and representation of ‘family’. Similarly one can also identify the linkage to a family norm i.e.: gender or a transformed family i.e.: sexuality which is referred to as a postmodern family arrangement. The division of labour and closeness in a relationship was broadened by Chambers (2001) who pointed out that men became envious of women’s bond with children. This envy resulted in the custody law and men becoming actively involved in the care of the children. As Darwin’s theory of evolution maintained that “over a period of time, organisms change and adapt to their environment; those that adapt will survive and reproduce, whereas those who do not may die out” (Poole 2005:24). Furthermore Chambers (2001) portrays postmodern families to bring forth diversity that undermines the orthodoxy of the traditional family and in addition alters the meanings, practices, values and representations of the traditional nuclear family. This portrays that the nuclear family is declining as a variety of living arrangements and family representations are now in existence and have formulated i.e.: divorced or homosexual parents.  In so doing this book “investigates the tensions posed by perceived dangers to the family from within and beyond it” (Chambers, 2001:5).  Thus key developments have been taking place in the family. The changes are noticeable in the workplace and in the home. There is a marked increase in individualism and a decline in traditional gender status. Individualism have resulted in declining fertility, growing childlessness, rising divorce, and an increase in lone parenthood. Individualism have brought people to determine their own fates and have resulted in a decline in traditional status constrains. The female participation in the labour market has lead to the transformation of the familial and household relationships. Transformation is market by step families, childless couples and single-person household increased divorce rate, declines in family size, women spending less time in childbearing. Chambers mentions, Giddens (1992) and Beck (1995) individualization of everyday life and broadens this concept by suggesting that intimate relationships are democratized. Democratized relationships, refers to society being more accepting of lone parents, step-families and gay and lesbian relationships. The change marked a rise of pure relationships. Pure relationships based on equality and democracy.            


c) Race/ ethnicity (background)

According to Elliot (1996) ethnicity is referred to as being associated with marked inequalities of power and wealth and tend to be at their sharpest wherever they coincide with racial or religious distinctions. This means that ethnicity can be seen as a distinct characteristic of description of differences existent among people of different cultures and races.   “Over the past 40 years, ethnic divisions have assumed heightened salience in national and international politics” (Elliot, 1996:40), this portrays that ethnicity is broadly spread over countries and is inclusive in political spheres. This portrays that ethnicity is a core factor and maintains to a great extent value and ideal, as ethnicity entails gender and family patterns that reflect “long standing cultural traditions, governed by deeply held religious beliefs and are integral to people’s identity” (Elliot, 1996:40). In addition reveals that within these cultural domains lie differences of gender, family structures and their functioning and contributions to the family and society. Furthermore divisions of race and conflicts brought forth by differences of ethnicity are directly aligned to disruptions in family functioning and societal norms. Therefore Elliot (1996) highlights that wherever ethnic groups share a common territory and must negotiate a shared way of life; conflict and dispute are bound to take place. As many nations are very passionate about their ideals, values, traditions and formulate their whole existence around these embedded identities,  Elliot (1996:40) examines the anxieties and conflicts surrounding the ethnic diversification of contemporary British society” (Elliot, 1996:40).

In comparison Chambers (2001) highlights how the nuclear family was regarded as a natural phenomenon and opposes the idea by stating that this phenomenon does not include the lifestyles and cultural diversity of all cultures. This meant that irrespective of being discriminated against due to race. Black people where marginalized further by denying them the right to practice their cultural beliefs and practices. They were expected to conform to a white nuclear family concept.   The white nuclear family remained a powerful device for naturalizing hierarchies of race, class, gender and sexuality. The change in the family structure became evident in the through political rhetoric, popular imagery and was supported by academic research. In addition Giddens (1992) and Beck (1995) brings forth the individualization of everyday life and broadens this concept by suggesting that intimate relationships are democratized. Democratized relationships, refers to society being more accepting of lone parents, step-families and gay and lesbian relationships (Chambers, 2001). The change marked a rise of pure relationships. Pure relationships based on equality and democracy (Constitution 108 of 1996).       

In conclusion a family is an organic entity which maintains some form of identity and structure whilst at the same time is continually evolving and changing. This enables an individual to step out of the system, examine it, and begin to gain a greater understanding of complex family dynamics as they have developed and as they affect the current family constructions.  Thus it is evident that there is now a substantial body of literature about families. Families do not exist in a social vacuum, and the structure of any given family is partly determined by the particular culture in which it exists. 


The qualitative research paradigm was utilized to conduct the research study.  The research design was a life history study and a semi structured in-depth interview.  The unit of study in this case was two South African citizens and one citizen from the United States of America.  A family life history is the research instrument that was used to gain an in-depth account of one person life in his or her own words (Babbie and Mouton 2008).

The social phenomenological approach will be used as a theoretical base for the research study.  This approach allows the respondents to make sense of their world.   The respondents give meaning to their actions and interpret their daily world.  The social phenomenological approach encourages an insistence on the interpretive understanding of the individual.  This aspect allows the interviewer to use the intended methodology of semi structure in-depth interviewing. The respondents are a unit with family life experience.  The respondents’ family life experience will afford the interviewer the opportunity to evaluate what family life experiences are common and how it impacts on the respondent’s present family life.  The respondents’ views of their family life experiences will be the main focus of research study. 

The interviewer gained an understanding of the impact of macro and micro influences on family practices in South Africa and the United States of America.  The interviewer will also gain an appreciation of the diversity of family practices in both countries.  The recognition of power relations in the different contemporary families will be evident and may shed light on the impact of that the historical experiences of the different family had, had on their present functioning.  The interviewer was able to study how people order, tell or rather structure their experiences.  Life history is an in-depth account of how one person’s life experience are portrait in his own words (Babbie and Mouton 2008).

The research method that was be used is the face to face semi structured in-depth interviews.  The interview as a data resource enabled the respondents to share their realities experienced outside of the interview.  The interviewers in South Africa and the United States will asked the questions orally and transcribe the respondents’ answers.  The interviewers used a semi structured questions.  Open-ended questions were used as to afford respondents the opportunity to express their life experience and opinions (Babbie and Mouton 2008). 


The respondents will be selected by means of a judgmental sample (Babbie and Mouton 2008:166). A criterion guided the selection of this sample.  The selections of the sample were:

        Persons who were exposed to family life 

        Persons who were prepared to share their family life experiences

        Persons who were willing and able to converse in English

        Persons who after being informed about the research study and the types of questions to be asked agreed to participate in the study

Description of participants





Family type



57 yrs



Single parent family

South African





Middle aged empty nesters(nuclear family)



42 yrs



Nuclear family

South African


19 yrs



Nuclear family




Semi structured in-depth interviewing is the central research instrument used by social science to obtain authentic accounts of peoples life experiences. The interviewer established a general direction for the conversation and pursued specific topics raised by the respondents. Questions used in the interviews were open-ended.  Similar questions were used with all the respondents. The respondents were interviewed at their respective homes.  The interviews were pre arranged with all the respondents.  The research process as well as the aims and objectives were deliberated to the respondents before the interviews were conducted.  Each of the respondents was handed a consent form that outline all information pertaining to the research study.  The interviews lasted for approximately two to three hours. Anja, Charlotte and Abi-gail indicated that it was a lengthy interview that left them feeling tired but well informed.  The interviews were a process of discovery for the interviewer and the interviewee.  Anja and Abigail indicated that they discovered new information about the families they were introduced too.  Charlotte expected some of the responses, but was surprised by the content of the respondents input. Charlotte interviewed her respondent in the comfort of her residence; time consumed was 1-2 hours which the respondent could accommodate.

 Questions used as a guide in the interview process focused on the following aspects:

      A general description of the respondents’ family

      Dwelling and organization of family life

      Patterns of work in the family

      Effects of racism on family life

      Family relationships/ Status of family members

      Family rituals and ceremonies

      Family and property

      Migration and the family

      Community resources and influences

Data collection

The basic individual face to face interviews were be used as a means of data collection.  Structured questions will be used as probes to get in dept information from the respondents’.  All respondents’ were informed about the research, aims and objective.  The person recruited for the research study received all the relevant information so that they could make an informed decision about participating in the research study.  Interviews were pre arranged at times that suited the respondents’.  Respondents’ were reassured and deliberated about ethical considerations. Ethical consideration was deliberated to the respondents before and during the data collecting process.  The data collected during interviews was transcribed by the interviewers.  All collected data (transcripts) were kept with the interviewers.  All respondents were informed that the research study is part of a Masters program and that the information will be shared with the students that form part of this research study group as well as the facilitators of this program.  A numerical code was used to identify the respondents

 PLA techniques were used by the interviewers to gain more insight into the functioning of the respondents’ families and how the functioning of the family has impacted on the family members.  The hourly activity plan was used to evaluate the gender roles in each family and how basic family activities are divided among the different family members.  Each interviewer completed the hourly activity plan. 

Anja and Abigail used the Social network to evaluate how the social networks impacted on the families functioning.  The social networks indicated which resources were most commonly used by the families and the type of relationship the families had with these resources.  Other PLA technique that was used by Anja was the Family life history.  She used this technique to gain in-depth life history experience from the respondent.  Abigail used the genogram to evaluate basic family information as well as family relationships and how the family members are influenced by these relationships.           

Data analyses

The data analysis gave the respondents information a voice and gave meaning to the respondent’s life experience.  The data analysis will afford the interviewer the opportunity to explore the connection between attitudes behaviour and experiences of the respondents. Thematic analysis was used to interpret the transcripts of the respondents.  Interviewer was immerged in transcripts in order to formularize themselves with data.  All transcripts were read and common themes identified. Group quotes was placed under themes.  The interviewer identified common themes, ideas, issues and life experiences as it emerged during the interview. 

The questions and goals of the interviews were based on the influence of the social makers on family members. The social makers were race, gender and age.  Respondents were asked to define themselves and their family members in relation to how families valued and devalued each others roles.  The influence of resources on family life and the inclusion and exclusion influenced family members quality of life was discussed with all the respondents.  Respondents were requested to share what family member’s duties would be and how these duties as part of a household would add value or devalued their role within the family.   Age was discussed with the respondents to assess how age influenced their responsibilities in the family in relation to duties performed in the household as well as the family member’s role within the labour market.  Gender was discussed with the respondents to determine how gender impacted on the role and duties of family members as well as the financial contribution made by the different genders and what value it added or how it devalued their role in the household or family. Gender role was also evaluated in terms of who took responsibility for the care giving in the family.  The respondent was requested to share how race ethnicity influenced their family on a personal, cultural and an institutional level.   


Summary of challenges faced by the researchers

            A common challenge faced by researchers was that some respondents had difficulty recalling dates.  An interesting aspect was that people’s memories faded in time.  Social problems that were experienced are viewed with less intensity due to the time period when it was experienced.  Respondent’s appeared emotionally strained after discussing sensitive issues.  The questioning process was lengthy and appears emotionally tiring for the respondents and the interviewers.  This was noted by Anja and Abigail.

Some of the respondents are related to the interviewers and this resulted in the interviewer having difficulty maintaining a professional distance from the respondents.  This was mentioned by Anja and Abigail. The link between the interviewer and the respondents gave the interviewer and advantage, as the interviewer could probe aspects that the respondents could have withheld if the respondent wanted to. 

The interviewers may have been richer if the respondents were unknown as the respondent and the interviewer would have been on the same level of discovery as interest both operating from the unknown.  The interviewer would have needed to explore more as the person is completely unknown.  The researcher does not listen as attentively as the information is seemingly known and almost preempted. Things that could be done differently would be, to hand the questions to the person beforehand so that the person can prepare and allow sometime for the person to reflect on the aspects that will be discussed.  This will allow the respondent some control over what information is shared and prevents the person from feeling trapped or led by the interviewer.  The respondent will be more relaxed and share the control of the interview.  When the respondent is known to the interviewer, the respondent almost expected the interviewer to already know the answers and this limited the respondent’s response (Babbie and Mouton 2008:251-252).



Ethical Considerations

The following research ethics formed part of the research study and was adhered to throughout the research process.

 Informed consent

All respondents were deliberated about the research study.  The deliberation included the clarifying details of the researcher, the purpose of the study and how information will be stored and used in the research study as well as the limitations, risk and obligations of taking part in the research study.  All respondents were provided with a consent form with afore mentioned information.  All respondents were re assured of anonymity. 

Personal reflexivity

Personal reflexivity refers to the nuances of our motives. The interviewer will need to be aware of the power issue as the respondents were known to the interviewer which could allow for mutual manipulation by the interviewer or the respondent. The interviewer will need to give the power to the respondents allowing them to express themselves.  Another aspect was the interviewer’s personal experience.  This impacted on the interviewer objectivity as the interviewer had pre conceived ideas of what the respondents had to say based on past work experience. 

Respect for respondents right and dignity

Respect for respondents right and dignity was ensured from the time the interviewer met the respondents. The respondents were informed that they could withdraw from the research study at any given time. Having the freedom to answer questions and omit questions that may cause personal harm or suffering.

Informed consent

The interviewer ensured that each respondent understand the content of the consent forms and completed the consent forms, knowing their rights as respondents.



Respondent’s identity was protected by the use of a coding system for all during the publishing of the final research report.     

 (Refer to attachment consent form in the appendix, marked appendix A)


Research has shown that the definition of family is broad and not limited to a traditionally accepted meaning. This is not to say that there is a set model for a family, but no matter how you construct the family there will always be certain roles that need to be filled in order to provide the social surroundings needed for human life.  It is these positions that formed recurring themes in all the interviews examined for this paper.  Some major themes that appeared in the interviews were age, gender, religion, and education. Questions were provided, but additional questions were added by the interviewers so as to extract as much data on the above mentioned themes. Each of these themes influenced and shaped the answers of the respondents.  Themes of race and the influence of state and government control were much more prominent in the interviews that took place in South Africa.  For the American based interviews race much less prominent although historical factors may be responsible.  In this discussion Anja’s respondent will be referred to as respondent 1, Abigail’s as respondent 2, Charlotte’s as respondent 3, and Kelsey’s as respondent 4.

Age played a key role on all of the respondent’s answers.  Some of the respondents were young and still living at home while others were much older and had families of their own or had grown children such as respondent 3 who claimed to be “middle aged empty nesters”.  The younger respondents were aware of historical gender roles, but were not as inclined to acknowledge them as current, as were some of the older respondents, who had experienced the traditional gender roles first hand.  Respondent 4, who is 19, stated, “within my immediate family we are viewed equally” regardless of gender or age.  The older respondents tended to reflect more of the traditional gender roles even when they were speaking against them.

Age is also affected by the life experiences one has, and will have an impact on their central beliefs systems, which trickles down throughout generations.  Sociologists tend to describe this process as socialization.  As these beliefs make their way through the course of time and are passed on to younger generations they change and adapt.  If the age of a person was not identified, answers could still be analyzed based upon historical markers in the responses, such as respondent 2 who states “due to the Group Areas Act we never socialized with children from other cultures”.  It is the history that the person has lived through that shaped their answers.  This subject of age seemed to be link to all other major themes identified, as well as the idea of respect.  There was a general understanding that all people were due respect irrelevant of age which appears to have been manifested through fairly liberal lifeviews.

The definition of the traditional gender role is still viewed in many cultures as normal, even by women.   Most of those interviews described what would be deemed as socially acceptable gender roles, a dominant and male provider and a care giving female.  Even those who described two working parents still illustrated the typical gender roles in their answers.   Respondent 1 claims that “whether she’s a working mom or a stay at home mom, the responsibility of cooking and caring for the children are given to her to fulfill”.  However there were a number of contradictions when the interviews were dissected.  Although the typical gender roles were mentioned, equality would come up in the same conversation.  From the outside, discussing defined gender roles and equality seems very contradictory.  Most of those interviews would make a comment that all those in the house are equal, but the father or male would sit at the head of the table or was the ultimate authority.  An example of this is highlight in respondent 2 answer in which he states that “my parents sat at the head of the table, my father always got the best piece of meat and the most food”.  These sorts of comments contradict the statements about equality, as traditional gender roles are far from equal.  Even in the homes where both parents work there was a sense of what women were supposed to do and what men were supposed to do.  And in homes were the fathers were no longer present or living, the mother would comment about traditional gender roles.  These discussions do however seem to be affected by age, and it is apparent that younger generations do not reflect these views as strongly, nevertheless they are still aware of them.

Over time economics have forced women into the work force as another means of survival, which has made a working mother in a family more of the norm rather than an exception for the younger generations.  Most of those interviewed recognized the need for a second income due to the effects of changing social order.  Respondent 2 stated the need for his wife to work and said “I must assist my wife because she works, but I still regard myself as the breadwinner who is responsible for my family’s welfare”.  One respondent even mentioned the fact that they see more women working now in roles that used to be filled by men, which was taken as a sign of progress.  This respondent seems to overlook the fact that the women are probably paid less, which continues the cycle not only of inequality but maintains the idea of gender roles.  Respondent 1 gave the example that men are becoming chefs, implying that she stills accepts cooking as a female responsibility.  Forced circumstances sometimes changes ones perceptions of gender roles but one does not easily let go of a history that has defined what men and women are supposed to do.  From the interviews it is apparent that gender roles appear to be a social construct that are accepted by generations who have been indoctrinated by history and are not biologically defined.

Education was the key in most cases to solving issues related to inequality.  All of the families valued education as a resource that could be utilized to break the cycles of injustice and inequality.  Respondent 4 mentioned that “good grades – that is a necessity.  My parent’s only allow A’s and B’s”.  However, as was mentioned in one interview, resources are accessed by those with money, and education also requires money.  This in turn requires more family members to work. 

Religion, specifically Christianity, was brought up a number of times as the dominant influence on family values.  In one of the interviews the importance of Christian values, like that of being tolerant, was discussed, but it was also mentioned in a later responses how intolerant there family was of people who were different. Respondent 2 states toward the end of the interview that “we adhere to Christian values of respect, love, being tolerant of others, and acceptance.  However, earlier in the interview it was mentioned that growing up there was little tolerance or acceptance.  The influence of religion over the views and values that a child will carry into adulthood was very prominent.  This stemmed from an even bigger influence of society over the family as a whole.  The example that you were considered “bad” if you did not go to church again shows the power that society had over the family which is the passed on to the children.  This force was also noted in responses related to infectious diseases, when they are denied and referred to as a more socially acceptable disease.  In each of the interviews it is obvious the strong influence the families had over the beliefs of their children. One of the respondents even answered that it was not until they moved away from home (to Cape Town) that they were able to form a more objective view of the world.  However when contradictory ideas and values are passed down this is how inequality remains constant.  In this data set religion seemed to be very contradictory.  The pressure to do what is acceptable by society translates to all people across the globe.

Racism had a much more different feel in the South African interviews than it did in the American interviews.  You do not have to be very old to remember the experiences lived during apartheid South Africa.  This makes race a much more relevant story for those who experienced apartheid.  There were not any interviews on the American side that would have experienced firsthand the American Civil Rights movement.  From the South African respondents there were remarks like “not mixing with those that are different”, “respecting the whites”, and references to people as “colored”, which in the US is seen as a very derogatory statement, all these indicate that race is still at the forefront of people’s minds.  But for South Africa it is the influence of the state and the government that has kept this matter alive until recent history.  The recent involvement of the state is a major difference between the U.S and South Africa.  One similarity though between the two countries is the use of Affirmative Action, which on both sides was implemented by the government in an attempt level the playing field after years of segregation. 

An interesting point that I thought was worth mentioning between all the interviews was that of self reliance and reliance on one’s family.  None of those interviewed gave any indication that they would prefer to use help from the state or other forms of social welfare systems.  Respondent 3 states that “the family bond is fairly strong and I believe we would prefer to take care of each other rather than have someone else do it for us”.  All preferred to do what they needed on their own and use family as a backup.  Outside sources like extended family or church groups was seen as a distant option.

As technology shrinks the globe and connects populations the differences among people also seem to be shrinking and similarities seem to be growing.  All families are different, but the life experiences they share, those experiences that bind them to form those personal relationships, seem to be getting more common and more widespread across the world.  Age, gender, education, and religion are not isolated, and affect every family. The challenge is adapting to these challenges as society and culture evolve.


The results of the interviews highlighted that the family is not a static object; it is ever changing as the people who make up families.  Capitalism and economic factors seem to be a big part in what many see as the “advancement” of the family.  This was reflected in all of the interviews.  The affects of an economic free market are endless, and trickle down into all aspects of human life, including public life as well as private family life. The main point of evidence of this was that all of those interviewed recognized the need some family member to work.  The interviews and the literature that has been analyzed for this report illustrate the affects of capitalism and the results on diversity of age, gender, religion, and education, on the modern family.

Sarah Irwin referenced in, Resourcing the Family: Gendered Claims and Obligations and Issues of Explanation, that changes in the labor market change the family (Irwin 33). Irwin explores the labor market itself as a way to maintain inequality between men and women.  This was a common theme that appeared in many of the interviews, as respondent 1 mentioned that although women are more prevalent in the workforce they still have a role to maintain the family.  Respondent 2 also alluded to this common understanding of gender roles. This is issue of gender inequality was also raised in the article The New Family by Silva and Smart, in which Abby stated in her review, that Women’s role in the market may have been broadened slightly to include more job changes but it in the home have remained consistent.  Irwin also notes that because of the changes in the economic world the family is not what is used to be, and is having a direct affect on what constitutes “normal”.   As Anja referenced in her review of Chambers work titled Representing the Family, postmodern families reflect diversity that undermines the orthodoxy of the traditional family and alters the meanings, practices, values and representations of the traditional nuclear family.  Although the families interviewed are nuclear in nature, they all step outside the traditional definition due to social circumstances, such as free markets, that have required the females to work outside the home.  In Resourcing the Family, Irwin goes on to say that new ideas “suggest that new forms of diversity in family arrangements can be understood in terms of a growth in individualism and a change in the nature of the social, or moral ties that bind individuals and groups in contemporary society” (31).  This idea of individualism has created much diversity in average arrangement of the family, but as the author illustrates, this is not the full story for the changes in the modern family makeup.  The author looks at some approaches as to how and why people see a “new” family.  One is the fact that the economy seems to generalize the change in social habits, such as women in the work force, as progress, similar to respondent 1 idea.  The second is the fact that even though there are more and more females working, they are still major inequalities as they are paid less and work at a disadvantage (32). 

Irwin notes the importance in the increased rates of female salaries and earnings.  This to most she notes has been seen as a great success.  However reasons such as dependents staying at home longer please and requiring further economic resourcing and cost of living increases, is what drives the need for a second income.  The requirement of a second income was reflected in all the interviews, whether it was a spouse or child working, there was always more than one income.  What is overlooked is that more women are working out of necessity rather than progress in gender equality.  It is also noted that women still make less than their male counterparts overall in terms of earning ability.  Viewing the necessity of the second income as progress or as “an end to traditional ‘social’ gender constraints” (43), ignores the affects of capitalism that make the second income required and drives the inequality forward in the workplace. 

Changes in the family are also written about by Elizabeth Silva in “Transforming Housewifery: Dispositions, Practices, and Technologies”.  In article the author shows, similar to Irwin, the trends away from the single family earner model towards the two earner model and the consequences of these changes.  Silva illustrates how these changes affect housework both in the people’s private lives, and how it has changed the image of housework in the public view also (49).  Through her research Silva found that the line between public and private life has become blurred and the issue of time has become a more valuable resource to women due to the changes in the modern economy.  This concept was addressed by respondent 2 who stated that his mother was required to stay home because there was not enough time to work and look after the house and family.  Silva states that time “highlights the vanishing tendency to restrict a woman exclusively to care for family needs, because of both the monetary and moral valuation of women’s time” which leads the discussion into the changes and advancements in technology (64).  The author claims that technologies, like dishwashers and washing machines, are supposed to make life easier for those doing housework.  However in the adverts the people used to illustrate the benefits of the specific technology are always women.  This leads to the cycle to reinforcing traditional gender roles within society.  The author also claims that little advancements have been made to improve upon these technologies because ideas of traditional gender roles carry little influential weight on the manufactures, who do not see an urgent need to do anything to benefit something that is as unimportant as housework.  The author states that “technological innovations in households still express structures of power and privilege in society” (64).  Silva states that we need to look at these technologies as “’aids’” for living and not use them as a way to reinforce a devalued and negative idea of the female care giver.  This fact is addressed by the author that women are not the only care givers in the home.  This is relevant because technology in the home seemed to help males participate in what would be called house work.  Respondent 3 referenced her husband doing the dishes and vacuuming.

A point regarding technology that I felt was overlooked by the author was about how people without money are unable to afford luxuries such as dishwashers and washing machines.  After such a close examination of capitalistic tendencies forcing both men and women into the formal workforce it seems like this point would have been more easily discussed. 

A major threat or challenge to dominant ideas relating to traditional gender roles is that of homosexuality.  Both authors, Irwin and Silva, address how homosexual relationships are challenging the norms and showing that there is not one set definition as to who does what.  As Anja referenced in the review of Representing the Family, the traditional family has been seriously altered by the affects of more liberal and accepting social qualities. 

Patterns of Diversity of and Lived Realties by Dallos and Sapsford, examines the ideological stereotype of the nuclear family.  The stereotype of the ideological family was represented in all 4 of the interviews.  And each of the interviews consisted of the typical nuclear family.  It is this stereotype the authors claim that “dominates law, public policy and political rhetoric” but is rarely what the typical family looks like (165).  They authors state that even though there is no such thing as the typical family, and regardless of what sort of family we live in this idea of the perfect family still finds its way into each of our minds as to what it should look like through the laws and media of one’s society.  Again each of the interviews reference this as normal family make up and considered themselves to be pretty average as a whole.  People who live in family’s, such as a step family for example, may experience issues with their family because on the surface it does not meet the ideals of the made of image of the norm or standard family.  This is a common theme throughout much of the world since people are indoctrinated to believe what the dominant culture teaches and preaches and practices.  The ultimate conclusion of the research conducted by Dallos and Sapsford was that the definition of the family life is more of a process, such as living and working arrangements, how people deal with these processes through their relationships.  It is the solutions to these processes that the people attempts that are constrained by culture and maintain the ideal (166).  This data is useful because it illustrates that family does not have to fit under defined term, but can be seen as an umbrella term to incorporate so much more into its meaning.

All of works referenced saw that trends in modern economies affect trends in both private life of families as well as the public life.  Women in most free market economies are now forced to work in order to survive but still maintain the need to be the caregiver at home.  These changes in the workforce have not helped progress of women in the home, and the stereotypical nuclear family still exists in the minds of lawmakers and the general public.  Even though this idea does not really exist we continue to promote it as truth and in turn keep the mother in the role of care giver, as well as provider, which was evident in each of the 4 interviews.



 In conclusion the family can be viewed as a moral domain which encompasses a range of explanations, structures, meanings, actions and associated morals and values. The family is a powerful ideal as it “structures emotions, modes of official knowledge, bodies’ identities and provide definitions of public and private cultural space” (Chambers 2001:3).












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Appendices available in