Lectio Magistralis - Quo Vadis Familia?
Abstract - Families in the 21st Century
Both the media and social scientists have for decades now portrayed the family as an endangered species: evermore citizens opt for singlehood or less binding kinds of partnerships, marriages appear evermore unstable, and people appear reluctant to have children—witness historically record low (and persistent) fertility rates across much of Europe. In fact, the ever-less family scenario is very much what the two theoretical perspectives that dominate demographic research would predict. Gary Becker identifies the gains from conjugal specialization as the key advantage of partnering. It follows that the changing economic role of women will undermine this utility. The rival framework, known as the Second Demographic Transition thesis, predicts the very same outcome but emphasizes the role of “postmodern values” which promote individualism and self-realization. But the most up-to-date evidence ends up contradicting the “less family” thesis on almost all points. And in a non-trivial number of countries, Scandinavia par excellence, the family is clearly recovering. The single most revealing fact is that the return to “more family” is led by exactly the same social strata who, initially, spearheaded the “less family” scenario—namely the higher educated. In other words, it is now increasingly the lower social strata that epitomize the “less family” scenario. This leads us to ask: Are some countries now turning their back on “postmodern” values? Or put differently, in 21st century Europe it is countries like Italy and Spain which display family erosion most blatantly. What primarily motivated me to write this book was my conviction that the reigning theories had it all wrong. The key driver behind contemporary family dynamics is neither the end of the housewife, nor postmodern individualism. Instead, the dynamics are driven by the revolution of women’s roles - but the emergence of a stable gender egalitarian equilibrium necessitates adaptation at both the societal and partnership level.