UNRISD Occasional Paper: World Summit for Social Development No. 3
United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), Geneva
Is the family in crisis? There is a widespread perception at the present time that something has gone wrong with the family. High rates of divorce, increased marital conflict and the escalating costs of welfare programmes, coupled with rising crime, drug taking and anti-social behaviour among the young, are all taken as evidence that the family and the social values on which it is based are in decline. How accurate is this picture? Does it reflect a form of "moral panic" rather than a description of an empirical situation? Historians and social scientists have documented many instances in different societies at various times of what they term "moral panic". These moments of crisis in what are perceived as deeply rooted and firmly held cultural and social values have often occurred in periods of transition and rapid social change. The extent to which such crises accurately reflect changing circumstances is questionable, since they often appear to be part of a response to change rather than an instigator of it. However, it is clear that many countries and communities at the present time sense their social and cultural values to be under threat from a diverse range of social, economic and political changes that appear both interconnected and global in their spread. The purpose of this paper is to examine what these global processes might be and how they are affecting family forms, gender relations and family-market linkages. Globalization, increasing market integration and the changing nature of labour markets are identified as the macro-economic forces which act as sources of pressure, and produce strain, on intra-household resource allocation, conjugal relations and child care and socialization. In the context of increasingly unified and deregulated markets for capital and labour, people within vulnerable countries and those within vulnerable groups have to maintain family relations and livelihoods from a diminished resource base. This paper identifies the care of children and the reproduction of human capital as the main issues to be addressed by those interested in the family, and it sets out the reasons for and the benefits of such an approach.