The recent demographic changes in family life – increases in parental separation, single parenthood, the formation of stepfamilies, and the striking increase in the employment of mothers with young children over the past two decades have been widely documented for countries in Europe and North America. The evidence that each of these can be associated with problems for parents and children has contributed to current anxiety about the “decline of the family.” The notion that there has been a breakdown in American families has for instance had wide currency (Popenoe, 1993; Wilson, 2002), especially in relation to the idea that youth are currently a generation “at risk” (Amato & Booth, 1997).
A more optimistic account of family change in the United State was given in a longitudinal study of intergenerational relationships, in which Bengtson and his colleagues (Bengtson, Biblarz, & Roberts, 2002) studied four generations of the same families in Southern California. The study was based on youth born in the 1970s and 1980s, who were children of individuals born in the 1940s and 1950s, who had been studied in 1971 (together with their parents and grandparents). The researchers emphasize that their findings show that in terms of their aspirations, values, self-esteem, and family relations, these young persons born in the 1970s were doing “quite a bit better” than their elders as young persons, despite the striking social changes of the last 30 years.