From Familism to Individualism

Population changes are being paralleled by functional shifts within society, which are likewise reflecting themselves upon the family. Most important of these is the rise of individualism.

Familism might be defined as the opposite of individualism; it is a form of social organization in which all primary interests and values focus about the family rather than the person. Early societies were like that, as are also some of the more agricultural ones today. Under such a system kinship bonds are strong and interpersonal loyalties among family members are great. The emphasis, in familistic societies, is always upon group solidarity, never upon individual prerogatives. Child discipline is relatively easy, therefore, and divorce between mates exceptionally rare.

Mechanization and urbanization have tended to make difficult the familistic way of life. Factory work usually takes people outside of homes. Specialization decreases the number of interests that people have in common. New vistas are opened up and many start to chafe under the old restraints. Thus it is that, with the Industrial Revolution, came a new and growing emphasis upon the rights and powers of the individual. There came to be a cult of individualism, as a matter of fact, which found its political expression in democracy, its economic expression in laissez faire, and its philosophical expression in various theories of progress. While technological specialization has practically eliminated economic self-sufficiency, and in that sense made people more dependent upon society, it has made them more individualistic so far as the family is concerned.

In familistic cultures the family is strong because it is central in society and is consequently given a large number of useful functions to perform. In individualistic cultures, on the other hand, the family is made weaker by reason of its not being accorded such a central position and of its having been robbed of many of its original functions. The modern family, by coming into competition with newer secular agencies, has had to give up many of the tasks that it formerly performed. The educational function has been taken over largely by the schools, and, while there are advantages in the greater efficiency that has resulted, it is unfortunate that in many homes there is now felt little or no responsibility for child teaching. The religious function has been almost completely given over to the churches or thrown out entirely. This is unfortunate also, for the interrelationship between religion and character is well established, and the home has proved to be one of the best places for both to be promoted. The recreational function has been usurped by commercial agencies to such an extent that it has become common thought that to have a good time one must go out of the home and spend money. A countertrend, however, is home recreation built around movie, radio, and television sets. The governmental or protective function has been passed on to the state for the most part; in fact, the state now will even protect a child against its parents when they are overly neglectful or abusive. The economic function has also been largely removed from the home. The consumption of economic goods is still there, to be sure, although not so much as formerly. Income and production, however, have been highly individualized, as is shown by the fact that each adult family member will usually have his own job and separate source of income, and also that such businesses as dry cleaning, laundering, and baking are increasing in volume much more rapidly than the population, proving that some activities are actually leaving the home. With the decreasing birth rate it becomes evident that the reproductive function of the family is at least suffering a decline and in an increasingly large number of cases it has left completely. All in all, there isn't much left to hold many modern families together.

The affectional function, that which serves the sexual and emotional needs of husband and wife, is about all there is for many present-day families to stand upon. This puts considerable strain on affection alone, and where the pressure becomes great, marriage bonds sometimes break.

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