National poll seeks to answer some questions on family life

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July 9, 1987


Residents of Maryland are among 13,000 people in 100 communities and regions across America who are being asked to participant in the first national survey ever devoted exclusively to understanding U.S. families and households, according to Temple University.

Included in the study by the Philadelphia school are people from Baltimore area counties and residents of Montgomery, Prince George’s and Frederick counties.

Results of the comprehensive survey, which is being conducted by Temple University’s Institute for Survey Research for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, are expected to have a “profound impact” on public policy, university officials said.

Supported by a $4.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, the research also will provide a national resource for social scientists when the findings are released in 1988.

“Much of our understanding of the family is based on anecdotal evidence, small-scale representative studies or studies, designed for some other purpose,” said sociology professor Larry Bumpass of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Demography and Ecology.

“There has not been a scientific sample survey done on a national level to measure changes in family life,” he said.

Bumpass and his colleague, James Sweet, contracted with Temple’s research center to conduct the sample selection and data collection.

The survey also includes 6,000 questionnaires to be filled out by spouses or partners of respondents, and about 2,000 questionnaires to be filled out by parents or adult children of respondents.

According to the university, each person who is contacted for the survey “actually represents” 9,000 citizens.

“There are a number of important changes occurring in the American family,” Bumpass said.

“Marriage is increasingly being delayed and more people are living together without marriage. More people are delaying child-bearing or deciding not to have children; more women are working, especially women with young children. There are high levels of marriage disruption and more single-parent families.”

The researchers hope to glean information on issues that include:

  • $1§  How growing up in a broken family affects a person’s own marriage and parenthood;
  • $1§  How the employment of women affects family tasks and relationships;
  • $1§  How family income affects marriages;
  • $1§  How the immediate and larger family functions as a “safety net” for family members.

“The stereotypical ‘American family,’ a father and a mother who have children and who say together while the children grow up and eventually leave home, is experienced by far less than half the families in the Untied States,” Sweet said. “Social policy based on that stereotype doesn’t apply to the majority of people in this country.”

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