The family has been a fundamental social institution throughout the history of mankind. But in recent decades it seemed to be eroding on virtually all fronts: fewer marriages and children and also far greater instability. But quite unexpectedly, the family seems now to be on the rebound. In some societies, the reversal is very clear: the number of children citizens have is approaching the number that they actually desire, the propensity to marry is rising, and partnerships are becoming more stable.
The return-to-family trend is very much driven by the well-educated, and less stable partnerships are increasingly concentrated among the less educated. There are indeed strong indications that the world of families is becoming ever more polarized.
How can we explain the (uneven) turnaround? This book presents a new theoretical framework for understanding the dynamics of contemporary family life. The key lies in how and to what extent both partnerships and society at large manage to adapt successfully to the altered economic role of women. The analyses which follow demonstrate that the more successful is the adaptation, the more we shall see a return to stronger and more stable families. And this will in turn have positive effects for childrens life chances and social mobility prospects.
GØSTA ESPING-ANDERSEN is Professor of Sociology at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona.