TitleWhat Changing American Families Mean for Aging Policies
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsAngel, JL, Settersten, RA
JournalPublic Policy & Aging Report
Date Published01/2015

During the latter half of the twentieth century, the American family underwent radical changes that, in conjunction with dramatic increases in life expectancy, have greatly altered the reality of aging. In our post-traditional, multicultural society, one can no longer speak of “the” family, as if it exists in a singular form. Instead, families come in diverse forms that also change in composition over time. These shifts are the result of many factors—including divorce and remarriage, cohabitation, lower fertility, multipartner and nonmarital fertility, permanent singlehood and childlessness, same-sex relationships, and interracial/interethnic unions. A serious consequence of this diversity for aging is that public policies based on ideal, narrow, or outdated definitions of family often conflict with the reality of families as they really are. These new configurations affect the resources and options that families have for giving and receiving eldercare. Increasingly, the simultaneous presence of multiple generations over many decades at any single moment, many of which need assistance, further complicates caregiving and other responsibilities. The hard times associated with the recession have only increased the vital role that family support plays in ensuring the well-being of elders, and elders in ensuring the well-being of other family members, in the United States. Minority groups face additional challenges in providing care in light of their social and economic disadvantages. These social trends raise critical questions for public policy about growing social and economic inequalities among American families, which threaten core values of equity, efficiency, liberty, and security. In this essay, we consider a few of these issues and their implications for aging families and aging policies.