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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 August, 2004, 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK
Are families under threat?
Mother and child playing in a wooded field
We discussed families in our global phone-in programme, Talking Point.

Do longer working hours, absent parents and divorce mean that the traditional family is under threat?

The United Nations says that the changing social structure, together with an ageing population, presents a challenge to both families and governments.

Migration and HIV/Aids are other major trends that affect families worldwide.

Do you spend enough time with your family? What happens when normal family life is disrupted by migration, famine or war? And how good are we these days at looking after our older relatives? Send us your comments and stories.

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

Your comments:

The concept of family as it's usually understood in the West, is quite a modern construct in relative terms. Only 150 years ago, children were always raised in community, even in Europe. In many parts of the world, children still are, which is much to their benefit. The real threat to children is not the loss of family, but the loss of responsible community.
Alister, London, UK

The traditional idea of a family being a man and woman who marry, have children and remain together until death was never valid. Sometimes staying in a bad relationship for the sake of children is not the right thing to do. Sometimes a man and woman are bad parents, while a single parent or gay couple can prove highly effective. The automatic expectation of couples to have children is also gone, but I don't think we are any the worse off for these particular things.
Paul, Portsmouth, UK

The main threat to family life worldwide is the fact that people are still dying from preventable illness, drinking dirty water, suffering from malnutrition and getting caught up in needless armed conflict (as in Sudan). Until we do something to stop the massive inequalities in the world a long working week does not really seem that important.
Liz, Cardiff, UK

The fact that families are now voluntary makes them all the more precious
Julie, Monona US
Today families are largely by choice. Unlike past times when family was a societal structure based on arranged marriages and rigid sex roles. The fact that families are now voluntary makes them all the more precious.
Julie, Monona US

Family is defined in many different ways and all should be acceptable as long as love, trust and intimacy exist. As the old adage goes, "It takes a village to raise a child". Children are our future and without the support of individuals who are consistently present in their lives it is difficult for them to become happy and productive adults.
Tiffany Cooper, Yardley, Pennsylvania, USA

Oh, stop griping everyone! None of us chooses to be born; none of us can choose the identity or potential of the children we bear; and our choice of partner is (often deliberately) haphazard to say the least. So if families don't always work out brilliantly, why are we surprised? Every one of the so-called 'threats' identified in these pages is, surprise, man-made (just as children are); and they represent nothing more novel than the age-old jostling between humanity's desires for both freedom and certainty at once. Look, there IS no threat, people!
Methuselah, London

I see that abortion has not yet been mentioned. The legalisation of abortion and ease of getting one these days has revealed the true way that many women regard their children. With such attitudes toward children also being encouraged by the media, families are no longer fashionable.
Bagu, Singapore

What exactly constitutes a "threat" to "family"? My biological family fell apart when I was a child, but I have never felt that to be a catastrophe. Today I see myself as a strong, capable, independent person. I have surrounded myself with friends and people that love and respect me -- people that I now consider to be my family, or even better than family, whatever that may be.
Hannah, Canada

The traditional British family has all but disappeared
David, Cornwall, UK
The traditional British family has all but disappeared. Now we have a complicated system of single parents, guardians, homosexual couples, step-fathers/mothers and multiple partners. Other countries could teach a thing or two about the importance of families and how to keep them together.
David, Cornwall, UK

"The family" is a post-Enid Blyton 20th century invention along with childhood and all the other innocence-preserving myths espoused by the media and outraged "adults" who have trouble comprehending the ultimately random and haphazard nature of the social world. Questions about the changing function of the family are ultimately an expression of a desire to retreat into the perceptions of one's own ignorant childhood.

Up until the 1800s it was still generally accepted for some parents to sell their children into slavery. Most child abuse and cruelty has ALWAYS been 90% caused by the child's own parents, friends or family. So ask me the question again!
Stephen H, Bristol, UK

My situation is so free of the issues that drastically affect families (ex., famine, AIDS, etc.). However, my mantra has always been, "Family comes first." My 2 children will learn that running around from sport field to sport field or being popular is not nearly as important as the bonds of family. Ours is the problem of the privileged, pushing children to be everywhere but at the kitchen table. We still eat dinner together every night. Call me "old-fashioned".
Andrea, NY, USA

I grew up in a secure, loving two-parent, two-children family unit and loved it. I can't wait to settle down with my husband to be (we're marrying next year) and with any luck create the same family-orientated atmosphere for our own children. You don't necessarily need the traditional family unit, as long as there is plenty of love, attention and support for everyone within the family.
Louise, UK

The problem is that the men aren't men anymore and the women aren't women anymore. Roles in the family are being confused causing increased strife between men and women. Who wears the pants these days?
Richard, Reading

Children of today are immersed in consumer culture
Arul Aram, Chennai, India
Yes, both parents working affects the upbringing of children. But in the era of consumerism and globalisation, luxuries have turned into necessities due to peer pressure. Children of today are immersed in consumer culture and their demands are endless, and you need money to meet their demands. It is a vicious cycle. Both parents decide to work so that they could provide a better life for their children - in several cases, one child. But they are not able to spend enough time with the child. They compensate this with what money can bring. With the opening up of the economy, even a developing country like India has several consumer goods out there to buy. Finally, in a country of sharp economic disparity, the child grows up as a snob disliking the poor, and suffers from maladjustment in the society to which it belongs.
Arul Aram, Chennai, India

The downside of the disappearance of the family is one thing, but the reason for that disappearance is the upside. It is this upside that is driving it all. Personal freedom, ever broader experiences and challenges, mind stretching travel, continual and broader education, an opportunity to experience the ever increasing riches of our arts and sciences in a deep and personal way, forging a continually changing kaleidoscope of new friendships and relationships.
Steve, UK

Whatever choice you make, to say that parents in the 60s had all what we expect to have today and more is pure self-deception. Once my parents had their children, both worked reduced hours to care for us children themselves. Can't afford that you say? Or just don't want to give up your lifestyle? Our parents also didn't expect to have a car or big home, didn't go out but gathered at home, babysat in turn with friends, went camping instead of hotels. Now 60, they are still not wealthy but have a happy family.
Maia, Sweden

I am the head of a family of five. I was born and bred in Africa at a time when old age and traditional extended family were revered. During my childhood days it was my grandmother (not my father) who was head of our family. My aunt and uncle were as important to us, the kids, as our mother and father were. Also, there was no difference between my biological brother and the children of my aunt and uncle. We were all brothers and sisters. In fact it was long after, that I came to realise that the children of my aunt and uncle were my cousins, and not by brothers and sisters; that I was not another child of my aunt and uncle, as our parents made us believed, but their nephew. Things have changed nowadays. My wife and I (together with our three kids) now live in New York, USA. Our children are not privileged to stay with an aunt, an uncle or a grandparent. Even if they are, the desire to meet the everyday need would have distance those extended relatives away from them. In Africa, too, the younger generation no longer admires family values.
Aroun Rashid Deen, New York , USA

Women simply don't really need men
Steve, UK

Families just don't really have a function anymore. Women simply don't really need men, it's as clear as the day is long. Without that need, all that remains is the fantasy bit. They served society very well, as did extended families before them. Times change.
Steve, UK

The United States and Europe doesn't seem to give much importance to family and relatives as Asian countries do. I don't see a threat to families in Asian countries in the near future.
Mary, India

I stay four hours non-stop drive away from my family. I visit mostly at the end of the month. My time with my family is very short and divided. Given this little time you cannot intimately attend to the needs of everyone. Each individual requires special attention which given the time, may not be possible. This distresses the family when they begin to think you are not responsible, caring and just becoming individualistic. For famine and war, it is death and life: every man for himself. Your brother runs East, your sister goes West and you run South. You may meet again or never at all. Your child may see you killed before its little eyes and run as far as strength can afford. When situations turn as these: people chasing jobs, success, life and the rest, no one has time for the ageing. Our older relatives need our special attention and presence more than the sandwiches, sugar, candles and cakes we post them. They terribly need us but who has time for them? All we do is send them the items they want. They need us more, but the pressures of life today makes us no good, actually worse criminals to our older relatives.
Paul Mayende, Kampala, Uganda

What, exactly, is 'normal' family life. I am yet to meet one 'normal' family. Each is faced with their own problems, and they either function as a unit or they don't. Especially in Western cultures, the idea of tight family bonds is rare. We rarely rely on an extended family unit for economic reasons, and with the progress of women's rights a wife or daughter no longer depends on father or husband, which is a huge contributing factor to the declining importance of family. The whole concept of the family has been evolving for decades and I believe such a pattern will continue.
Roidh, Toronto, Canada

Everyone has choices, even if they think they don't
John, England
A few years ago I got into the habit of working 70 hour weeks, and not seeing enough of my family, so I decided to stop. I cut back my work hours to about 45 a week, and guess what? The world did not end. My business did no go under. I got a life back. Everyone has choices, even if they think they don't.
John, England

What a laugh! My mother never fails to make it clear that she can't wait for me to leave the house. I'll take work any day, over 'family.'
Nicole, Chicago, USA

There is always plenty for me to do when I get to work, however, if I don't turn in one day the company will not disintegrate. It is vital to remember that your children are not interested in board meetings, conferences or overtime - the benefit that your company will derive from your attention is of no consequence in comparison to the impression your love and attention will leave on your children. The cruel paradox is that nothing motivates an individual to work as much as the need to provide. I just try to manage my motivation in relation to those needs, as opposed to the wants.
Dan Brown, Cardiff, UK

Modern business requires a skilled and mobile workforce. Families don't move. I've chased my career across the UK and now to Holland - because if I hadn't then I wouldn't have it anymore. My work is wonderfully exciting and I'm privileged to be doing it - but it's cost me my marriage and most of my friendships.
Iain Howe, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Although I have been brought up in London, both of my parents are from overseas, and I have always been shocked at the differences in attitudes between them and my English friends parents. While my parents enjoy me and my siblings company, taking an active interest in our lives and encouraging us to stay at home, most of my friends parents can't wait to get rid of them. This does not promote the notion of an integrated family unit, and almost implies the children are a burden upon their parents. Simply, it is indicative of a society and media that is all about me, me, me.
Mark, London, England

I grew up in a one-parent family, and it was one of the most secure, loving family units anyone could hope for
Clare, Scotland
It depends what you mean by traditional family. I grew up in a one-parent family, and it was one of the most secure, loving family units anyone could hope for. Teachers at school told my mother on more than one occasion that I was better at coping with life than many kids from two parent homes. I think this shows that it doesn't matter what the make-up of the family is, traditional or otherwise. What matters is how much effort the people involved are prepared to put in. Most people don't want to make the effort now, they expect relationships to just work. It is the ultimate display of today's "disposable" society.
Clare, Scotland

To add another comment to the ones regarding the role of women. If a woman gives up work to rear children - assuming that her husband or partner is earning enough to support this - she cannot pay anything into savings for her old age, such as a pension scheme. I confidently expect there to be no state pension worth having by the time I come to retire (I'm currently 30 years old). If I do not pay into some form of savings, what can I look forward to when I am old? I cannot blithely rely on my husband to support me - we may divorce, he may die. But if I have children and continue to work, I am vilified by many sectors of society, as well as having to spend vast amounts of money on childcare of dubious quality. Small wonder that many women like me are finding the idea of childbearing so unattractive.
Georgie, Cambridge, UK

The modern world is all about being competitive. The more you are aggressive and arrogant and materialistic, the more you succeed. Under these circumstances there is no room for love, peace, family, affection or humanity. All of the above words does not exist in the modern world's dictionary. There is only one language, one religion and one feeling and that is money.
Seetharaman, Houston, TX, USA

In Russia these days quite a few people are living below or around the poverty level and what that means is that they simply cannot afford families and in the past decades having a family has become a kind of a privilege, something that only the wealthy can afford, and it's not just because people are poor, like in the 19th century, 90% of the people here were just as poor or even poorer than today yet they still had families. The problem actually stems from the mass culture, soap operas and Cinderella bases films which all follow the same pattern: a poor girl with good looks gets noticed by a rich handsome man who first showers her with extravagant gifts and then they get married and live happily ever after, so the stereotypical family that gets drummed into people's head by TV, is an affluent husband and a faithful beautiful wife who live in a big mansion like house and drive Mercedes. That's what people want and naturally nobody wants to have poor families where you have to struggle from pay day to pay day to make ends meet.
Igor, Smolensk, Russia

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