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Family, Caretaking, Gender equality, Public responsibility, Marriage, Social and economic dislocation


The process and nature of change in our family formation seems unlikely to be derailed. The policy question for those concerned with the institution of the family in today's world should not be how we can resuscitate marriage and thus save society, but rather how we can support all individuals who create intimate, caring relationships, regardless of the form of those relationships. Continued inattention to the social and economic dislocations and the emerging family needs produced in the wake of changes in family formation can be disastrous, not only to individual families, but also to society.

Of particular importance for policymakers should be family units that are caring for children, the elderly, or the ill. In our family ideology it is the marital family that is assigned responsibility for the caretaking of dependant individuals. This family is the way we "privatize" dependency.

If changes in family form reveal different sets of problems and unmet needs, thereby making caretaking and managing dependency more difficult, policymakers should ask what institutional and other adjustments are necessary in order to help these new forms of family meet their responsibilities. A policy that focuses primarily on extolling the benefits of marriage and designates non-conforming family units "deviant" does not address such questions.

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The University of Chicago Legal Forum