Fragmented Identities

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Surely it wouldn’t take you but a minute to come up with a quick list of the most significant social experiences in your early life that helped to shape who you are becoming?

  • That birthday party
  • The fishing trip
  • Reading together before you went to sleep
  • Learning to drive
  • Christmas morning

Most of these experiences we take for granted. They were just part of the routine of our lives. The building bricks that helped prepare us for the next steps like our own marriage, college and the first job.

A recent article by Michael Barone in the National Review Online points out the social crisis that America is currently facing because our families are fracturing.

What is family fragmentation? The facts are easy to state. About 40 percent of babies born in America these days are born outside of marriage. That’s true of about 30 percent of non-Hispanic whites, more than 50 percent of Hispanics and more than 70 percent of blacks.

An American society that has destigmatized couples living together instead of marrying, out of wedlock births, divorce, and single parenthood is creating a two-tiered society. Children from these fragmented families experience:

  • less healthy lifestyles
  • poor education
  • higher rates of delinquency
  • less preparation for employment
  • little investment in college readiness

These fragmented families are mostly from a lower SES and are racial/ethnic minorities. This type of family fragmentation did not occur during the Great Depression. Fragmented families are producing an underclass that will cripple our entire society and no one is daring enough to say out loud, “your pursuit of happiness is damaging everyone else.”

Social Identity Theory helps to explain that as we construct our sense of self we are very dependent upon the social groups to which we belong. Families are the first and most important group that each of us experience as we develop our identity. Children depend upon a stable family group to provide role models that they in turn use to construct their own identity:

  • Gender roles
  • Parenting lessons
  • Spousal relationships
  • Work ethic
  • Career preparation

Families provide children with a number of essential and ongoing experiences that both build an individual identity and prepare for meaningful participation in society as adults.

We are nearing a time when a critical mass of our children will not have a stable family nor enough time together with their over-busy family. Our children’s social identity will more and more be built from experiences they have at daycare, school, after school groups, neighborhood peers and the media. There won’t be a basic foundational family experience to support or contradict the messages gained from these additional social relationships. The family experience is the essential experience for healthy identity formation.

As family life is rapidly fracturing and our definitions of what constitute a family are widening, this is not only damaging to our social structure, it will also produce individuals who are less certain about who they are and how to form healthy relationships with other people. I guess that’s good news for all the social media conglomerates.

 

 

About Randy Wilson

Professor of Sociology at Houston Baptist University I read, think and write about religion and culture in the United States. It's very interesting and very complicated but incredibly exciting. For many years I have been trying to figure out how people learn best (my students and myself). The classes I teach are always in a state of experimentation - trying to reorganize around what students bring to the table and where we have to go.

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