The Student News Site of Westfield High School

Hi's Eye

The Student News Site of Westfield High School

Hi's Eye

The Student News Site of Westfield High School

Hi's Eye

Nuclear norms to diverse households: The evolution of family structures

Article on the page Artwork by Julia Miranda

Since the beginning of the 20th and 21st centuries, the idea of what a family should look like has drastically changed. Families are no longer structured like carbon-copy versions of each other; a white family consisting of a mom, dad, biological son and biological daughter.

Coined in the Industrial Revolution, this ‘nuclear family’ design was the norm and ideal for most. Industrialization created the idea that husbands would go to work and provide for the family, while wives were the domestic caregivers of the household. Featured in ads and media, this depiction of what a family should be and should look like greatly impacted American society and what was considered ‘normal’ for future generations.

Over the years, what has been considered the familial norm has been affected by multiple newly accepted types of families. Families are not just strictly biological, one race or two parent households. Today, we see many variations dotted throughout our neighborhoods and towns, like interracial families, foster families, same-sex marriages and single parent homes. One of the most common “types” is families of divorce.

Throughout the 1960s and 70s there was a divorce revolution due to many factors. The no-fault divorce law, which allowed a divorce to be obtained without one spouse blaming the other, was used by many because, according to, it allowed more unilateral divorces and more legitimate dissolution of marriage. The sexual revolution fostered an easier environment for spouses to find other partners and created a higher, unrealistic expectation of their marital relationship.

The rise of female employment, as well as the feminist movement, made many women feel more free to leave their abusive or unsatisfying marriages. Currently, divorces of first marriages have drastically decreased since their revolution in the 70s, with about 2.3 divorces per 1,000 people in 2021, the lowest it’s ever been, and 2.4 divorces per 1,000 people in 2022 according to

The idea of divorce distorts the image of the nuclear family, which some may see as a negative sign. One of the main reasons it’s seen negatively is because the nuclear family is child-focused, and the event of one’s parents splitting up can be seen as negative for the child. However, a divorce may create a better environment at home if, for example, the parents were in a struggling or abusive relationship.

Many divorces lead to the adjustment of a single-parent household. According to, accompanied by rising births outside of marriage and a decline of marriage rates, the United States has the highest rate of children living in a single parent household at 23 percent.

According to, single-parent households have become even more common than the ‘nuclear family’ household with more than 24 million children in a single-parent household, according to, that is often headed by a mother, a father or even a grandparent.

There are many stressors that can beset a single parent household: custody battles, financial problems, the entrance of new adult relationships and the emotional effects on both the guardian and the child in general. For some, these stressors can be outweighed by the positives of growing up in a single-parent home. For the parent, it may be easier to make decisions when you do not have to agree with your spouse, and for both the parent and the children, this type of household can create a good relationship. Not only could a child be closer to their sole parent, but they could be a team, which would create mature and independent qualities that would only benefit the child later in life.

In an article written by CNN journalist David G. Allan, he states, “Being raised by a single parent required an Emersonian amount of self-reliance. I got myself to school in the morning, figured out how to apply to college, paid my way through that education and embarked on a career with no shortcuts or introductions.” Being raised in a single-parent home does not imply a lesser quality of life, it simply means one’s experiences may simply be different.

Marriage is a concept that is growing and evolving with our society. As social norms change, the laws that are in place need to change and have in some cases changed to accommodate them. Same-sex marriage is a part of the change that has been advocated for since activism against laws prohibiting sodomy began. Sodomy refers to any sort of inter-course that does not have a chance of procreation, and two members of the same sex cannot create a biological child together. People care more about the chances of a couple being able to have kids than if a couple wants to spend the rest of their lives together.

The first time these laws were decriminalized was in 1961 when Illinois decided that sodomy was no longer a criminal offense. This change was not the first time these laws were challenged, and throughout the 50s and 60s, many state constitutional challenges were made, but none succeeded. These challenges focused on laws against “the crime against nature,” according to The case that finally broke down the door for same-sex marriage was Obergefell v Hodges, where James Obergefell and John Arthur James sued the state of Ohio for not recognizing same-sex marriages on death certificates. After a long battle, on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the 14th Amendment protects the right for same-sex couples to get married and have that marriage be valid in all 50 states.

Even with the strides made legally and socially to make same-sex marriage an accepted part of society, there are still many challenges when it comes to getting married to a member of the same sex. Despite gay marriage being legal at the federal level, 30 state constitutions still include laws prohibiting it. Same-sex couples have to consider if they are seen as legitimate when deciding where they can live within their country. There are ways that couples can get around the state level laws but they include long legal processes to gain different rights that a straight married couple can get within one day. The process to have a legal same-sex marriage is riddled with hoops to jump through. So while it may be legal on a federal level, same-sex marriage is still seen as a “crime against nature” in many states.

Furthermore, an important part of the nuclear family dynamic is having children. Same-sex couples have to find ways other than the conventional way of having a child if they want to have a family of their own. A common method for these couples is adoption. Adoption not only allows those who cannot have biological children the ability to start a family, but it also helps children in the foster care system and orphans have a stable and loving household. This can impact the dynamics of a family if a child’s birth parents come looking for a relationship with their kid.

In the typical nuclear families that we see, the parents have one mom and one dad but if there is another set of parents, that changes their dynamics. Some parents wait until their child is fully grown to tell them that they are adopted, which can lead to children feeling like their whole lives were a lie. It also creates a new power dynamic between the parents and children because the children are the only people who don’t know they are not biologically part of the family. Family is not only biological, but for developing kids it can feel like a big shift in their life. Family can mean whatever someone decides it means, as long as there is love and acceptance within the family. Parents who adopt are people who open up their homes and their hearts to give a home to someone who needs it. While it strays away from the typical family structure people are used to, that allows for new experiences and new ways for families to connect with and understand each other.

Another major change to the American nuclear family was interracial marriage. For most of American history, interracial marriage was illegal—the ideal American nuclear family was undoubtedly homogenous and white. Arguments of racial purity and white supremacy bore anti-miscegenation laws—laws banning marriage or sexual relations between whites and non-whites—starting in 1691. Throughout slavery, interracial relationships were largely abusive between white men and Black women. Even consensual interracial relationships were deemed unnatural and sinful, and in many states they were criminal offenses. For Black men, a relationship or even an accusation of a relationship with a white woman was dangerous. According to, a third of the roughly 3,500 Black men lynched between 1882 and 1968 were accused of raping a white woman.

Almost 300 years after the first anti-miscegenation law was passed, interracial marriage was still illegal in the United States and widely opposed. In 1958, Virginia residents Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Jeter, a Black woman, got married in Washington D.C. Police raided their home in the middle of the night and they were charged with a criminal offense.

The ACLU then helped the couple take their case to the Supreme Court and by 1967, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that interracial marriage must be legal under the equal protections clause of the 14th amendment.

This legal development was a massive step forward in civil rights but societal acceptance took longer. Interracial couples still commonly faced ostracization from their families and were forced to choose between the person they love and the people who raised them. Change happened slowly, and by 1997, a majority of Americans expressed approval of interracial marriage. By 2021, a Gallup poll reported that the figure reached 94 percent.

While there are still significant challenges in interracial relationships, they are becoming more common and more accepted. From Cheerio commercials, to shows like The Good Place or powerful role models like Serena Williams who married Alexis Ohanian, society is moving forward.

The term “American nuclear family” has, in the best way, lost its conventional meaning. Once a rigid and exclusionary concept, the modern American family has continuously been shaped by the innate desire for individuality, love and expression and has changed the way we think about families.

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