Survey: What’s happening to the American family? (1972)

What’s happening to the American family? A report from 350,000 readers

by Peter Lindberg, Features Editor

Of all the perplexing dilemmas your family has to face, the most elusive have to do with how your family works together — and how it copes with a society that’s as mystifying and as frustrating as any in history.

Some family problems — like the mortgage, that kitchen remodeling, even an illness — at least have reasonably defined choices. But some deceptively simple questions — like why is our 13-year-old acting that way, or are we really getting along together — often are so frustrating that many families never resolve them.

Rather than simply collecting a battery of expert opinions on family behavior, we took a more direct route: In our February and March issues, we published two four-page questionnaires with 109 questions that probed the touchiest family problems.

We asked some very blunt questions — and got 350,000 equally candid replies, thousands of them accompanied by letters filled with insight — and a good deal of hope for the American family.

What made these opinions even more compelling were the respondents themselves — younger, better educated, family-oriented, and surprisingly objective. Thus, though it is certainly is no blueprint for your own family decisions, this report does represent how thousands of concerned husbands, wives, and parents feel about some of the most volatile family problems.

Note: some percentages will total over 100 percent because of multiple answers.


Below — arranged in the same order as the answers you see on these two pages — are excerpts from the thousands of letters we received with the questionnaires. Combined with the answers, they yield compelling, often startling conclusions about some of the most sensitive areas of family relations.

A vote for love — and communication
  • The first five years were not good, but with help from God, a lot of communication between me and my husband, and a whole lot of understanding by my husband, we worked things out and have never been so happy.
  • Children should understand that expressing yourself and clearing the air is more important than brooding over things until they become giant size. I think it’s also important that they realize that if you have legitimate reasons for your way of thinking, you can often change another’s mind. I have sometimes said no to my children, and after an argument have agreed with them.
  • An argument definitely helps, provided it isn’t a hit-below-the-belt type of thing. It clears the air of all the petty little things that can add up to big things. I don’t feel it’s the big issues that cause divorces; it’s years of little things piled together.
  • Big arguments lead to big bitterness — better small and patient discussions.
Sex, the pill, and marriage
  • No, No, No! Women do not “give sex to get love!” They give sex because they love! With the emphasis on because! And they don’t just “give sex.” They participate in what they assume is an act of mutual and deep affection.
Who are these 350,000?
  • They’re family oriented — about 90 percent are married, 86 percent have children, 80 percent own a home.
  • In 42 percent of the households, the wife has an outside job (full or part time).
  • They’re well-educated — 25 percent attended college, almost one-fifth have college degrees, and another one-fifth have done graduate work.
  • They’re younger — about 40 percent are under 35 years, 45 percent are between 35 and 54, and roughly 15 percent are 55 years or older.

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