The Contemporary Family
After five centuries of Spanish colonization, the Mexican contemporary family emerged with a distinct culturally hybrid character, which on the surface seemed to incorporate the institutionalization of the Judeo-Christian influence. However, this institution still holds within it an unfinished dialectic between the feelings of indigenous peoples (represented by the traditional feminine subculture), and Spanish expectations and norms (reflected in the masculine machista orientation). Thus, the Mexican family continues to live in the center of a national acculturation dialectic (González Pineda 1970), which is evidenced by the way Mexicans construe their interpersonal relationships (Díaz Guerrero 1994), their consciousness, attitudes, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors towards interaction with other members of their society.
Although most Mexican families have characteristics in common, the Mexican family is not represented by one unique type; a variety of indigenous groups live in Mexico. By 1982, Luis Leñero, a Mexican sociologist, was able to identify more than twenty categories and at least fifty-four types of families by taking into account social context and heritage and its composition and structure, which creates very diverse family interactions and dynamics.
It is estimated that 74.2 percent of contemporary Mexican families fall into a nuclear marriage pattern, while the rest correspond to extended families types (Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática 2000). Although the relations and structure appear to be nuclear, in practice, they continue to be extended (Sabau García and Jovane 1994). In fact, families are more like clans who give emotional and instrumental support and guidance at all times.
Marriage is so popular that by the time Mexicans are fifty years old, more than 95 percent of them have been married at least once (Salles and Tuirán 1997). The union of these couples is increasingly sanctioned by both church and state (80.5%). Some couples cohabitate without marrying (INEGI 2000). In the early twenty-first century, the average age for marriage was twenty-three for females and twenty-six for males (INEGI 2000). Until the 1980s, men used to wed women who liked to stay home and were feminine, hard working, honest, and simple; since then, attributes like submissiveness have declined in popularity. At the same time, there is a growing tendency to look for women who are faithful, understanding, responsible, and intelligent. The pattern reflects a new conceptualization of women and their role in couple relationships. At the same time, females have maintained their traditional search paradigm and are still looking for hard-working, faithful, good, understanding, and intelligent men (Consejo Nacional de Población 1995).
The profound changes in the attributes that males and females look for in a mate have had a major impact on the family life, which in turn has led to a reestablishment of the Mexican family. Mexicans are marrying older, are starting to forgo religious marriage in favor of legal or free unions, and perceive and interpret relationships in a more egalitarian form. In essence, there is a movement away from some of the traditions and rituals towards more individually based unions. In this world of transition, the families' everyday lives, dynamics, functioning, and organizations have been profoundly altered, creating new forms of conflict and crisis. Families increasingly see the lack of communication, financial difficulties, absence of respect for elders and parents, addictions, lack of closeness, and struggles with the upbringing of children and domestic chores as insurmountable problems (Espinosa Gómez 2000).
Changes of modern life have altered some families for the worse. Physical violence, emotional harassment, and sexual abuse have become more common in the home. Most agencies and researchers postulate that these problems are the product of a challenged machismo, the increase in power struggles within the family, and disputes related to women's double work days. In one in four households in the Mexico City region, both partners are employed (INEGI 1999). As a result of the growing participation of women in economic activities, new forms of family relationships, based on asymmetries and negotiations that were nonexistent in the traditional family structure, have become common. Unfortunately, males have not started to contribute to family chores and childrearing activities as fast as women have moved into the work force, placing a special burden on women. This load has had a negative effect on women's physical and mental health, as well as on the smooth organization, solidarity, and functioning of the family.
The problems of the modern Mexican family do have solutions. A national values survey (Beltrán et al. 1994) showed the emergence of positive beliefs and attitudes toward the gender work revolution. When asked who should take care of household chores, people with higher incomes and education indicated that both males and females should share in the activities. In addition, males with an androgynous personality—a personality that includes at the same time instrumental (intelligent, capable, active) and expressive (courteous, romantic, tender) positive traits—placed a higher value on egalitarian relations and are more willing to share family household responsibilities. With all the changes and the emphasis on individual well-being and personal growth, more nuclear families are separating from their extended families, and second and third marriages are becoming more common.
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