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Households And Families

Families in Switzerland are confronted with a changing temporal organization of the life course. Under current conditions, people, particularly those between the ages of twenty and thirty, decide more or less on their own in what order they will make important changes in their lives, such as leaving the parental home, starting a partnership or marriage, or becoming a parent. This is related to the emergence of new phases in the life course, such as singlehood or the premarital stage. Consequently, the proportion of one-person households doubled from 14.2 percent in 1960 to 32.4 percent in 1990.

A rapid spread of new living arrangements has also become evident. In particular, unmarried cohabitation became very popular. In 1995, cohabitation rates stood as follows: 25 percent of people between the ages of twenty and twenty-four were cohabiting; 20 percent of people between twenty-five and twenty-nine; 11 percent of people between the ages of thirty and thirty-four; and 7 percent of the group between the ages of thirty-five and thirty-nine. In international comparisons, Switzerland is ranked in the upper quartile out of a sample of nineteen countries. However, few couples with children cohabitant. Parenthood is still a strong motivation to marry. For birth cohorts from 1955 onwards, unmarried cohabitation is the first step in partnership formation for more than 60 percent of the population (Fux and Baumgartner 1998).

Single parenthood is rare (in 1960, 6.2 percent, and 1990, 5.1 percent of all private households; census data in Switzerland), and did not increase, in contrast to many other countries. The rapid increase in childlessness has already been discussed. This increase is influenced by problems in reconciling employment and the family. Women's labor force participation among the population of Swiss origin was very low until the late 1970s, but then started to rise continuously. However, analyzing the pattern in the division of labor between spouses, the traditional breadwinner/homemaker model is still dominant. Evidence indicates that 40 to 50 percent of the population believes that the model "no job, if children are young" is the best strategy, and only 5 to 10 percent favor "no job, if a person has children" as the best solution (Fux 1997, 1998).

Deficiencies in the family policy system (e.g., scarcity of public childcare arrangements, barriers to female labor force participation, insufficient recognition of family achievements) enforce a polarization between the married and nonmarried, and the family (couples with children) and the nonfamily sector, respectively. These trends are linked with relevant changes in the meaning of the components that constitute a family. Adaptations in the patterns of intergenerational solidarity and the functions of the kinship networks are reflected in the much longer time that young adults remain in the parental household. The mean age at leaving the parental home increased from 20.4 and 19.2 for men and women, respectively, who were born between 1945 and 1949 to 21.7 and 19.9 for men and women born between 1965 and 1969 (Gabadinho and Wanner 1999). Furthermore, quasi-simultaneous transitions (i.e., an interval of less than six months between leaving home and marrying) from living in the parental home to a marital union is rapidly decreasing. Also, the meaning of marriage is changing towards a pragmatic interpretation (in the sense of a bilateral contract rather than as an institution). Marital functioning of families is changing. Types of family functioning based on companionship and a weak association between the partners have become very popular, in contrast to other types that are characterized by a strong hierarchy between spouses, or by a traditional form in the division of labor (Coenen-Huther et al. 1994; Kellerhals 1992; Kellerhals et al. 1991).

Parenthood, too, is showing shifts in its meaning and function. Premodern societies were characterized by rigid religious and ethical norms that dictated a close coupling between sexuality and procreation. This connection has become weaker during the past decades. Sexuality has become a commonly accepted part of an individual's way of life. Biological reproduction, by contrast, has to compete more and more with other values, aims, and interests of a person or couple. It becomes therefore an object of rational planning. The postponement of the age at marriage, the age at birth of a first child, as well as the gravitation towards smaller family sizes all depend on such a rationalization of reproductive behavior.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsSwitzerland - Households And Families, Attitudes, Conclusion