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Alexis de Tocqueville saw the American family, so different from the European, as an exemplar and bulwark of sober democracy. Writing in the 1830s, he noted the "species of equality [that] prevails around the domestic hearth," the informality between parents and children, the early independence of sons and daughters, and the general belief that "though their lot is different," men and women are "beings of equal value" to society.

Since Tocqueville's visit, of course, much has changed. The family has been affected, like other American institutions, by the shift from farm to city, by technology, by individual mobility. Of late, something like a family upheaval has taken place, widely publicized but only dimly understood. The new statistics on marriage and remarriage, working wives, fertility rates, divorce, "female- headed" households are dramatic. But the change has been accompanied by little comprehensive analysis by scholars of its social causes and effects. There has been a trickle of specialized studies-on women, on child care, on family welfare policy. The futurologists have been busy. But solid research is scarce...

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