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The Consumer Society

PART III
FAMILY, GENDER, AND SOCIALIZATION
Overview Essay

by David Kiron and Seymore Bellin

With the rise in consumption levels following World War II, social relations -- within the family, between genders, and among friends -- have undergone enormous changes. Similarly, the development of markets aimed exclusively at children's interests has dramatically influenced the socialization of youth. Increasing consumption traditionally is welcomed as a sign of progress, but many of the accompanying changes have raised concerns about their impact on family, gender, and children. This part analyzes these effects and the influences of cultural trends and institutional forces such as government, technology, and commercialization. The summaries that follow offer telling evidence that consumer culture disrupts family stability and communities, promotes consumption as a significant arena in which to cultivate personal identity, and undermines certain aspects of child development.

The family, in some form, is a major socialization institution that assures the continuity and stability of any society. However, it is useful to distinguish between a society's ideal of the family and the diversity of actual family forms, which typically depart from the ideal. The nuclear family has been the prevailing normative ideal even though there has always been considerable departure from this ideal due to circumstances such as death, separation, or divorce. Since World War II, especially after the 1960s, divorce and separation have become much more common, as have never-married one-parent families. In recent years, even same-sex couple marriages and families have received legal recognition in some areas. However, a large majority of people have experienced a nuclear family form at some point in their lives. For purposes of our discussion, we will focus on the nuclear family ideal, but take into account the reality of a trend toward an increasing diversity in family forms.

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