Cycles occur daily in human life. You start one task, it leads to another, and this process repeats until you return to the initial task. Day to day, a sample human cycle could include waking up at a specific time, eating breakfast, go to work, return home, eat dinner, relax and watch a favorite television show, and go to bed. He then wakes up the next morning and repeats the process. A class cycle could include sitting down, listening to a teacher lecture, and receiving an assignment.
Cycles are also a recurring theme in sociology. One such cycle – the family life cycle – points out the different stages of development in family life. It divides family life into five sections – Love and Courtship in Global Perspective, Marriage, Childbirth, Child Rearing, and The Family in Later Life.
Love and Courtship in Global Perspective refers to work done by anthropologists William Jankowiak and Edward Fischer in 1992. This work was basically research done on world societies to determine what percent of these groups idealized members of the opposite sex. 88% of societies proved to do so. The point of the surveys was to show that romantic love begins with sexual attraction. Before almost every marriage in western culture, and even before emotional attractions, is a sexual attraction. Once the physical attraction evolves into emotional attraction, this is when a lifelong partnership begins to get consideration.
The second stage of family life, marriage, has proven to be much more pre meditated than most people figure. Sociologists Tucker and Mitchell-kerman (1990); Kalmijn (1991) showed that most people follow marital paths predictable via age, education, social class, race, and religion. For example, a high school dropout punk rocker is more likely to marry a failing, pregnant high school student than an Ivy League college attendee. Sociologists use the term homgamy to describe this pattern of attraction to people of similar social attributes. As the couple becomes financially secure, they may begin to consider taking the next step in family life – Childbirth.
Childbirth is usually stereotyped as bringing delirious love to a couple, when the results are somewhat different. For example, sociologist Martin Whyte found in 1992 that marital satisfaction usually decreases with the birth of a child. This is because a dyad (2 people) provides more intimacy than a triad (3 people). This generally leads to shared intimacy, less free time, heavier expenses, and less sleep.
Sociologist Lillian Rubin found in 1992 that social class made a significant difference in how couples would adjust to the arrival of a child. Many couples, the majority, in fact, of the working class, will have a baby within 9 months of marriage. This young pregnancy usually leads to financial stress, bickering, and trouble with the in-laws. Also, the husband is usually not yet ready to settle down. After the child is born, and the family begins to settle, the family is prepared to start on the next path of family life: Child Rearing.
The fourth stage in the family life cycle is Child Rearing. This is the stage where the child grows up, until the child is just about ready to leave the nest. This development is usually done by a nanny or grandparent in a working class family, and a less intimate attraction is created between child and parents. Parents also tend to give more discipline to firstborns than the rest of the children, and this is generally attributed to factors such as ‘burning out’ and satisfaction with the initial child’s success. Child raising techniques vary widely, and it must be known that any pattern of development and every tendency has exceptions and can only be taken as guidelines. As the children begin to leave the house, family life transitions to the final stage – family in later life.
The final stage, The Family in Later Life, has three stages in itself – the empty nest, retirement, and widowhood. The first of these, the empty nest, is the stage where the parents are once again alone together. The children have just left, and the parents find extra money, and extra time. These two luxuries are initially enjoyed, but eventually prove insufficient to replace the children that have left. Secondly, as the parents start to age, they will retire. Retirement provides the parents with relaxation, a sense of completion, and a sense of near death. Parents miss their children, but cherish grandchildren, generally, as they are present at this stage. Finally is the stage of widowhood. At this point, one spouse has died, the children have aged, and a single parent remains. This usually proves to be the female. The financial strain this places on the family can sometimes lead to the parent being sent to a nursing home, or other facility where they are not burdensome to the children. However, although this stage seems bleak, many parents exit the family cycle in a ‘off in the sunset’ type of fashion, feeling a sense of completion. Thus, the children assume the role of grandparent, the grandchildren the role of parent, and new grandchildren are born, and the family life cycle continues on.