ArchiveBlog 12.1Published 12.1

Family structure and education in the United States

Published in “Public Agenda” on July 6, 2012

Author: Kayla Albrecht*, Intern


“You can be anything you set your mind to.” This was the mantra of my youth, a daily affirmation given to me by my parents to encourage me to push myself. In the United States, it is a common practice of families to strengthen the confidence of their children by telling them to follow their dreams, but is this motto always realistic? As a recent college graduate of the University of Oregon, I am facing a bleak labour landscape, and I am not alone. However, because of the support of my family, I am confident that with enough determination I can realise my goals and secure a solid career.

In the U.S., children are required by law to attend school until age 16 or 17 depending on the state, and they start their schooling between the ages of five and seven. Public education is free for everyone, and regardless of where one lives, public transportation is provided to get kids to school. After graduating high school at age 17 or 18, students will enter the work force, learn a trade or attend university. Families are usually supportive of their child’s education and are happy to see them graduate and apply to college. However, due to rising tuition costs, the ability to afford a college education is becoming impossible without financial aid from the government.
It is hard to define the standard family structure and marriage traditions in the United States because they are constantly evolving depending on the social environment of the times. Before the 1950s, marriage was often something of a business deal between families. Now, it is a different scene.

A nuclear family, the ideal structure sought after by many Americans, consists of a mother, a father and approximately two children. In a nuclear family, youngsters are able to enjoy adequate attention from their parents; parents who are in turn able to afford a college education for both of their children. Involvement of the extended family is preferred, but it is not required for the success of the nuclear family, and it is common for these small family units to move far away from their parents and siblings. But there are many variations of this family arrangement. The United States has one of the highest divorce rates in the world, with 3.95 divorces in every 1000 people**. This unfortunate statistics leaves behind it a wake of broken families and children who are forced to cope with separation. Because of this trend, young people are waiting longer before marriage, and their parents are usually supportive of this choice.

I have been living in Accra, Ghana, for only a week, so I cannot say that I have an accurate conception of the family structure in this country quite yet. However, after doing a little research, the extended family seems to be the most common design. Harmony between the extended families of new brides and grooms is essential to the success of the family. In cases of disapproval from the families, weddings are near impossible in Ghana. Although the opinion of the family is important while considering marriage in the United States, it is not required. In fact, young people will sometimes marry to rebel against the disapproval of their parents.

All in all, the key to a child’s success is with the love and encouragement of a supportive family. Only through education can a young American expect to be successful, and often times, waiting for marriage has shown to be a wiser option to create an advantageous family of his or her own.

*Kayla is a graduate of University of Oregon, United States. Click here to see article online.

**The statistic meant to read 3.4 divorces in 1000 people.