A treatise on the family



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• 1 •
G
ARY
B
ECKER
I
t is a great pleasure to be here and have the opportunity to address you. My topic is the family, a subject I have worked on for many years; as a result of these investigations, I
published a book called A treatise on the family, a first edition in 1981.
I believe that family is the most important institution in any society. Whether that is com- pletely true or not, it certainly is one of the oldest and most fundamental institutions. Rudi- mentary forms are traced back by archeologists to more than 50.000 years ago, so it is a very old institution, pervasive in every nation of the world that has ever been studied. I
know no nation studied by anthropologists and historians, wherever it may be, in Asia, in
South America, in North America, in Europe, in Africa, where the family has not been a major, if not the major institution.
Family, however, has not been a static institution. It has changed dramatically over time.
Most of these changes took place slowly. But the changes in family structure and organiza- tion during the past fifty years have probably been the most rapid in recorded history, and you can see that from a variety of statistics:
First, the number of divorces in many countries has grown rapidly. In the early 1960s,
really few people divorced; there was still a great stigma attached to a divorced person.
Now, something like 40% of all people in their first marriages divorce, and divorce is common and accepted. I am not saying it is necessarily admired, but accepted; divorced people are accepted along with everyone else in society.
Second, birth rates in the world have plummeted. Many people do not realize that more than 25% of the world’s population today, excluding China, have birth rates that are below reproduction. By that I mean that if they continue this way, and without immigration,
the population of 25% of the world’s nations will begin to decline, and some nations like
Japan and Germany will begin to do so very shortly. If you count China, you have almost half of the world’s population with birth rates that are below reproduction. The rest of the


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