As in most Western societies, families in the U.S. have undergone dramatic changes as Zimmerman illustrates in chapters two and three. He gives an overview of family trends in the U.S. and some factors which have contributed to the present state of affairs. The readings place significant emphasis on the impact of political actions on family life, and the continuous debates on whether or not the government should be involved in family life.
The story line however differs in Nigeria, which like some other non-Western countries, experiences minimal government involvement in family life. This may be attributed to the long years of military rule characterized by a disconnect between the government and the governed, and the extended family system which serves as a form of social insurance or traditional safety net for orphans, widows ,the aged and other persons in need of support. Although this social phenomenon i.e. the extended family system has been largely successful in safeguarding family life, it is pertinent to note that it is gradually being eroded by forces of “modernization”.
As a result of urbanization, migration and associated economic factors, there has been an increase in the nuclear family type, commonly referred to as the “me, my wife and my children” structure. Although this functions slightly differently from the nuclear family in Western nations, as a result of traces of the extended family system of being “our brothers’ keepers”, nonetheless it has resulted in fundamental changes in the society. These include delayed marriages, lower rates of polygamy, growing acceptability of contraceptive use, lesser commitment to a large family size and declining incidences of co-residency between family relatives.
These transitions in the family structure, while causing a continuous disintegration of the extended family system and the communal sense of living, which is charaterized by altruism has subsequently contributed to an increase in the poverty levels. To improve the living condition of all persons and achieve the target of halving poverty by the year 2015 according to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there has indeed arisen the need for an urgent redirection and refocus on the issues of families in Nigeria and the sub-Saharan region of Africa to address the increasing changes in family structures which has brought about new challenges for society. While religious institutions, which have great influence over the populace and several non-government organizations have actively taken up this hydra-headed challenge of safeguarding family life, it seems that the present democratic government may in some way have to intervene in salvaging the situation.
(Do look up the blog posts of January to get an overview of family life in Nigeria)