Many changes have occurred in the world since the end of the Second World War. These are related to social, technological and certainly political developments Perhaps not unexpected, countries as different as the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America have, for different reasons, undergone significant changes that are similar. In both countries, social, technological and political developments have occurred concurrently. While these forces were quite different in many ways they nevertheless had many similar results.

Good features of modern family life have evolved as definite improvements over the old ways. Modern technology has seen toilets come indoors and sanitary conditions improve. Electricity has now reached to even some of the most remote areas of both large countries. Food is not only readily available but is plentiful and varied. Since the 1950s and 1960s two major developments have accompanied these social changes.

Television and radio, means of mass communication became a feature which certainly was a prime factor of importance. Starting in the 50s, first for villages, organizations or homes to share, but increasingly for individuals, education and knowledge about the world and from the world at large became available to not only those gifted enough to be able to read but for anyone who could hear or see. The world started to shrink. Change came on the wings of technology and the realization that economic growth and standards of living are intimately linked to population and family size. These important technological developments in communication were simultaneous with improvements in family planning techniques. The evolution of modern contraceptives, particularly the development of oral and depot contraceptives. the improvement of the intrauterine device (IUD) and modern techniques of abortion and sterilization, brought with it the ability for families to reliably and constantly control the size of their families and the timing of birth.

News of effective and acceptable methods of birth control spread quickly since they were most desired. This occurred in China with the support and assistance of the government. In the United States the government was against federal involvement but the people wanted it and it access spread through private agencies. In the United States this followed changes in law and in China this followed the Revolution.

But in this area there remain major differences between the countries. In China every type of contraceptive and family planning method became and is readily available. This includes availability of the most modern “home abortion drug” RU-486 or its equivalent and medical abortion on request. In the United States the drug is not yet available and access to medical abortion on request is limited.

in the U.S., those who believe women ought to have the right to safe and convenient abortions, the large majority of the American public, are mustering political forces to overturn these restrictions. Armed with the blessing of the American Medical Association which gave the drug RU-486 its unanimous support, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Psychological Association, the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations and dozens of other health care and scientific organizations, this reversal should occur in the next few years. With the new Democratic administration, medical abortions too should become more available.

In this regard it might be mentioned that the U.S. stands out as the only major industrialized nation in the world whose administrations have been actively against population control and have hindered drug companies and mass media use for this purpose. In sharp contrast, not only does China advertise and widely distribute all types of contraceptives, but population control is a central theme of the society. With limited resources and more than a billion people to care for it has established and, with varying degrees of success, tries to enforce, a one-child per family policy. Without such pressures. in the United States the average family has between two and three children. In both countries these are significant drops from the pre 1940 families of three to ten children.

In both countries marriages since the 1940s and 1950s began to come later. In the P.RC. this was linked to government law and encouragement and the goal of reducing population with the belief that later marriage would mean fewer children. In the U.S. later marriage was linked to education. In America, until the 1940s, the average individual aimed for a secondary education and got married following high school at about the age of 18 for girls or 21 for boys.

After the 1950s a college education became a desired goal and marriage was postponed until after graduation. This occurred between 21 and 25 . Now in both countries marriage after the age of 25 for males and females is common.

In both countries it is now also realized that a family’s standard of living is closely tied to the number of children it must support. People are now opting for fewer children so they can live more comfortably. Interestingly, in China and the United States, as women pass 30 years of age and their income increases, their marriage prospects are seen to decrease.

Both countries saw a rise in the freedom of opportunity for women. From the 1950s on, women had more options in work and education. This freed them from seeing their only future in marriage. Women as important members of the work force had new opportunities for independent incomes. Many women sought professions in preference to marriage and motherhood. In the United States this was known as choosing the “money track” rather than the “mommy track”. Women began to be seen more often out of the home and away from neighborhoods to which they had been previously tied. In both countries, however, women still have difficulty reaching the highest levels of power either at work or in government. In this regard things are probably changing more quickly in the U.S.

More women working outside the home meant changes were needed inside the home. Gender roles began to shift markedly. This caused strains within marriage which still need be dealt with. Nevertheless, men in both countries began to increasingly shift their attention to home and baby needs in addition to their job or work needs. But here the changes are more noticeable in the U.S. In both countries it is still the woman who is expected to take most responsibility for the home and do this in addition to any work outside. In the U.S, however, men are picking up a greater share of the domestic responsibilities and more is expected of them. But, when all is said and done, in both countries it is women that more is expected of. The sexual double standard remains firmly entrenched but more so in China than in the U.S.

In other aspects of marriage things are also changing. In both countries the concept of dual-career families has meant that often husbands and wives will live apart. In the United States this is now seen less than it was a decade ago. In China it is still current.

These living arrangements and economic flexibility has allowed more women to consider divorce on their own. In the past this had been more often the prerogative of men. Divorce in the 1950s was relatively rare in the US. Adultery was one of the few accepted reasons for the state to grant the decree. Now in the United States about half or all marriages end in divorce and the “plea” is irreconcilable differences or incompatibility.

In both countries a major shift has also occurred in sexual attitudes and activities. Into the 1950s the expectations in both countries was that couples would be virgins until they married and monogamous afterward. With a combination of social change, delayed marriage, increased mobility and travel and wider awareness of different opportunities, attitudes toward premarital and extramarital sexual behaviors have become more permissive. Accompanying this, and in some cases leading it, were actual changes in behavior as well. Over the past forty years the frequency and acceptance of both premarital and extramarital sexual activities has increased significantly. Presently, in the United States, only a minority of men and women are virgins at the time of marriage and fewer than half remain monogamous throughout their marriage. Certainly, in both countries there is no longer the expectation that marriage or one person can necessarily satisfy all needs

Marriage in both countries has also lately been impacted by new problems. In both countries homosexuality and prostitution have become more visible and sexually transmitted diseases a factor to contemplate. The spectra of AIDS is now present. How couples will deal with these new issues and the old ones will have to be seen.

What do we see for the future? Certainly both countries would benefit from strong and honest programs of sex education without censorship and with open discussion. Realistic solutions will come from the best minds of parents, educators, ethicists, legal and political scholars.

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