Het gezin tussen verleden en toekomst : een sociologisch onderzoek in twee verstedelijkende plattelandsgemeenten voor en na de jaren zestig : beschrijving, analyse en beschouwingen

W.H. Douma

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    This study comprises the results of two investigations, the second of which was carried out more than a decade after the first. The initial project was done in 1960. The motive for starting it at the time were the strains on family life, caused by the profound economic and social changes taking place in steadily opening-up rural areas. The effect on the family brought about by these phenomena was well perceived by policy and extension agencies working on behalf of the welfare of the rural population. They thought it necessary to gain a thorough insight into the nature of the problems the rural family, both agrarian and non-agrarian, was facing.

    Within the 'Union International des Organismes Familiauz' this consideration has led to the establishment of a special 'Working Group for the Rural Family'. In the working groups' opinion the relation or contrast between the rural and the urban domain was of primary importance in studying the family situation in the country. Particularly, it was a basic question for this working group whether or not there existed specific welfare problems for the rural family as a result of essential differences in value-orientation and/or conditions of life.

    It was this question which the first investigation tried to answer as far as the Nederlands was concerned. Because of its implications for policy making this study was supported by the Dutch Ministry of Social Work.

    It was hypothesized that there existed no rural nuclear family as such; in other words, that this family was characterized neither by a different set of values nor by circumstances of a special nature. Family life does not stand completely apart from society, but it always takes place within a specific, social framework. Following changes in the general social constellation, the shape of family life is also transformed. Hence it was stated that together with the transition from an agriculture and craft ruled society to the contemporary urban-industrial one, a traditional family type appropriate to the former passes into a modern type, which fits into the latter. While in the past the conditions, under which people lived in the country determined family life, nowadays conditions in the urban-industrial sphere are preponderant. Thus, the degree to which the rural family still differs from the urban family is determined by the intensity of the contacts on the material and mental plain with the urban way of life. According to this view there is a common tendency to strive for the modern family type, whereby the urban middle-classes serve as a model. To the degree a rural community is more industrialized and less isolated, the family type there will stand further away from the traditional type and tend more to the modern one.

    Now this hypothesis was tested in two adjacent rural municipalities in the Dutch polderland, having a different degree of urbanization, viz. Arkel (2000 inhabitants, industrialized and situated on a main road near a city) and Kedichem (1100 inhabitants, agrarian and lying more remote). These two municipalities were chosen because of the absence in them of clearly disturbing variables, especially as regards religion and folk character.

    After an extensive analysis of the social structure of the communities in question, the family investigation proper was carried out by means of interviews in all 'complete' families having children in the age-class 6-21 years. The interviews were aimed at discovering the value-orientation and the realization of the families' ideals taking into consideration their conditions of life. To assure as complete an approach as possible to the many-sided family reality, the scheme of the interviews was based on the integral family theory of G. A. KOOY, in which the family is viewed as:

    1. a social institution among others to which it bears a hierarchical relationship. In this connection special attention is paid to such important institutions as the extended family, the neighbourhood group, the church and the state.
    2. a social system, constituted by the marital bond and possessing a structural- functional pattern along with a psychological climate, the latter being the family members' experience of their position.

    According to this theory the two family types distinguished can be described in the following ideal-typical way:

    aspect traditional family modern family

    position open family, integrated in closed family, autonomous
    ext. fam., neighbourhood with respect to ext. fam.,
    and church neighbourhood and church
    marriage marriage of convention marriage of inclination
    structure patriarchical democratic
    function economy oriented affection oriented
    ps. climate emotionally repressive emotionally expressive
    stable unstable

    In the interview-schedule a number of indications, relative to the mentioned bipolar aspects, were inserted in order to enable a proper grading of the families investigated on the continuum 'traditional-modern'.

    The following main results were found:

    1. As to social framework, it appeared that both communities were involved in the process of social dynamism, characterizing contemporary society. It was obvious that the differences between the two localities were but phasedifferences in one and the same development. The more modern character of Arkel could be explained from certain preconditions leading to its earlier involvement in the process of change.

    2. In both communities the modern family type began to take shape. It became clear however from all aspects that it came into being in Arkel to a larger, extent than in Kedichem.

    3. The non-agrarians had come up nearer to the modern type than the agrarians. A greater influence on the still existing differences in degree of modernity must be attributed to the factor 'occupation' than to the factor 'degree of urbanization of the village'. The unequal ratio agrarians/non-agrarians in both municipalities chiefly determined the overall-picture of the differences between the communities.

    4. As to value-orientation the differences were generally slight; they were somewhat more pronounced for indications tied up with certain overt external circumstances.

    5. The approximation of the modern pole on the family type continuum varies with the aspect considered. With respect to the position in the institutional hierarchy it was almost reached. The individualization of the family appeared to have gone far. Regarding marriage, structure and functions, modern opinions also played an important role, but the behaviour pattern lagged somewhat behind.

    Roughly speaking, the above conclusions led to a confirmation of the hypothesis. Generalization of the results had still to wait for comparable research in other municipalities of the same kind. The fact however, that in a similar study (coordinated with this one) done in Western Germany the results obtained were essentially the same, at the time justified the advice given to the Ministry of Social Work not to follow a welfare policy with specific objectives for the rural family, but to assist the rural family as much as possible in its effort to realize modern ideals.

    Several motives led to a replication-study after a dozen or so years. First, the Netherlands experienced in the sixties an accelaration in the pace of social change which particularly affected the institutional sphere of sexuality, marriage and the family. Especially with regard to this, Dutch society appeared to have become more permissive than it ever had been, as could be demonstrated for a great and varied number of issues. One of the main reasons was to find out what the impact had been of these generally perceived changes on family life in the communities of which we had formed a rather good picture just before the beginning of this decade.

    Secondly, from a more theoretical point of view, it was considered relevant to see whether the expected changes in family life here followed a course in accordance with the theoretical frame used in the first investigation. On the one hand doubts had arisen about the explanatory value for differences in family life of a factor defined as 'degree of urbanization' (of a whole community), on the other hand it was felt that the nature of the continuing changes might be such that they could not be adequately analysed in the conceptual scheme of the transition from a traditional family type into a modern family type, because the whole concept of modernity by now had become ambiguous.

    Finally, there was reason to take up the project again because of the fact that also the position of the researchworker in relation to policy makers and policy making had become a serious point of discussion in the sixties. So the social scientist was challenged by the question how to take a stand and operate when doing policy-oriented research.

    The replication of the first investigation was performed in such a way that the different motives all got their share. This meant that a. the social structure of the communities was reviewed for any changes it had undergone, b. a category of families similar to the one in 1960 was interviewed, using the same questionnaire; however, a number of questions based on evident changes in family life in general and on newly derived theoretical insight were added; c. the theoretical framework was revised, or rather it was extended, and use was made of a more elaborate statistical analysis of both the previous and the recent data.

    A comparison of the situation in which the two communities found themselves in 1972 with the one in 1960, showed that the discrepancy between them, observable already in 1960 for a number of characteristics and indicators for a 'modern' context, had become more pronounced. Arkel, increased in population, had developed into a more dormitory type of village with quite good facilities and a good many of social activities. Kedichem gave the impression of being a more or less stagnant village community. Nevertheless, for the modernisation of family life the increase of private means of transport and communication services - which was also found in the more rural Kedichem - is perhaps as important.

    Regarding changes in the family itself, the following conclusions, stemming from the same kind of descriptive analysis as applied to the 1960 data, could be reached:

    1. Changes in family life during the last decade appeared to be essentially a continuation of the development, observed in the first study, viz. that the modern family had made further progress both in Arkel and in Kedichem, in accordance with the progressive change taking place in the families' social environment. Corresponding to the differences in the socio-psychological climate between the communities, the modern family-type in Arkel has come into being to a larger extent than in Kedichem, though Kedichem has made up for the lag somewhat.

    2. The finding from part I that the factor '(non)agricultural occupation' exerted a greater influence on the degree to which the modern family type was realized than the 'overall'-factor measured by degree of urbanization of the municipality, was confirmed.

    3. The gap between opinions about family life as directly registered value orientation and facts as indirectly measured expressions of value-orientation, observed in 1960, had narrowed. In most aspects and details of family life that were investigated, normative statements and factual behaviour approached eachother.

    4. Focusing the attention on the formally distinguished aspects of the schematic family type, there was factually no difference any more between the agrarians and non-agrarians and between the communities as to the extent to which the process of individualization of the family was completed. Everywhere the nuclear family was on its own. Modernization had increased gradually regarding family structure in that the wife and the (older) children had acquired somewhat more independent positions. In the domain of family functions there was found a marked further transition from production-orientedness to consumption-orientedness. Presumably there were also more hidden effects in the interpersonal sphere than the measuring instrument used could register.

    The opportunity to carry out a refined and elaborated analysis was also seized to reconsider the encompassing but rather vague variable, up to now taken as the independent one and measured as 'degree of urbanization of municipality'. After a quite extensive review of four categories of literature deemed relevant (viz. reports of analogous research projects, literature on family life in social change, literature on the use of standard variables in social research, recent publications on the borderline of sociological theory and method, some five factors were isolated as probably having more explanatory value for the changes observed in the family. These factors were: Socio-Economic Status (S.E.S.), religion, age and geographical origin (of the formal head of the family), residential neighbourhood.

    The influence of these variables on the realization of the modern family type, including the relative weight of each of them, was established by means of a multiple correlation and regression analysis on the 1960 data as well as on the 1972 data. For that purpose the information was transformed into scores on a set of modernity scales for the different family aspects. Later on these scales could be combined in one family modernity scale. The analysis showed that all isolated factors exercised an influence intrumental in promoting family modernity. The variables that stood out most among those mentioned were S.E.S. and residential neighbourhood, i.e. the higher the S.E.S. and the less 'historic' or 'traditional' the residential neighbourhood, the more the modern family has taken shape. Together the variables explained nearly 40 % of the variance in the dependent variable in 1960, but only 25 % in 1972. The idea is put forward here that the falling back of the proportion of variance explained has to be attributed to the decreasing value which standard sociological variables nowadays have in predicting social behaviour: intergroup relations in general have become more heterogeneous and mixed, lifestyles having been levelled in modern society.

    A more fundamental problem was raised with relation to the other side of the conceptual scheme, viz. the dependent variable as it was devised. The notion of modernity and modernisation was felt to be disputable. The problem arose when certain phenomena occuring in the last decade, could not be placed in the conceptual framework. They outgrew as it were the definition of the aspects of the modern family type. A solution to this problem was sought for in the literature, first in that on modernity and modernisation, which hinted that there had to be looked for inter-institutional and ongoing developments in society as a whole. It was thought that these conditioned (rather than determined) the nature and direction of further changes in the field of sex, marriage and the family.

    On the grounds of this the futurological literature was searched. Both general and family oriented publications were examined. Out of this excursion into the future the idea resulted that the gradual change of modern industrial society into a post-industrial society might be accompanied by a development of the family characteristics into a new family type fitting the emerging societal circumstances. Some hard thinking, and speculation, was done in trying to devise the outline for this 'post-modern' family-type. It was conceptualized that the nature of post- industrial society was such that it gave room for and at the same time could 'use' a family form in which an already discernible (and desirable) shift of values could express itself. The resulting construct was tentatively labeled the plastic family type. It shows the following characteristics for the formal aspects of the scheme which was also used for the types previously distinguished.

    position : permeable family, particularly bent on institutions also having a care-function
    marriage : marriage of participation
    structure : coequal
    function : identity oriented
    ps. climate : emotionally communicative, fertile.

    It could reasonably be assumed that the social environment of these communities was not the most adequate to test for the feasibility of a new family type. Notwithstanding this, it was attempted to operationalize the new type. A number of additional questions were asked in 1972, aiming at its detection in the population at hand. Again the information was placed on a scale, viz. the family plasticity scale, and a similar analysis to the one mentioned above was applied to it. Correlation between these two scales could be proved, which was interpreted as the occurence of a gradual transition from the modern into the post-modern family type. The same independent variables which exerted their influence in giving shape to the modern family also played a role in calling into being the plastic family type. Again S.E.S. was most prominent among them, followed now by religion (i.e. non-denominationalists and non-traditional believers showed post-modern characteristics most markedly). The remainder of the variables were of minor importance. Together the variables this time explained 20% of the variance in the new dependent variable, which was not much of a loss compared with the previous analysis. Altogether it was judged that the test of fitness for the existence of such a thing like the plastic family type could be considered to have been passed.

    Finally, the justification of the way the project was set up originally and redesigned later on, is discussed. In this discussion it is brought to the attention of the reader that a so called intentional style of doing sociological research, experimentally tried here, in which the construction and testing of guiding images is of central concern, has to be valued as an appropriate way sociologists could use their skills in rendering services to policymaking aimed at the well-being of the community, under clear recognition of their own responsibility for that cause.

    Original languageDutch
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Kooy, G.A., Promotor, External person
    Award date24 Sep 1975
    Place of PublicationWageningen
    Publication statusPublished - 1975


    • families
    • kinship
    • rural communities
    • sociology
    • netherlands
    • zuid-holland

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