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The future of families in Washington County

August 27, 1999|By JULIE E. GREENE

Editor's note: For the first six months of this year, we looked back at how Washington County changed during the century. For the rest of the year, we are looking forward to some of the challenges the county faces in the new millennium. This is the second story in that series. Look for our series on the last Sunday of each month in NewsPlus.




Women in the workplace. Aging Baby Boomers. Divorce. All will continue to have major impacts on families into the 21st century.

Both parents will continue to work as long as the economy demands it, having major repercussions on the family, experts said.

People also will work later into their lives because they won't have enough money to retire, according to futurist Jennifer Jarratt, with Coates & Jarratt Inc. in Washington, D.C.

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So who's left to raise the children?

"Sometimes you wonder if anybody is," said Dr. Robert Parker, Washington County's health officer.

Parker said he doesn't see the family structure returning to the idealized 1950s family with mom at home and dad working.

The economy demands that both parents work, the divorce rate is higher and there are more single parents, whether they're teens or divorced, Parker said.

Parenting has to be dealt with in a better fashion by everyone - parents, employers and government, he said.

Businesses need to make it easier for mom or dad to leave without losing seniority, Parker said.

That can be difficult in a climate where companies are increasingly switching to part-time contract workers who don't have benefits, Parker said.

Family size

Consciously or unconsciously, many couples are deciding to have only one or two children because of the rising cost of higher education, Jarratt said.

That trend will continue as people realize their children will need college degrees to make their way in a fairly high-wage society, Jarratt said.

Hagerstown resident Speener Hose, 74, can see his family's size dwindling through the generations.

He was one of 10 children. He has four of his own, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Raised during the Depression, Hose said he never felt poor because his family always had something to eat. His father worked at the W.D. Byron & Sons Inc. Tannery and operated a barbershop on nights and Saturdays.

Mom stayed home.

Now moms and dads work.

"They almost have to work if they want what their mother and father got in 30 years, such as owning their own home," Hose said.

The average household size in Washington County declined, from 3.08 people in 1970 to 2.49 people in 1995, according to the Maryland Office of Planning.

Projections call for that trend to continue with 2.33 people per household in 2020.

During the mid-1990s the county's birth rate hovered around 12 births per 1,000 people. It was 14 in 1991, according to the 1997 Maryland Vital Statistics Annual Report.Continued from E1

Projections for the county's birth rate were not available.

State population forecasts call for the number of children four and younger to decline from 8,480 in 1995 to 7,630 in 2005 before rising to 7,910 in 2020.

Teen mothers

One area where births are increasing is among teen mothers, local experts said.

In 1997, the most recent year for which data was available, 78 children were born to mothers 17 or younger, compared to 59 children in 1989, according to vital statistics reports.

Millie Lowman, executive director of the Parent-Child Center, said she is afraid the number of teenage mothers will increase even though the community has more prevention programs in place and schools are talking about abstinence.

"You have sex with a boy because this is your way of showing 'I love you' without thinking of consequences," Lowman said.

Parker attributes the increase in teen pregnancies to a social, cultural and economic cycle.

A young person can't find a high-paying job locally so he or she thinks "might as well start a family," Parker said. Then when the young girl tells mom she's pregnant, mom says it's good news since she also was a teen mother, he said.

Along with teen births, births to unwed mothers have risen since at least 1991, according to vital statistics reports. In 1997, 539 births or 34 percent were to unwed mothers compared to 423 births or 26.5 percent in 1991.

Marriage itself is changing.

"Nowadays I think there's more of a serial marriage," said the futurist Jarratt.

Just as people now expect to have more than one career during their lifetime, they've come to expect more than one spouse, Jarratt said.

More people will enter marriage expecting it to end, so there are more prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, she said.

Locally, Lowman said she also expects to see more divorces.

"I believe divorce will continue, it will be at a larger rate than it is today and it will play a big factor in abuse," Lowman said.

Divorce can make disciplining children difficult, Lowman said.

"I just think perhaps their values are different and that's really our fault," Lowman said.

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