The nuclear family is often understood in terms of propinquity, or the physical nearness of parents and their children to one another. While it is typical for extended families to live apart from one another, we generally assume that married couples and their children live together. In coping with a challenging economy, however, many couples are being forced to reevaluate their responsibilities and priorities in unexpected ways. One manifestation of this is the rise of “commuter marriages” wherein one partner lives apart from the other and sometimes their children. Many couples are beginning to consider this kind of arrangement necessary given the faltering economy and scarcity of jobs. They are expressing a willingness to go where the best and most lucrative jobs are, though they may be unwilling to uproot their families or jeopardize their partner’s careers. This structural change to the institution of the family is being facilitated in part by technologies such as cell phones, email, and Skype.
While the economic benefits of a commuter marriage are considerable, work-family conflict is inevitable. For example, parents’ interactions with their children are changing, as are partners’ interactions with one another. Partners are having to reconsider their own statuses and roles within the family structure which may cause stress for both partners and their children.
What it means to be a family has been reconstructed, redefined, and renegotiated over time and in response to various social, political, cultural, and economic challenges. The commuter marriage is yet another outcome of this process, one that is sure to have a significant impact on family structure and interaction.