Cayman Islanders - Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Contemporary households tend to be occupied by nuclear rather than extended families. This pattern appears to be long-standing and not a recent development. Hannerz (1973, 1974) found that in 1970 most households at all levels of the social hierarchy were made up of nuclear families. At about the same time, in a study of households in East End, a community then still dependent on seafaring, Goldberg (1976) found that, to be considered a full adult, a man was expected to set up his own household, marry, and have children.

The composition of households may not have changed, but the roles of its members have. One of the most significant shifts has been the entry of women into the paid labor force. Until the 1960s, economic opportunities for women were extremely limited. One of the few sources of cash income for women used to be the sale of ropes that they wove from the fronds of the thatch palm (Goldberg 1976a, 117). In contrast, in 1989, out of a total of 10,125 women over the age of 15, 7,513 (74 percent) were employed outside the home. In most contemporary Caymanian families therefore, both parents are now employed outside the home. This shift has raised concerns about the welfare of youngsters who may come home from school to an empty house—the "latchkey children," as they are called. Initially, there were few organized responses to this situation. In 1994, however, the Ministry for Community Development announced plans to set up after-school programs at churches in every district.

There is concern about the impact of rapid development on the institutions of Caymanian society. The extended Caymanian family, some people fear, is breaking down, with unwelcome consequences for child rearing and social order. Although Caymanian families have certainly had to adjust to a changing economic and social climate, kinship links continue to be extensive and valued. Most native-born Caymanians are the descendants of a small group of early settlers. As a result, certain surnames are extremely common. Although a shared surname does not necessarily indicate an active or even traceable kinship link, most Caymanians can count many known and recognized kin within their local community. In fact, the improvement of internal and external transportation has made it easier to maintain contact with kin both off and on the islands. As a result of the extensive emigration from the Cayman Islands, many Caymanians have relatives in other countries, with whom contact has been greatly facilitated by modern communications and air travel.

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