Marriage and Domestic Unit. Although community and in-group endogamy was preferred, some women did marry non-Cajun men who were rapidly and easily assimilated into the group. Marriage usually occurred at a young age. Divorce was rare and difficult to justify. Although the nuclear family unit lived in the same dwelling as part of the extended family, the extended family was the basic social and economic unit. Kin worked together, helped build each other's houses, went to the same church, had to approve the marriage of female kin, cared for each other's children, and socialized and celebrated together. Both the country butchery ( la boucherie de campagne ), where kin met every few days to butcher hogs for meat, and the weekly public dance ( fais do-do ) provided opportunities for regular socializing by family members. Men were the major decision makers in their homes, but if a man died, his wife, not his sons, assumed control. Children lived at home until they married.
This traditional pattern of marriage and family began to change after World War I and then changed even more rapidly after World War II. Today, nuclear families have replaced extended ones, with economic ties now far less important than social ones in kinship groups. Husbands no longer dominate families, as women work outside the home and establish lives for themselves independent of their families. The prohibition of the teaching of French in Louisiana schools has created a generation gap in some families with grandparents speaking Cajun French, parents speaking some Cajun French, and the grandchildren speaking only English. Marriage to outsiders has also become more frequent, and is often the reverse of the former pattern, with Cajun men now marrying non-Cajun women who acculturate their husbands into mainstream society.
Socialization. Traditionally, children were raised by the extended family. Cajuns rejected formal education outside the home except for instruction provided by the church. Parents emphasized the teaching of economic and domestic skills and participation in the activities of the kinship network. In 1916 school attendance up to age fifteen became compulsory, although the law was not rigorously enforced until 1944. Public school education played a major role in weakening the traditional culture, as it resulted in many children never learning or even forgetting Cajun French and provided skills and knowledge useful in mainstream society, thus giving younger Cajuns the opportunity for upward socioeconomic mobility. Today, Cajun children attend both public and parochial schools and tens of thousands participate in French-language programs in elementary schools. The rapid growth of the University of Southwestern Louisiana, McNeese State University, and Nicholls State University is evidence that many Cajuns now attend college as well.