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s an image that has been etched in our minds. A family is a married married couple with two and a half kids oh great dad yeah. Great yeah.
But only a minority of american families are traditional two parent nuclear families. Were in a moment of cultural lag. We have a an old archaic idea what family is it existed in this one freakish moment of history between 1950 and 1965.
So how did the nuclear family fail. And what do modern families actually look like this is david brooks. He wrote this atlantic cover story about the history of the family in america through most of history.
As family was an economic unit. It was for making the farm work in 1875 percent of american workers were farmers and most of the other 25 worked in small family businesses in the south of course slavery separated. Many black families.
But across most of society people lived in big extended families there were uncles nieces nephews around if a relationship failed if somebody died there were plenty other people to pick up the slack during the victorian era.
The family reached its peak in the us and britain. I hope you are behaving. Very well the number of people who lived in extended families was higher in the victorian era than ever before or ever since the world that people had known was falling away and they felt not only economically under threat.
They felt morally. Under threat. So the extended family functioned as a moral unit in it children were taught right from wrong and traditional values were preserved.
Then as factories opened in big us cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries young people left home to chase the american dream. The families they started were nuclear families by 1960. The nuclear family dominated nearly 78 percent of children were living in one you had what they called a cult of togetherness.
There was tremendous social pressure to live in one of these nuclear families. But the conditions for its success were very particular to the post war era. Everything conspired to make the nuclear family stable and possible wages went way up.
So you had men who could have a single earning household women were relegated to household you had high union membership high church attendance high social trust.
These independent people spend the profit from their labor to maintain the highest standard of living in the nation by 1965. That was over and the stable cultish nuclear families of the 1950s have been replaced by the distressed families of every decade since over the past half century. The share of people living alone in america.
Has doubled people are marrying later and divorcing more the general fertility rate is dropping and the stress from this change has fallen disproportionately on less affluent households who must perform all the work that was once done by members of an extended family this burden isnt evenly distributed women still spend significantly more time on housework and childcare. According to recent data affluent people can afford to buy extended family the switch from an extended family who detached nuclear family has been great for those who are privileged. Its given us way more freedom.
Its been sometimes cataclysmic for those who arent but around the globe 38 percent of people still live in extended family units in. Gambia the average household size is 137. People in mexico.
Many live within kinship groups of up to 70 people there are disadvantages to the extended families of the past sometimes youre never alone you dont get a lot of privacy and in the old days. One of the disadvantages of extended family. The women were stuck in the kitchen cooking for 25 people.
And so they have real downsides.
The most interesting trend of the past few decades is the creation of chosen families. And this phenomenon really came to prominence in the 1980s in san francisco. In the gay and lesbian community.
People who have been cast adrift by the breakdown of the nuclear family. Theyve lost touch with one or both parents and theyre sort of floating and they come together and say you know well be a family together a chosen family can help to share the challenges and the rewards of modern life and make it more equitable. We need to extend love to others.
And if we dont have a chance to do that something goes really wrong. A family is a place where you offer care you offer unconditional love. The bond between you is no longer transactional.
No longer even voluntary and were seeing that spread not just in biological ways. But a non biological ways too its one of the more hopeful things i see in society hi. Its david brooks thank you for watching and i hope you read my piece and if you want to experience other fine conversations of this sort go to youtube and subscribe to the atlantic channel and do it right away.
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