#132 - The Decline (& Rise) of the American Family
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear." —George Addair
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The American Family and the Pandemic
I don't tend to write political arguments on my blog, and this post isn't meant to be political at all. It is simply a reflection on the decline of the American Family unit over the past six decades.
This week, I wrote a Twitter thread on David Brooks' piece on the crumbling nuclear family. The long-form essay is an absolute masterpiece that explores the causes and consequences of the decline of the nuclear family. David Brooks doesn't mince words:
"The blunt fact is that the nuclear family has been crumbling in slow motion for decades, and many of our other problems—with education, mental health, addiction, the quality of the labor force—stem from that crumbling."
The family structure in America devolved from extended family structures in the late 1800's, to nuclear family structures in the 1950's (on an island without extended family nearby), to a a quarter of households being run by single parents in the 2020's. The disaggregation of the family unit has had severe repercussions in our society, especially among the poorest citizens, including:
- a lack of social interaction for kids with extended family
- a lack of passing on family values
- a lack of intimate relationships for older members of the family leading to elderly loneliness
- a lack of 'extra hands' for working mothers trying to balance work, kids, and a marriage
- frayed marriages because of a lack of help with childcare from extended family, forcing working class families where both parents have to work to balance family, work, and marriage
- depression, addiction, divorce, especially in lower economic status families
- a widening of inequality between upper middle class families who can afford childcare (replaces extended family) and lower class families who can't and either are overworked or decide to split up, to the detriment of the kids
As Brooks illustrates, it truly is a vicious cycle once extended families are unlinked, especially for kids born into single-parent homes:
"If you are born into poverty & raised by your married parents, you have an 80 percent chance of climbing out of it. If you are born into poverty & raised by an unmarried mother, you have a 50 percent chance of remaining stuck."
However, there is a nascent trend since the great financial crisis of young adults staying at home longer, and older adults moving back in with their children:
"In 1980, only 12 percent of Americans lived in multigenerational households. Today 20 percent of Americans—64 million people—live in multigenerational homes."
This has implications for real estate investors and developers in both urban and suburban markets:
"A 2016 survey by a real-estate consulting firm found that 44 percent of home buyers were looking for a home that would accommodate their elderly parents, and 42 percent wanted one that would accommodate their returning adult children. Home builders have responded by putting up houses that are what the construction firm Lennar calls “two homes under one roof.” These houses are carefully built so that family members can spend time together while also preserving their privacy."
My wife and I are in the process of moving closer to family after having our first child. I can't help but think of how many other families with children in big cities have decided, during the pandemic with the rise of remote work, to do the same and move 'closer to home.'
My hope is that with the rise in remote working possibilities and the great dispersion of people heading out of inner cities (mostly temporarily), that many families (single or stable) will chose to permanently relocate closer to extended family members for support and love, which in turn will help keep marriages together and keep kids in a stable home, which will ultimately help build a more stable society altogether.
I'd love to hear from some of my subscribers on what their ideas for solutions are to the problems above, whether they have made family moves due to some of the reasons discussed above, and how these ideas are relevant to their lives.
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