A Brief History
Every family has its ups and downs; the American family has booms and bust. Since the economic down-turn took hold in 2008, birth and marriage rates have fallen to all time lows, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This come after 4.3 million babies were born in 2007, the most ever. But while the recent ebb and flow of the American family has followed that of the stock market, the institution has been slowly and steadily evolving since the nation’s founding.
The American Family’s structure in the 1700’s was relatively egalitarian, as both husband and wife worked the farm and large numbers of children were needed to maintain agrarian productivity. The Industrial Revolution was workers begin to migrate to the urban areas, separating work from home for the first time. Children became economic burdens rather than contributors. Wages started rising, and the idea of the man as breadwinner took off.
In the 1930’s, the Great Depression triggered a drop in the birthrate, which picked up again with the onset of World War II. A long period of postwar prosperity resulted in the baby-boom generation, whose nine to five fathers and stay at home moms defined the 50’s. But the feminist movement of the 60’s and 70’s pushed for more women in the workplace and led to an increase in dual income, absent parent families.
Today the nuclear family has largely been nuked. With so many single parent households, gay couples adopting children and women either having fewer children or delaying childbirth, the modern family is all over the place. Recessions have remained the one consistent predictor of American family size, with dips in birth and marriage rates immediately following the 1981-82, 1990-91, and 2001 recessions as well a the current downturn,. But as in the past, a bust will invariably give birth to another boom.