Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The American Family

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.


  1. Good historical reference, Engineer. That 'bust' of which you speak is a scary time for those who suffer most, whereas it is merely a small bubble for the ones at the top.

    Each time that there was a recovery after other 'busts' the nation grew and prospered even more. This time, however, I'm not sure that history will repeat. Those 'boom' years may not appear for another entire generation or two.

  2. Hello Muddy,
    Hope Springs Eternal. :-)

    That being said, I too am afraid that as it took 10-12 years to get out of the 1930's Depression, our current one could take just as long, plus.

    The Engineering Consulting Firm that I worked for is all but closed its doors with no improvement in site. Those engineers I work with that were laid off still have not found any work after a full year. There were just two left and one just turned in his resignation going to try to go into business himself simply for the fact that he sees the writing on the wall. I had a long conversation with the now one engineer still on staff and he confided that by the first of January at the latest, he too will be laid off.

    All good men, well educated, had been conservative viewpoint Republicans, are now seeing a side and understanding of how good men with no fault of their own, are now wondering how to keep up the house and car payments, trying to support their families. Right wing radio and Fox News TV does not have the same validity as it once did with these people.

    So to look on the positive side, this may be all for a good reason of teaching compassion for others less fortunate today. Seeing how it happened to them, gives them the understanding that not all less fortunate in today’s economic condition may need a helping hand with compassion.

  3. Very good post and it makes us think about what defines a family.
    The genetic history might be one definition, but it is the quality of the relationship, the nature of the relationship which define the unit.
    The nature of what a family might be defined as is a wide definition, defined on a social and personal level, but it is the coherent unit which is essential, the basis of experience, the emotional formation.
    It can be a gay couple, it can be a single parent, it can be an adoptive situation..
    All too often, I see dysfunctional relationships, with in the context of what society defines as "normal". Parents afraid of their children, humans living in the same household but passing like ships in the night from TV to microwave to computer games...leaving parenting to chance.

  4. The Waltons should have practiced birth control.

  5. I have to do an essay on this. D:

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