Idealization of the Family / Forecasts for the Future
 
Estimated Number of Printed Pages: 4
 
TOPICS COVERED: It isn't new to idealize the family – or worry that the glory days of the family are long gone. Here are a few quotes that really illustrated that to us, as well as sociologists' responses to this idealization.
 
MEMOS ON RELATED INFORMATION: Is the Family in Decline? (analysis), Is the Family in Decline? (Demographics), Family and Household Demographics
 
Links to Sources for this material are available below. Please also see The Factbook Sources page for further information regarding Factbook sources and their availability.
 
 

PAGE INDEX:

 

SELECTED HISTORICAL QUOTES ON THE STATE OF THE AMERICAN FAMILY

SOCIOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF THE IDEALIZATION OF THE AMERICAN FAMILY

 
 
 
 

SELECTED HISTORICAL QUOTES ON THE STATE OF THE AMERICAN FAMILY

 
 
 
In 1875, the New York Times reported on a minister's lecture. The minister had warned that "The entire moral life of the country and the state of things brought about by our material development of resources, and by prosperous times, the domestic and social ambition which animates our people, the pride of life, the high-living so general, the dangerous competition in business, the corrupting of morals, the seperation [sic] of husbands and wives, the one providing the means, the other spending it to keep up extravagant household expenditure, the separation of children from any knowledge or participation in family life, the early sense of personal importance they imbibe, the gradual weakening of self-denial, the false views of life and character – all these these things were presented as the result of our national prosperity. And it had been asked, How could parents, wearied with business anxiety and social solicitude, have any time for the direct labors and systematic training of their children?" 1.
 
 
 
In 1916, an essayist in Harper's Monthly Magazine wrote on the "Break-up of the Family": “By being freer within matrimony men and women view more tolerantly breaches of the matrimonial code. . . . What English is coming to is to a lesser regard for the marriage bond, to a recognition that people have the right to rebel against their yoke. There totters the family, for marriage is its base, and the more English society receives in its ranks those who have flouted it, the more it will be shaken by the new spirit which bids human creates live together, but also with the rest of the world. Women as kept within the family by threats, by banishment, by ostracism, but now she easily earns forgiveness. . . At the root is a decaying respect for the marriage bond, a growing respect for rebellion. That tendency is everywhere, and it is becoming more and more common for husband and wife to take separate holidays; . . . Late marriages are one of the most potent causes of the break-up of the family, for now women are no longer caught and rushed young; they are no longer burdened matrons at thirty. . . Now men prefer women of twenty-seven or twenty-eighth, forsake the bachfisch for her mother, because the mother has personality, experience, can stimulate, amuse, and accompany. Only the older and more formed woman is no longer willing to enter the family as a jail; she will enter it only as a hotel.” 2.
 
 
 
In 1947, Science Digest asked, “Family Life Ruined by 2000 A.D.?” in an article on sociologist Carle C. Zimmerman’s dire report that the decline of the U.S. family was as serious as it was in ancient (and fallen) Greece and Rome, and that, without steps to stop it, crisis would hit by the end of the century. 3.
 
 
 
In 1947, Senior Scholastic wrote, "Some people would say that . . . everybody looks too happy. They would have you believe that the rise in divorces, juvenile delinquency, and mental cases means that happy families are as extinct as the dodo bird. But there are still many really happy homes in America – and not just in movies or magazine stories." 4.
 
 
 
In 1947, Senior Scholastic wrote, "Over and over again, the case records in family agencies tell this story: many divorces, juvenile crimes, and other family breakdowns could have been avoided if young people were better prepared for marriage." 5.
 
 
 
In 1947, celebrated historian Henry Steele Commager explained that the American family was changing. The chief causes: families were shrinking in size because people were getting married later and are moving to urban environments, while women were having an increasing choice between career or marriage. 6.
 
 
 
In 1947, Life Magazine did a huge feature on "The American Family in Trouble." In the introduction, Life reported: “From such statistics emerges an unmistakable fact: the U.S. family, deep in the millrace of social and technological change, is itself deep in trouble ¶ The root of the trouble is found in another fact: in the last 100 years the pattern of American life has profoundly altered. A century ago the U.S. was largely agricultural . . Life was not always easy, but economic interdependence and common interests formed a hard base for close family unity. But the trustee-type family could not withstand the march of industrialization. Its extra members went packing off to the booming cities to evolve a new family type, the so-called domestic family – smaller, no longer self-sufficient but still closely knit. Instead of making their own shows and soap, individuals found they could buy these things with their high industrial wages and have time left over to develop a variety of social interests both within and outside of the family group. ¶ Today the forces of social change have further broken down the family. It is now tiny – a husband, a wife and one or two children. Its members do little more than sleep and eat together. They buy everything – food, laundry, entertainment – and produce nothing by the money for these purchases. The outward pull of movies, automobiles, bridge clubs, and Elks constantly threatens what little family unity remains. The individual now looks outside his home for his interest. He is atomistic, an individualized fragment rather than part of a unified whole.” 7.
 
 
 
In 1948, a Parents' Magazine essayist/expert wrote, “We have long been hearing critical comments by those who say that American family life is deteriorating. ¶¶ But if we look at the facts care-fully we shall find that there is much more right than there is wrong with the American family. On the whole, the position of the family in our society has grown stronger, not weaker. It is the foundation of our national strength. At this time, when there is so much uncertainty and insecurity on the domestic and international fronts, it should be a source of confidence that we can count upon its soundness and stability.” 8.
 
 
 
Under the headline, "Abolish family?" in 1949, Science Digest wrote, that there had been an international congress of mental health and social scientists. According to Science Digest, “All agree that the family has been experiencing profound changes during the industrial revolution. Big families in which three generations live together under one roof are now disappearing. Urbanized families are now built around the married pairs. Many sociologists here and abroad seem to mistake changing the family for dissolving the family.” “Abolition of the family as an out-worn social unit was seriously recommended by some social scientists at the International Congress on Mental Health at London, while several others weighted the possibility that the family would inevitably dissolve under the pressure of industrial society . . . .” The Digest cautioned, however, “It should be stressed that the great majority of the 2,000 delegates to the Congress strongly favor not only the survival of the family but great social support for it. Some world-minded delegates, however, favor breaking or weakening family bonds, arguing that narrow family loyalties block loyalty groups." 9.
 
 
 
"American Family Is Changing Radically" – article in The Christian Century, in 1959. The cause of this dramatic change? Members of families were living longer: they reported that family units that had been dissolved by the death of one of its members had been cut some 40 percent since 1900. 10.
 
 
 

SELECTED HISTORICAL QUOTES ON THE STATE OF THE AMERICAN FAMILY

 
 
 

SOCIOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF THE IDEALIZATION OF THE AMERICAN FAMILY

 
 
 
In 1969, sociologist Ruth Harriet Jacobs wrote, "It has become a sociological cliche that the dominant and growing American family pattern is nuclear and that the importance of ethnicity decreases as sub-cultures are homogenized into the middle class mainstream. However, because the transition to the nuclear family is still in process, it is important for those studying or work-ing with family to be aware of the pat-terns and tensions of certain transitional, semi-extended families." 11.
 
 
 
In 1998, Donald Hernandez, a former Chief of the Marriage and Statistics Branch of the U.S. Bureau of the Census wrote: “In my analysis of historical census data, I looked at the rise and fall of the ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ families . . . . I characterized Ozzie and Harriet families as those where the father worked full-time year-round, the mother was not in the paid labor force, and all the children were born after the parents’ only marriage. I found that this type of family structure declined and fell before we knew it. It is in fact a myth that the majority of children anytime [sic] since 1940 have lived in Ozzie and Harriet families. For kids born in 1940, only 41 percent were from Ozzie and Harriet families. These figures grew only slightly in the 1950s and 1960s, but never reached 50 percent for newborn children. Today, Ozzie and Harriet families account for only about 15 percent of the family situations of children. So this notion of living in Ozzie and Harriet families maybe [sic] a cultural ideal, but the empirical reality is that it has not been the norm, or the case for the majority of kids any time since the Great Depression.” 12.
 
 
 
In 1992, sociologist Andrew Cherlin explained, “. . .the family values of the 1950s contained elements of a more individualistic ethos that would help transform family life again a generation later. Under that ethos . . . individuals increasingly have sought meaning in life through self-fulfillment and intimacy. The family form celebrated in the 1950s was the isolated nuclear family consisting of only parents and children. It fit the ethos by providing a more private setting for personal life – an escape from grandparents, uncles, aunts, and other kin. As bonds to a wider network of kin weakened, the relationship between husbands and wives became highly charged emotionally and sexually. A person’s satisfaction came from intimate relations with his or her spouse and from the gratification of raising children together. But there is no reason why indiviudalism should stop with the nuclear family . . .Since the mid-1960s, the quest for self-fulfillment and intimacy has taken an even more individualistic tone . . . even if it clashes with the needs of spouses and children and even if it leads to the break-up of a marriage.” 13.
 
 
 
Cherlin further wrote that “. . . the kinds of families the new suburbanites created were unlike the working-class model. The distinctive characteristics of working-class families are greater emphasis on ties to a network of kin, lesser emphasis on marital closeness, adult-centeredness, and higher value on obedience in childrearing. In contrast, the families celebrated in the media and constructed in the suburbs were isolated, child-centered families with a heavy emotional investment in the husband-wife bond. They were breadwinner-homemaker families– the self-sufficient, emotionally in-tense, child-oriented middle-class ideal in which the wife ran the home and the husband earned the money. This was the idea that spread through the suburbs. Attaining this style of family life was the goal of the millions of newly prosperous homeowners.” 14.
 
 
 
He said, “It is still not clear why the breadwinner-homemaker family became such a powerful ideal in the 1950s. Perhaps it was the unattainable style to which many aspired during the difficult years of the depression and the war, and which they rushed to achieve as soon as they had the means to do so.” and, also that, “ . . . the heyday of the breadwinner-homemaker family concealed contradictions that led to its rapid demise after the mid-1960s. At the same time that the media were promoting single-earner family values, more and more married women were taking jobs outside the home.” 15.
 
 
 
Cherlin summarized his analysis by saying: “. . . I argue that the 1950s were the more unusual time, that the timing of marriage in the 1970s and 1980s was closer to the typical twentieth-century pattern than was the case in the 1950s. In addition, the rate of childbearing in the 1960s was unusually high by twentieth-century standards. In some ways the 1970s and 1980s were more consistent with long-term trends in family life than were the 1950s.” 16.
 
 
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1. ________, "Family Life and Training . . . ," New York Times, New York, NY, p. 5 (February 1, 1875). Archived at: http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=82754138&sid=1&Fmt=2&clientId=63432&RQT=309&VName=HNP
2. Walter Lionel George, “The Break-up of the Family,” Harper’s Monthly Magazine, pp. 249-59 (July 1916), 256.
3. ________, “Family Life Ruined by 2000 A.D.?” Science Digest, p. 65 (March 1947).
4. ________, Article, Senior Scholastic, p. 8 (May 5, 1947).
5. ________, Article, Senior Scholastic, p. 8 (May 5, 1947).
6. Henry Steele Commanger, "The Changing American Family," Senior Scholastic, p. 7 (May 5, 1947).
7. ________, "The American Family in Trouble,” Life, Vol. 25, p. 83 (July 26, 1948).
8. Louis I. Dublin, “Look at the Bright Side of Marriage: Some Facts and Figures Concerning American Family Life,” Parents' Magazine, Vol. 23, pp. 11, 68-70 (December 1948), p. 68.
9. ________, "Abolish Family?" Science Digest, Vol. 25, p. 40 (January 1949), pp. 40-41.
10. ________, "American Family Is Changing Radically." The Christian Century, p. 508 (April 29, 1959).
11. Ruth Harriet Jacobs, "Mobility Pains: A Family in Transition," The Family Coordinator, National Council on Family Relations, Vol. 18. No. 2, pp. 129-134 (April 1969), p. 129. Archived at: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0014-7124%28196904%2918%3AMPTAFIT%3E2.0.C)%3B2-Y
12. Donald Hernandez essay in Families, Youth and children’s Well Being, Issue Series on Research and Social Policy, Amer. Sociological Assn., pp. 19-20. (1998)
13. Andrew J. Cherlin, Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage, Revised and Enlarged Ed., Harvard University Press, USA (1992), p. 38. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/067455082X/ref=sib_rdr_dp/104-0887680-4192712?%5Fencoding=UTF8&no=283155&me=ATVPDKIKX0DER&st=books
14. Andrew J. Cherlin, Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage, Revised and Enlarged Ed., Harvard University Press, USA (1992), pp. 36-37. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/067455082X/ref=sib_rdr_dp/104-0887680-4192712?%5Fencoding=UTF8&no=283155&me=ATVPDKIKX0DER&st=books
15. Andrew J. Cherlin, Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage, Revised and Enlarged Ed., Harvard University Press, USA (1992), p. 37. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/067455082X/ref=sib_rdr_dp/104-0887680-4192712?%5Fencoding=UTF8&no=283155&me=ATVPDKIKX0DER&st=books
16. Andrew J. Cherlin, Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage, Revised and Enlarged Ed., Harvard University Press, USA (1992), p. 7. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/067455082X/ref=sib_rdr_dp/104-0887680-4192712?%5Fencoding=UTF8&no=283155&me=ATVPDKIKX0DER&st=books