The future of the American family


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

Related Post Roulette

29 Responses

  1. Avatar Trumwill says:

    Regarding neo-traditional parenting, I think it is to some extent unavoidable. Most couples with children are going to have a primary and secondary career between them. Most of the time it’s going to be the man with the primary career since he doesn’t have his career interrupted by childbearing, but sometimes it will work the other way. In any case, it will be this way in large part because it’s simply really hard to give two careers equal weight.

    I agree with you about single parenting. It’s hard to see how it’s going to be a better option than marriage with a decent man and his children, so I suspect that over time it will merely become a less undesirable second choice. Notions of how women will form coops and rely on extended relatives are not convincingly ideal. Why go to the trouble if men are available?

    Of course, it’s a different story when men are unavailable or utterly undesirable. If this becomes the case in mainstream society, women opting to do this en masse with be a blip in a tidal wave of problematic social change.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      @Trumwill, Re: your last point, this is what I mean by non-traditional family decisions being a reaction to the very traditional family. Those men have become culturally much less desirable. New dynamics are necessary for men to remain ‘marketable’ as it were.Report

    • Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:


      All I can say is that my girlfriends greatest fear is that I will knock her up and then leave her for a younger woman or man.Report

  2. Avatar Bob says:

    “Reihan has a fascinating post….”


    “I think this is especially true of Reihan, whose wonkish blog over at NRO can only be described as a sort of positive conservatism.”

    Well, I guess those big-wet-sloppy-kisses are in order since Reihan helped get you published over at NRO.

    I kid!Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      @Bob, I’ve been reading a lot of Reihan’s Agenda blog, it’s true. I’m on a Reihan Salam kick (but I was before he hooked me up, so there you go…)Report

  3. Reihan’s idea of women choosing to have children outside of marriage seems to conflict directly with some of their claims in Grand New Party. In that book they talked about the stable marriage rate among middle and upper class women who were not getting divorced nearly as often because they have gotten smart about choosing mates.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      @Mike at The Big Stick, I think Reihan’s thrust is that less divorced longer married women in the upper class will make up his “neo-traditional” families while the poorer women and lower middle class women will be the ones choosing to be single moms’ so it’s not quite as contradictory as it appears at first blush.Report

  4. Avatar Mike Farmer says:

    “Well, I guess those big-wet-sloppy-kisses are in order since Reihan helped get you published over at NRO.”

    Networking, baby, that’s the name of the game.Report

  5. Avatar Bob says:

    Mike Farmer, the name of the game might be older than the current networking trope.

    We formerly put it this way, “It’s who you know, not what you know.”Report

  6. Avatar North says:

    I don’t have any problem with Reihan’s initial thesis, it seems possible. I’m waiting to see what his policy prescriptions are before rendering judgment. But at the very least I find it refreshing that so far he hasn’t suggested that battling the tide of freely chosen new marriage norms or trying to turn the clock back to 1950 is something that conservatives should be doing.Report

  7. Avatar vintageaccent says:

    One determining factor is the role of the Federal government and the tax code. The Marriage penalty ‘tax cut’ is due to expire this year. I suspect, based on the reward/penalty split, some couples may choose to live as marrieds, ring and all, but for taxable purposes be single. If there is a ‘stay at home’ parent, this could work to their advantage. Of course, it would make the non-benefits/wage earning partner more vulnerable.

    In general, it might be wise for those studying social trends to evaluate legislative consequences on the groups of interest. The term ‘law of unintended consequences’ comes to mind.Report

  8. Avatar Bob says:

    E.D., I’m implying *no such thing,* I almost added what I’m about to say to the reply to Mike Farmer. So….

    Remember, that old saying says nothing about the person “knowing.” For me it speaks to the closed nature of many systems. To gain entry one often needs a person in power to give a hand up. It would be nice if merit, knowing, were the only requirement for entrance, sadly, it is not.

    E.D., I have many issues with your politics but no issue with your intelligence. A know-nothing??? Sorry, not even close.

    (In any case, I suspect you were teasing with that question .)Report

  9. I agree with what Vintageaccent said “In general, it might be wise for those studying social trends to evaluate legislative consequences on the groups of interest. The term ‘law of unintended consequences’ comes to mind.”Report

  10. Avatar Boots says:

    “I suspect, and it is my hope, that neo-traditional families become the norm, while single-parenting eventually returns to the exception not the rule.”

    Pure wishful thinking on your part, and a cause for celebration IMO. That is never going to happen for the simple reason that societal structures rarely evolve backwards, and the trend toward single parenthood has been skyrocketing since the 1960s. What is more likjely to happen is that society begins to take a more socialist view of whose job it is to raise these children, and we as a people take a more active role in the raising and educating of these children. A village, if you will. The Ozzie and Harriet devotees may not like this and are doing everything in their power to wish it away, but raising children is about to become a community event rather than a family one. In many aspects it alrewady has, and that is what is going to become the norm over time.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      @Boots, oh, I can’t wait. We can finally test out all of my theories on child rearing!

      And if a kid gets screwed up, meh.

      Not my kid.Report

    • Avatar Trumwill says:

      @Boots, putting men in the direct parenting loop has proven to be a godsend for cultural advancement. Parenthood makes mess less reckless, more responsible, and invested in society. This improved behavior has benefitted men, women, and children alike.

      You don’t want to see a culture where men are not invested directly in the family. You can see it in subcultures now. It’s not a pretty sight. And being “invested” merely by providing seeds and paying taxes so that professionals (and mothers) take care of them is insufficient.Report

    • Avatar Bob says:

      @BootsYour comment regarding the village brought to mind the article in the NYT on cyber bullying. It is a clear example of the debate between societal, school, responsibility vs. parental responsibility. A fraught issue, but, IMO, the general question of village involvement is settled. It does take a village. Debate will center on the desirability of of particular of involvement.,Report

  11. Avatar Bob says:

    Here is a take on the village non-question.

    “Ryan and Jethá’s central contention is that human beings evolved in egalitarian groups that shared food, child care, and, often, sexual partners.”

    Shocking! Not so much.

  12. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I look at my circle. Imagine me and Maribou pooling our resources with P&N and A&S. P&N have two kids, A&S are looking after S’s mother.

    Why, if we all sold our houses and bought one of the big houses on Wood Avenue, we’d be able to share child-raising duties, pet care, elder care, house care, and trade off on cooking.

    The efficiency gains would be phenomenal and it’d be good for the kids to have access to not only their parents’ world views, but A&S’s (significantly to the right) and Maribou’s (significantly to the left) and mine (spectacularly nutty).

    Plus we’d have a library of 10,000 books that the kids could use as references for any papers they’d feel up to writing.

    Why, it’d be great for everybody!!!

    Except of course, for all of the things I am sure are going through your head now.

    Which are, of course, the reasons we haven’t done this.Report

    • Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:


      Can you imagine the toothpaste and toilet paper wars?

      Note: the only correct methods are squeeze from the bottom and hanging over.Report

    • Avatar Trumwill says:

      @Jaybird, another factor (beyond “Don’t touch my stuff”) is the inherent instability of these environments. Yes, husbands and wives split roughly half of the time (though I suspect that number falls when there are children involved), but brothers and sisters and grandmothers (not to mention tribal friends) have less connection to the child and far less reason to take that job offer in Toledo or retire to Sunny Arizona. It’s something that people are more likely to do until it becomes inconvenient.Report

  13. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    “Newitz is making a very big leap between point A and point B – between a more empowered female population and an anti-male revolution – and I see very little to suggest that the trends she’s witnessing are anything but temporary.”

    I completely agree. And I’m not sure if one of the comments already mentioned this, but if nothing else, the “extended family” of second generation single mother families would seem hardly able to take care of the rest of the family.

    That is, if a mother has a child, or two, and her family (I would assume largely mother and father, as well as maybe a childless sister/brother) helps her in raising these children, while she works 40 hours a week, what will happen when one of her two children, likely a girl, then wants to do the same? Won’t her “extended family” consist of a mother, and uncle/aunt?

    As a child who grew up seeing my parents transition from taking care of their children to their parents (as they aged), it seems hardly possible that such a diluted family structure could be anything but temporary.Report