Wednesday, January 04, 2006

National Greatness and the Ecology of Families 3 - What are Strong Families?

I have been arguing that the social ecology favors strong families. So what do I mean by strong families? This is what I think:

• The normal form of a strong family is a married man and woman raising their own children.

• The normal functional system of a strong family has clear boundaries around the marriage, around the parent-child bond, and around the whole family. The parents are demanding of their children, and also responsive to them. The family has clear rules, but can be flexible in applying them without undermining the system. The children honor their parents, while maturing into independence from them.

• The normal division of labor of a strong family changes over the life course. When the children are small, the most likely arrangement is that the father works to support the family, and the mother takes primary care of the kids and the home.

This ideal type can be approximated successfully in a variety of ways. I believe, though, that this strong family form is rooted in human nature and biology. It does not change.

Social demography, though, does change. The proportion of families that approximate this ideal ebbs and flows. Strong societies can also tolerate a variety of other family forms, many of which can be good enough.

As I argued yesterday, social classes which want strong families and have a large proportion of them will rise in the ecology of society. Classes based on other family forms can get by, more or less, but they will be at a disadvantage in the medium run, and seriously handicapped in the long run.

The proportion of strong families varies in each class. The proportion of strong families in society as a whole also ebbs and flows. Some people argue that the picture of the strong family that I have outlined, which is a very traditional kind of family, is now a minority form in the United States. I dispute this contention.

Most people want to marry for life and raise their kids.

Most people get to marry for life and raise their kids.

The married couple with their own kids at home are now a minority of households. However, many of the other kinds of households are just nuclear families at a different stage of the life cycle. When you add up all the families with a strong form, you get to a majority.

It is impossible to say what proportion of all families have a strong form and a strong functional system and an effective and flexible division of labor. That ideal is, indeed, likely to be enjoyed only by a minority. But that happy minority will, I argue, be disproportionately found in the rising classes.

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