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HVK Archives: Changes in capitalism render one-earner families extinct

Changes in capitalism render one-earner families extinct - The Times of India

Lester C. Thurow ()
4 February 1997

Title : Changes in capitalism render one-earner families extinct
Author : Lester C. Thurow
Publication : The Times of India
Date : February 4, 1997

The traditional family is disappearing almost everywhere.

Worldwide from 1960 to 1992, births among unmarried mothers doubled for those
20 to 24 years of age and quadrupled for those 15 to 19 years of age. The
United States is far from being the world's leader in this category, ranking
sixth. Divorce rates are rising in the developed and underdeveloped world,
doubling in Beijing in just four years. Female-headed households or
households where females provide 50 per cent or more of total income are
becoming the norm.

The reasons are straightforward. The current economic system is no longer
congruent with traditional nuclear family values, just as the Industrial
Revolution two centuries earlier was not congruent with the then traditional
extended family values.

In America, 32 per cent of all men 25 years to 34 years of age cam less than
the amount necessary to keep a family of four above the poverty line. While
male wages are falling at the bottom, the costs of supporting a family are
rising. Children need ever more expensive education's for ever longer periods
of time if they are to make it in today's global economy. Economically, many
men, perhaps a majority, are being told that they should not plan to have a
family since there is no probability that they will be able to support one.

Women are under enormous pressures because the economy gives them one message
(go to work and make the money the family needs to survive) and old cultural
mores give them another message (stay at home and take care of the children).
They feel stressed because they are stressed.

Today, family members support the family less because it is now much less
necessary to their own successful economic survival. Men end up having
strong economic incentive to bail out of family relations and
responsibilities because they raise their own standards of living when they
do so. Whether it is by fathering a family without being willing to be a
father, by divorcing and being unwilling to pay alimony or child support or
by being a guest worker from the Third World and after a short time failing
to send payments to the family back home, men are opting out. Among families
with dependent children, 25 per cent don't have a male present.

Women get welfare only if no man is present in the home. Children's economic
standards of living are often higher as wards of the state in foster care
than they would be if they stayed in their disintegrating families.

Values follow economic realities. Individual fulfilment now ranks higher
than family in public opinion polls. 'Competitive individualism' grows at
the expense of 'family solidarity'. The ideal is 'choice,' not 'bonds'. In
the language of capitalism children have ceased to be profit centres' and
have become 'cost centres'.

The response quite naturally is to form fewer families and to have smaller
numbers of children. When children do exist, parents spend less time with
them -40 per cent less than they did 30 years ago. With mothers at work,
more than two million children under the age of 13 are left completely
without adult supervision, both before and after school. Effectively, no one
ends up taking care of the children, but they have to be left alone because
paying for day care would use up most of the mother's wages and negate the
whole purpose of her going to work in the first place.

Historically, the single parent has been the norm in no society, but
patriarchal linear life is economically now over. Family values are under
attack, not by government programmes that discourage family formation
(although there are some) and not by media presentations that disparage
families (although there are some), but by the economic system itself. It
simply won't allow families to exist in the old-fashioned way, with a father
who generates most of the earnings and a mother who does most of the
nurturing. The one earner, middle class family is extinct.

Social arrangements are not determined just by economics - there are many
possibilities at any point in time - but whatever the arrangements, they have
to be consistent with economic realities. Changes within capitalism are
making the traditional family less and less compatible with the market.

As a consequence, the family is an institution both in flux and under
pressure. Basic questions about how. the family should be organised have
been put in play by economic reality.

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