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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

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

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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