21 January 2017

The Modern Household

Modern developments have undermined the traditional and conservative function of household from both the standpoints of economic and personality formation--or the cultivation of virtue.

Since the time of Aristotle, the household has been seen as the center of economic production. Whether a household lived off the land (in the form of farming, herding, or fishing) or from some type of manual art or craft, the family produced it necessities at home. And for the last 300  years, households have been able to produce beyond a basic level of subsistence. This enabled households to barter or sell for what might be called "luxuries."

With the advent of industrialism and the accompanying modern organization of the workforce, this has changed. Today the family produces its necessities outside the home. Slowly, over several decades of the 19th century, young single women filled the ranks of textile workers while males gravitated to the so-called heavy industries. (At least this is the pattern that emerged in North America.) For the most part, married women still worked in the home. But these days many more married women work outside the home. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the post-WWII decades the participation of married women in the work force rose from about 17% to nearly 70%. How much of this participation reflects an enthusiasm about work or the pressures of economic necessity is anyone's guess. It might depend upon how many women enjoy developing their "careers" versus how many  reluctantly work at their "jobs." In any case, the  modern two wage earning household appears to be more financially prosperous than ever.

It is difficult to measure the trade off -- what has been lost. Obviously parents sacrifice some of that emotional fulfillment derived from shared experiences with themselves and their children. Children lose the same. Moreover, parents relinquish to others that primary and crucial role in the personality formation of their children. Those "others" include family members, neighbors, and complete strangers in the professional daycare business.

The challenges posed by the industrial age to the modern household have been intensified by the hostility to the family manifest in much of progressive social science. Historian and cultural critic Christopher Lasch, his book Haven In A Heartless World surveys the twentieth century history of psychology and sociology in its relentless attacks on the family. With the advent of the industrial organization of the workforce, when men worked outside the home, the household was romantically conceived as a haven from a hostile,  heartless, competitive, outside world of work. It was not a haven from the hostility of professional social science. They despised the human "products" of modern family life and sought to reform it. Progressive social science attacked child rearing practices, traditional family stucture with its stay at home mothers, and even monogamy itself. A anti-family ideology conspired with economic developments to undermine and weaken the contemporary family. Has the 21st century family, armed with professional child rearing advice and "supported" by professional daycare and public schooling done any better than the early 20th century family in the cultivation of virtue and that fundamental function of personality formation?

Given the seemingly intractable social problems largely stemming from the modern household, that is a difficult conclusion to embrace.


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