Was the Nuclear Family a Mistake? (Podcast)

Was the Nuclear Family a Mistake? Podcast by John Stonestreet for BreakPoint

GNN Note – hmmm… If this is the case someone needs to President Putin and Prime Minister Orban to eliminate their tax credits for couples having multiple children!


New York Times columnist David Brooks made waves last week with an essay published in the Atlantic. Brooks’ point is simple: What we call “the nuclear family,” a mother, a father, and their 2.5 children, often in a suburban home with a single income, is an invention of the 20th century. It’s not what the family looked like for most of history.

Instead, writes Brooks, humans have typically existed in multi-generational networks of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins supporting one another. The “extended family,” he argues, is the natural family.

The key here is context. Brooks admits the nuclear family has always existed, but without an extended circle of relatives, he thinks it’s unstable. History seems to back him up. The 1950s, he writes, were the “high water mark” of the nuclear family. But as the 50s economy and mass unionization became things of the past, nuclear families fragmented into ever smaller forms, with single-parent homes now being the most common.

Among the important points made by Brooks is that, certainly by the time American culture had absorbed the full impact of the sexual revolution, the American family had already been substantially transformed by industrialization and other forces of modernity, not least of which is the widespread separation of work from home.

Unfortunately, the title of Brooks’ essay is, well, terrible. To lead with “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake” muddies the waters. Even muddier is Brooks’ suggestion that alternative forms of kinship, which he calls “chosen families,” are legitimate replacements for the nuclear family, with the only criteria for their success being that they are chosen.

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