A Debate on the Nuclear Family

The author and New York Times columnist David Brooks made waves in the March 2020 issue of The Atlantic, where he argued that “The Nuclear Family Was A Mistake.” Brooks’ argument runs thus: In previous centuries, mankind lived not in nuclear families of parents and children, but in large, extended kin networks. These kin were not necessarily related by blood—some were the people you hunted with, and some were the people you migrated with. Fast forward several thousand years. “Through the early parts of American history,” Brooks continues, “most people lived in what, by today’s standards, were big, sprawling households.”  The Industrial Revolution changed all of that, as individual men and women fled the farm, and their families, to pursue life in the big city. When these men and women formed families, they were not the big, sprawling kin networks of old. Rather, they were nuclear families—two parents, with children.  But the nuclear family, Brooks argues, is “inherently fragile.” It worked briefly, in a historical blip from roughly 1950-1965, but has been falling apart ever since, whereas extended families “have two great strengths.” “The first,” Brooks continues, “is resilience. An extended family is one or more families in a supporting web.” When one relationship falls apart—someone leaves, or divorces, or a relationship is strained—there are grandparents, cousins, uncles, etc. to step in and take care of any children. There are people there to fill the gaps. Brooks continues, “The second great strength of extended families is their socializing force.” Children have numerous adults to look up to for education and moral instruction.  But those families are gone, and the nuclear family is in crisis. What are we to do? Brooks’ solution is “forged families”—“In reaction to family chaos,” he writes, “accumulating evidence suggests, the prioritization of family is beginning to make a co
Please subscribe or log in to read the rest of this content.