The Family in America:

Retrospective and Prospective Exactly thirty years ago, I wrote and saw published my first substantive essay on the family crisis in modern America.[1] I had recently completed my doctoral dissertation, which had investigated the origins of family policy in Sweden during the 1920s and 1930s.[2] A National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, provided through the American Enterprise Institute, represented an opportunity to apply aspects of my Swedish analysis to family trends in America. There was, to be sure, much to be troubled about in 1979. My essay noted that the divorce rate had risen by 150 percent between 1958 and 1974, with the number of annual breakups reaching one million, and affecting well more than that many children each year. The marriage rate remained reasonably high at 10.6 marriages per 1,000 persons as of 1980, close to the record of 10.9 set in 1972. However, the fertility rate (births per 1,000 women, ages 15–44) had tumbled almost in half from the postwar high of 122.7 in 1957 to the postwar low of 65.0 in 1976, bringing a stunning end to the “Baby Boom.” The proportion of illegitimate births, as a percentage of live births, had reached 17 percent in 1974, double the figure for 1960. Nearly 18 million children lived in one-parent homes during 1977, up from 9 million in 1960. My essay noted the spate of expert attention given to these signs of family strain. Recent reports had come from the Carnegie Council on Children, the National Commission on Families and Public Policies (a project of the National Conference on Social Welfare), and the Advisory Committee on Child Development of the National Research Council. They shared common traits. Describing causes, they all tended to indict the “American myths”—as one document put it—of family independence, personal responsibility, economic growth, and laissez faire. They faulted the rigid American family model of a breadwinning father and husband married to an
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