In the early to mid-1800s, 75% of Americans ages 65+ lived with their children and grandchildren. It wasn’t until recently that the “nuclear family” (defined as a couple + their dependent children) became the dominant household model – many people now live separately and sometimes very far from other family members.
The benefits of living with extended family are clear. Multiple adults means multiple helpers — spreading the responsibilities of childcare, chores, and work across more people. There’s a tangible support system (and “backups”) in case something happens, such as illness, death, unemployment, etc.
But what about the drawbacks?
Well for one: in an extended family, there’s a lot less privacy – and a lot more involvement in each other’s lives. There’s also less mobility (even if it comes with stability). With more people sharing the same space, conflicts can arise. And personal choice sometimes takes a backseat to what’s best for the larger family unit.
During the pandemic, we noticed an interesting trend: an uptick in “communal living.” It wasn’t just the school “pods” that families formed. There was a 15% uptick in the purchase of homes accommodating multiple generations (the largest jump since the Nat'l Association of Realtors began tracking the trend in 2012). Articles were published on the subject, including one op-ed the The Washington Post titled: “The coronavirus might break the nuclear family. That wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
Thinking about family household structure got us wondering …
? Which environment is the “optimal” one: a nuclear family unit, or an extended family model?
? Does Americans’ emphasis on individual freedoms and autonomy make extended family living difficult or even unfeasible ... regardless of the benefits?
? In a society that’s increasingly demanding ... Is the nuclear family untenable? Will we eventually have to move back to extended family households?
Dive in deeper with this fascinating read on the history of the family structure by The Atlantic.
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