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The American Family

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The American Family

The essay "The American Family", written by Stephanie Coontz, takes a historical perspective to examine the contrast between common beliefs about the past and the reality of that time. Furthermore, Coontz analyzes and challenges the conventional view that families today face worse problems than in the past.

According to Coontz, families today face a multitude of problems, arising out of fears about inattentive parenting, teen violence, child abuse, conflicted marriages, and antisocial values. Many families believe that the 20th century represents the worst time ever, and therefore conclude that it is harder nowadays to maintain a healthy functional family.

The reason for such believes developed out of comparing the 1990s with the standard issues of complex and diverse families of the 1950s; a decade when for the first time in 100 years, the divorce rate fell, marriage and fertility rates soared, and the nuclear family was the standard family. Reasons for this change were not that families have changed their values and norms; they had no choice. Through censorship, coercion, and discriminations, families were forced to follow the norms. People with uncongenial beliefs faced governmental investigation and arbitrarily firing. African Americans were prevented from voting, and individuals who did not follow rigid gender and sexual rules were not accepted. In other words, families who maintained the standards did not face those problems. Since we tend to glorify the good things in life, all we like to remember is that things were great. There was the perfect nuclear family; young fathers could receive a college education, and for the first time a majority of men cold support a family and built a stable family life thanks to the GI Bill after the Great depression and World War II.

To compare how bad things really are we have to look back and investigate how families were before the 1950s. Coontz as a family historian describes wonderfully the real facts that help us to understand that our worries today only reflect how much better we want to be, and not how much better we used to be (Annual Editions 4). Some of the facts resemble the problems in America at the 1990s.

Things were much worse at the end of the 1890s. Workers labored 10 hours a day, often six days a week; thousands of children worked fulltime there was little or no time at all for family life.



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