A historian of the American family debunks the myth that a return
to the so-called traditional two-parent nuclear family can provide
us with an unassailable refuge from the social, economic, and
psychological stresses Americans seem to feel so acutely these
days. The latest book by Coontz, author of The Way We Never Were:
American Families and the Nostalgia Trap (1992), focuses on the
anxieties of contemporary American women and men about their lives,
work, and families, and addresses these fears in the context of
more accurate historical data and the most recent sociological
research. What people really miss about the so-called Golden Age of
the 1950s, Coontz points out, is an economy that supported
unprecedented growth in real wages. We now tend to blame the
instability of families for economic disruptions, when in fact
economic dislocations have undermined our families. Furthermore,
the prominence of the single-breadwinner, middle-class family so
emblematic of post - WW II prosperity was actually a short-term
anomaly in the history of family structure. The changes we have
experienced since the 1970s could even be said to represent a
revival of the role of women as family coprovider, a pattern that
not only served us well in preindustrial times, but may be better
suited to the new postindustrial economy. The burden of housework
and child care falling almost exclusively on women has been the
primary source of recent marital conflict and family stress, and
Coontz points out that the demands of work schedules and the
behavior of most men have yet to acknowledge the inability of
working women to carry all the weight at home. Coontz's
refreshingly grounded perspective encourages the development of a
broader social intelligence that would enable us to move beyond,
for example, simpleminded scapegoating of the single welfare
mother, coming up with social policies that truly assist more of us
in improving our lives. (Kirkus Reviews)
Stephanie Coontz, the author of The Way We Never Were, now turns
her attention to the mythology that surrounds today's family,the
demonizing of untraditional" family forms and marriage and
parenting issues. She argues that while it's not crazy to miss the
more hopeful economic trends of the 1950s and 1960s, few would want
to go back to the gender roles and race relations of those years.
Mothers are going to remain in the workforce, family diversity is
here to stay, and the nuclear family can no longer handle all the
responsibilities of elder care and childrearing.Coontz gives a
balanced account of how these changes affect families, both
positively and negatively, but she rejects the notion that the new
diversity is a sentence of doom. Every family has distinctive
resources and special vulnerabilities, and there are ways to help
each one build on its strengths and minimize its weaknesses.The
book provides a meticulously researched, balanced account showing
why a historically informed perspective on family life can be as
much help to people in sorting through family issues as going into
therapy,and much more help than listening to today's political
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