SL 684

I feel the need to redeem myself with some fun links, after that last post.

We’re going skiing in Vermont this weekend, so I’m ordering some new boots.

Steve read my old post, Blogosphere 2.0, that showed up automatically at the bottom of a more recent post. He thought it was an interesting snapshot of the Internet ten years ago.

On my reading list for later, David Brooks article in the Atlantic about the nuclear family.

Dan Drezner on the Donald Trump.

New Hampshire predictions?

22 thoughts on “SL 684

  1. As I pointed out on Marginal Revolution, it simply isn’t true that people in Western Europe or North America lived in extended family settings at any time during the past 400 years. Any number of social historians (e.g., Wrightson, Demos) have studied this issue and they are pretty much unanimous on that point.

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    1. y81 said, “As I pointed out on Marginal Revolution, it simply isn’t true that people in Western Europe or North America lived in extended family settings at any time during the past 400 years. Any number of social historians (e.g., Wrightson, Demos) have studied this issue and they are pretty much unanimous on that point.”

      You mean U.S./Canada North America? Technically, there are a number of countries in North America outside of the U.S. and Canada that the extended family model might fit better:

      https://www.countries-ofthe-world.com/countries-of-north-america.html

      With regard to Western Europe, you’re mostly right, although I have to mention that it’s a very specific definition of Western Europe:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_European_marriage_pattern

      “The Western European marriage pattern is a family and demographic pattern that is marked by comparatively late marriage (in the middle twenties), especially for women, with a generally small age difference between the spouses, a significant proportion of women who remain unmarried, and the establishment of a neolocal household after the couple has married. In 1965, John Hajnal discovered that Europe is divided into two areas characterized by a different patterns of nuptiality. To the west of the line, marriage rates and thus fertility were comparatively low and a significant minority of women married late or remained single and most families were nuclear; to the east of the line and in the Mediterranean and particular regions of Northwestern Europe, early marriage and extended family homes were the norm and high fertility was countered by high mortality.”

      (There’s a map showing the cut-offs–this version of Western Europe is missing Ireland, parts of Spain, parts of Italy and some other stuff.)

      But quibbling aside, you’re right and Doug will be very happy to learn that David Brooks is wrong about something!

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  2. Bonus snark:

    Why can’t it be like it used to be in the old days, an extended family with a guy and his first wife and their kids and the guy’s former research assistant second wife?

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    1. Yes, I had that thought as well. And, an added snark of wondering whether Lisa Gottleib’s advice column, about the man who wanted to leave his wife for his colleague (who was Rocky Road ice cream after his plain vanilla wife) was Brooks. He wasn’t, since he was planning on leaving a pregnant wife, but, it sure sounded like he could have written the letter.

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  3. I did not think the Brooks article had anything interesting to say. It was classic Brooks in shaping the facts to build the thesis. And I hate that. Truly believe that you have to understand the facts and the story they tell (that’s hard enough, even when you try).

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    1. bj said, “I did not think the Brooks article had anything interesting to say. It was classic Brooks in shaping the facts to build the thesis. And I hate that. Truly believe that you have to understand the facts and the story they tell (that’s hard enough, even when you try).”

      This bit was good: “We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families,” but he’s not the ideal messenger.

      “We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children.”

      Or, alternately, better for adults who want to be kids forever, and worse for adults who want to raise kids.

      I read or skimmed the whole thing. Wow, it got weird toward the end!

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  4. Oh and one of my favorite things to do is to occasionally read the “related” posts that appear. I read one in your “what are you doing over the weekend” post, and read a decade+ old post that J was having a birthday party and read in my comment we had two birthday parties to attend (and I was wondering where all the free time had gone). We have some of that free time back.

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      1. y81 said, “LOL. Yes, we have more free time now, at least on weekends, with no soccer or basketball, no birthday parties, etc.”

        Track season is about to wreck my spring.

        EVERY single week of practice is different, they’re doing practices both at school and at a stadium across town, and the schedule interacts unpleasantly with our existing commitments. I’m for real concerned that I’m going to misplace our track kid, what with all the coming and going.

        Our track kid is the 9th grader, so we may well be doing this every year until 2023. (We’ve never done high school sports before, as our 12th grader is a music-and-art kid.)

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  5. I’m not sure if you guys made it to the end, but it got kind of weird at that point.

    Brooks (after chronicling the decline of the biological and marital family) was effusing over various hippy-dippy permutations of the “chosen” family as a replacement. I cannot really do justice to this section. Suffice it to say that (while there are individual exceptions), on average, a person who lacks close relationships in their biological family, has no spouse or significant other, has no children, and is not friendly with any neighbors is unlikely to be able to be able to forge lifelong supportive friendships-of-choice. You move, they move, etc. Also, I have to point out that if all of the friendships are within the same generation, they have limited value going into old age. You need YOUNGER (or at least much healthier) friends.

    My grandparents had lots and lots of friends as young parents and middle aged people. However, they outlived almost every single one of them. Now that my grandma is 94 and a widow, it’s kind of important that she’s got several kids and a bunch of grandchildren.

    Friendship is great! I love friends! But it’s a partial solution.

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    1. Yes, my father is now 87. Most of his friends (and his wife) are dead, others moved away, neither he nor his remaining friends are all that mobile, and he only has two grandchildren, one of whom lives in Florida. I worry (idly) about who will come to his funeral. Fortunately for him, there is a severe man shortage as you get past age 65, and my father (somewhat unusually among older men) likes to dress up, go out to dinner, and even go to the ballet, and he has the money to pay for such things, so he doesn’t lack for female companions 10 to 20 years younger. But a woman would be in a more difficult situation.

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  6. I slogged through the babble. His arguments are specious. In no particular order.

    I loathe people who try to anchor a factual argument in fiction. Worse yet, in film. That’s a fictional world, created to present a time-limited entertainment. I’ll see your Avalon, and raise you King Lear and Bleak House.

    Now, I may have reacted so badly to the Brooks Nostalgia Cloud, because all my female ancestors tried to pare cooking down to its minimal roots. Being trapped in the kitchen was not a thing. They chose recipes for the least effort possible. I remember pressure-cooked peas, because that was a bit faster. Otherwise, they might be found in the kitchen looking for a martini olive.

    I’m not sure why one must assume that the extended family no longer exists. It does, but smaller families mean there are fewer aunts, uncles and cousins to go around. Female control of conception is a good thing, but it does change social practices. There is nothing degenerate about deciding not to have children; given the choice, many women in previous generations would have decided to remain childless & do other things. From our family stories, the aunts and uncles were fairly terrifying beings.

    As to the decreasing number of families, and more people living alone, in 1900 a white male’s life expectancy was 47. In 2000, it was around 75. If you are lucky, your grown children move out, and you can find other things to do. I enjoyed looking at these population pyramids: http://vis.stanford.edu/jheer/d3/pyramid/shift.html. Many widows and widowers live alone, after their spouse dies. That’s why we buy life insurance.

    As to families, for about 30 years, the array of family structures children under 18 live in has remained relatively constant in numbers: https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/demo/tables/families/time-series/children/ch1.xls. About 70% of children live in 2 parent families. That number has actually increased a bit since 2006.

    I’m also not convinced that substance abuse stems from the nuclear family. correlation, causation… If you want to destroy your marriage and relations with your children, substance abuse will do the job.

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    1. Cranberry said,

      “I loathe people who try to anchor a factual argument in fiction.”

      That’s totally fair–especially as the picture he describes was pretty atypical in the 1960s.

      “Now, I may have reacted so badly to the Brooks Nostalgia Cloud, because all my female ancestors tried to pare cooking down to its minimal roots.”

      That is the way of the Northern WASP! *fistbump*

      “Otherwise, they might be found in the kitchen looking for a martini olive.”

      Hee!

      If you haven’t read it already, you should read “WASP, Where Is Thy Sting?” in the Florence King Reader. She has an excellent comparison of the 1970s Northern “High WASP woman” (your people) and the 1970s Northern “Low WASP woman.”

      “I’m also not convinced that substance abuse stems from the nuclear family. correlation, causation… If you want to destroy your marriage and relations with your children, substance abuse will do the job.”

      It’s also true that Americans used to drink really, really hard.

      https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31741615

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      1. Here is Florence King’s fictional version of the 1970s High WASP grocery list:

        –Alpo
        –9-Lives
        –Harper’s
        –tomato juice
        –Worcestershire
        –Tabasco
        –vodka
        –food

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      2. Well, I would call them urbanites, knowing the particulars. They can/could cook about 8 dishes, and had practiced each to the point they did not need a cookbook. There’s no clutter in the cabinets when you always cook the same thing. Today, I’m sure they would enjoy Uber Eats and Seamless, as their descendants do.

        Where in the world does “Northern” begin? Having looked at Florence King’s essay, it seems to me that what she dubs “High Wasp” is kind of Connecticuty, and the “Low Wasp” is more Ohio-ish.

        No doubt they’ve retired and moved to Florida.

        But really, the argument kind of jumps around in a rosy-tinted past. Are we looking back with fondness to 1850? 1920? 1960? Is there any evidence Americans were community-spirited at some point, before they became individualists trapped in the nuclear family? As far as I can tell, my Puritan ancestors were really in to enforced community activities, (see Albion’s Seed), but their wills left items to their nuclear families. It might be confusing, as many of them had 10 to 20 children, so one might think they were extended families.

        “It’s also true that Americans used to drink really, really hard.” They still do, given that safe, clean water is now freely available. Adding cars to the mix makes drinking a more dangerous pastime.

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      3. Cool data site with pretty graphs! Interesting to see the convergence (though the range they are showing the data over also have a lot of other underlying trends). The drop in reported consumption in Italy & France since 1960 is pretty dramatic. I am inclined to wonder whether the 1960 reports would be influenced by the willingness of people to reveal their consumption in the US v in France/Italy.

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      4. Hmh, data seems to come from expenditures and “recorded by national governments”, so not self report. You can read the paper!

        Do people think that Brooks reads the papers?

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      5. Cranberry said, “Where in the world does “Northern” begin? Having looked at Florence King’s essay, it seems to me that what she dubs “High Wasp” is kind of Connecticuty, and the “Low Wasp” is more Ohio-ish.”

        I grew up with a (lower-income) High WASP mom who was from rural Eastern WA, but my grandma (who grew up in the South and Midwest before moving to WA) was definitely Low WASP. There are some differences from Florence King’s description, but also a lot of eerie similarities. (Florence King herself was a Southern WASP.)

        It is hard to say where the line is, but Southern WASPs are very distinct from Northern WASPs. For details, see “Southern Ladies and Gentlemen” or “Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady.”

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  7. The Institute for Family Studies has had a bunch of pieces on Brooks’ article. Here’s one:

    https://ifstudies.org/blog/when-wants-conflict-with-needs-a-response-to-david-brooks

    “Brooks acknowledges the benefits of two-parent families and of marriage, refining his focus from the sweeping accusation of the title to detached nuclear families. Disconnection and isolation are his real targets. To me, the nuclear family seems like a passenger along for the ride in a car leaving the scene of the crimes Brooks describes—when the car is driven by us. By us, I mean most of us, motivated by our desires for autonomy and freedom.”

    “I remember being in a room of scholars 20 or more years ago when family historian Barbara Dafoe Whitehead argued that much of the increase in family fragmentation then observed was driven by growing affluence. She was not referring to wealth inequality but to the growing affluence across America that gave wings to autonomy. Brooks points to how many fewer elderly Americans now live with kin than in the past. An unasked question is, how many elderly Americans want to have less autonomy and live with their kin?”

    Indeed. Getting grandma out of her house is one of the classic family struggles.

    I would also point out that a lot of disconnected older people are reaping what they have been sowing their whole lives.

    “Not everyone wants marriage, and fewer adults than ever before desire to be parents, but those with the best options seem to be the most likely to choose a marriage-based, nuclear family. As Cherlin suggests and Brooks implies, this fact is becoming a multiplier of income and wealth inequality, but I do not think that having fewer nuclear families is going to lead to having more extended families with connections.”

    Nobody has mentioned this, but something I’ve seen from afar is that social media is an extremely effective social capital solvent, even (or especially) in small towns. On the one hand (used carefully), it can connect people, but on the other hand, a lot of fights happen that never would have happened otherwise and social media makes them more permanent. Everybody can see your fight with your small town sister-in-law, your wife’s passive aggressive comments to you, Uncle So-and-So’s poorly thought-through political ideas, etc. My sister recently reported a social media fight involving our aunt, her daughter, my high school English teacher, and my former creative writing club teacher. (Long story–you don’t want to know.) Social media makes people hate each other who should be helping each other in real life.

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