The student news site of Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago, Illinois.

BEACON

The student news site of Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago, Illinois.

BEACON

The student news site of Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago, Illinois.

BEACON

Purchasing Pressure this Valentine’s day: How much should you really spend?
Cupid’s Advice

Cupid’s Advice

February 20, 2024

Teammates to Friends: How Sports Foster Human Relationships

Teammates to Friends: How Sports Foster Human Relationships

February 20, 2024

How Much Does a Relationship Really Matter?

How Much Does a Relationship Really Matter?

February 20, 2024

Whitney Young Teacher Appreciation

Whitney Young Teacher Appreciation

February 20, 2024

What Not To Get on Valentine’s Day

What Not To Get on Valentine’s Day

February 20, 2024

Mary and Joseph: A History of the American Family

Mary+and+Joseph%3A+A+History+of+the+American+Family

Every year around the holiday season, there’s a lot of emphasis on family.  People gather with loved ones to celebrate, family reunions are hosted, and Bing Crosby sings, “I’ll be home for Christmas.”  However, the typical Christmas advertisement of a Dad, Mom, 2.5 kids, and a dog might not be as representative of American families nowadays; American families average 0.78 children, nearly a quarter of American children live with only one parent, and about 40% are born out of wedlock.  And, according to the New York Post, the average family spends only 37 minutes of quality time together per day.  All of this makes the classic “average American family” not so average. But how did we get here?

In America’s early pioneer and colonial days, the economy was mostly agriculturally based.  In 1790, 90% of Americans were employed in agriculture.  This meant the average American family lived on a farm, working together, playing together, and eating every meal together. Typically, neither the father and mother worked away from home, and the children, the average number being seven, all pitched in.  In a much less transient culture, extended family usually didn’t live far, playing a bigger role in each other’s lives, and it was not uncommon for grandparents, aunts, or uncles to live with the family, especially if they were of a lower class.  

This all changed with the industrial revolution, as America’s economy shifted from agricultural to industrial. With railroads beginning to connect the country, long distance movement became much more possible.  As people moved away from their families, each nuclear family became less connected with extended relatives.  For the first time, most American fathers left the home to provide for their families.  For poorer families, the mothers and children sometimes had to leave the house as well to work in the factory to make ends meet.  However, later laws prohibiting child labor and then ones mandating childhood education transferred the kids from the factory to the school.  Remember the lyric from “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” “Mom and Dad can hardly  wait for school to start again?”  

Additionally, with the formation of labor unions and the subsequent rise of white collar workers, the industrial revolution saw the formation of America’s middle class.  Here, the father left home and went to work all day, the role of the “stay at home housewife” was born, and the children, typically two, went away to school all day. This family structure, peaking in the 1950s-60s, is what is now commonly visualized as the “perfect American family.”  

Women entering the workforce in the 1960s, along with advancements in contraceptives, have caused the changes to this structure that we see today.

I’m not advocating against children going to school or for wives staying at home, and I’m not saying we should all go back to the dark ages.  However, the family structure is as important now as it has always been.  This holiday season, keep in mind how much technology has changed the family, both for better and for worse, and how it can do it again. 

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Lucile Carter, Features Editor

Comments (0)

All BEACON Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *