Global Trends and the Family

New “emerging commitment devices” aim to hold society together.  The notion that family structure–replaced through fertility, impacting demography, and influencing society–is a key aspect of global sustainability may seem trite (and tried as well as true) to many.  But David Brooks makes the case that untethered social freedoms have a downside:

My view is that the age of possibility is based on a misconception. People are not better off when they are given maximum personal freedom to do what they want. They’re better off when they are enshrouded in commitments that transcend personal choice — commitments to family, God, craft and country.

The surest way people bind themselves is through the family. As a practical matter, the traditional family is an effective way to induce people to care about others, become active in their communities and devote themselves to the long-term future of their nation and their kind. Therefore, our laws and attitudes should be biased toward family formation and fertility, including child tax credits, generous family leave policies and the like.

via The Age of Possibility –

This argument resonates with me because my first forays into global policy occurred in United Nations conference rooms where the issues embedded in Brooks’ op-ed were dissected and debated.  The issue was nowhere more articulately explained than by the former Democratic Senator, a giant among elected officials–and the type we rarely, if ever see today–was a first-rate scholar who translated deep knowledge into wise policy.  His report, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” stated the problem in context of the US struggle with civil rights, urban poverty, and inequality.  (It made an impact, to be sure.)

The family issue are vitally important to a nation’s health and prosperity.  Consider Russia’s mad dash to increase fertility, Japan’s economic crisis resulting, in part, from declining population pyramids, and other arcane policy issues that shatter societies quietly but severely.

As the Kotkin report notes, the one cited by Brooks in his Op-Ed :

The team that composed this report — made up of people of various faiths, cultures, and outlooks — has concerns about the sustainability of a post-familial future. But we do not believe we can “turn back the clock” to the 1950s, as some social conservatives wish, or to some other imagined, idealised, time. Globalisation, urbanisation, the ascendancy of women, and changes in traditional sexual relations are with us, probably for the long run.

Seeking to secure a place for families requires us to move beyond nostalgia for a bygone era and focus on what is possible. Yet, in the end, we do not consider familialism to be doomed. Even in the midst of decreased fertility, we also see surprising, contradictory and hopeful trends. In Europe, Asia and America, most younger people still express the desire to have families, and often with more than one child. Amidst all the social change discussed above, there remains a basic desire for family that needs to be nurtured and supported by the wider society.

Our purpose here is not to judge people about their personal decision to forego marriage and children. Instead we seek to launch a discussion about how to carve out or maintain a place for families in the modern metropolis. In the process we must ask — with full comprehension of today’s prevailing trends — tough questions about our basic values and the nature of the cities we are now creating.

via The Rise of Post-Familialism: Humanity’s Future?



13 thoughts on “Global Trends and the Family”

  1. Families can definitely serve as incubators for understanding what it means to serve the greater good. Whether it’s helping mom with the dishes or donating an organ to a sibling, most families stress the importance of sharing and putting other’s needs before one’s own. If common fundamental values are taught in homes people can benefit since society is basically a conglomeration of many families. What Brooks says about commitments to family and God really resonates with me. Performing selfless acts of love means putting aside personal differences and grievances for the greater good, and in the “me” generation, these acts could become sparse unless values are established in the home and taught at a young age.

    Here’s a neat website that lists hundreds of statistics dealing with families, particularly children:

  2. To say whether or not the family is in decline depends a lot on your definition of family, but it’s safe to say that the family has gone through so many changes within the past fifty years alone. A report by the Pew Research Center looks at the social and demographic trends affecting marriage and the “new” family (“The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families”: Divorce rates have increased, and fewer and fewer couples are marrying. Cohabitation has grown, competing with the number of Americans who live alone. Gender roles have changed, and the number of stay-at-home dads have risen. Many women regard marriage as a means of trapping them in suppressive roles, and as a result, don’t marry. It was typical for social institutions to take long periods of time to change, but in modern times, we’ve seen dramatic changes on the family, and it’s likely we’ll see the consequences of these changes, whether good (more personal freedoms) or bad (loss of nurturing support units, among others).

  3. Families are the basis of successful government and societal unity. As church members, we immediately learn the importance of the family and its role in our communities and nations. As the traditional family has come under attack, we have been asked to support the traditional family and the blessings that it has to offer. “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” published in 1995, has shared our beliefs with others.

    “WE CALL UPON responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”

    It is refreshing to see that other sources support the family also. Regardless, the family will be under attack as long as “open-minded” individuals continue to stress personal liberty. It is unfortunate how hard it is to prove the effectiveness of the family but as members of the Church we should share with others our beliefs of the family.

  4. One of the best ways, and in my opinion, the correct way for children to learn is in the home. Parents are able to teach their children basic principles, truths, and concepts. A good family unit is able to help further children in their future success by promoting healthy growth, development, educational endeavors, manners, skills, religion, and values. Given, not all homes or parents are ideal, but I would argue that having a good family unit does wonders for a child.


  5. I also agree with this idea. As does Elder Oaks! (See link below.) It’s true what he says about the rising generation of children. Through the family unit, kids will learn important values and principles that will help them become better members of society. We need to recognize the significance of raising children well in order to have an optimistic future for our nation and world.

  6. Unfortunately, our world has changed it priorities. We are slowly shifting to a non-family oriented society. This is caused by what we consider to be of importance in our lives. There are a lot of factors that go into our prioritizing process. It is interesting to look at the latest theories of psychology and compare it to what recent church leaders have used us to do. Much of it relates to Elder Oaks talk. Here is a link to a four step process that was thought up by science
    It relates to the gospel in many different aspects and will create a more family emphasized life.

  7. This reminds me of the movie “A Beautiful Mind” and the theory John Nash creates to attain the optimum result. If you remember with me, he argues that as each individual does the best for himself as well as the best for the group, the optimum result is achieved for the largest amount of people. While personal freedom is critically important, there is also an important place for groups such as the family, religious communities, and nations.

    Here’s an article arguing that the cause behind the decline in Europe is the falling birthrate:

  8. I would like to go out on a limb and suggest that the increasing demand for social welfare programs in our country is an effect of the declining role of the family in society. As less and less people commit themselves to family ties, they turn to the government to fill the need that the family once provided. Also, as people become more and more reliant on the government to fulfill their needs there becomes less and less incentive for them to form a family. Without government safety nets, people would be forced to rely on other people.
    Now, it would be very idealistic and not very realistic to say that people would always be willing to help each other out. In reality, its hard to tell how altruistic the average person is and therefore hard to trust that other people will be there for you. That’s why people like social safety nets, because it is easier to believe that the government will be there for you when you need it, as opposed to other people. The family structure alleviates this problem, though. A stable family teaches commitment and reliance. Part of being a family means that you can rely on each other in times of need. Thus the family assuages those fears and the government safety net is not as necessary.
    Here is an interesting article on how family relationships benefit society.

  9. Senza la famiglia, non c’è vita. Without the family, there is no life. I now speak Italian fluently, but this phrase was one I was familiar with long before I became proficient in the language of my paternal forefathers. I was always taught that the family is everything. Growing up, I thought it was normal to be close to my family, both nuclear and extended. As I gain more experience spending time away from my family, and interacting with those of different backgrounds, I realize that my perception of the importance of family, and what it means, is unique to me; it is not as universally valued, and the article explains this much. In addition, the article, as well as other information I have studied, has lead me to believe that the strength of a nation’s families determines the strength of a nation.
    Efforts to strengthen the family, even through incentives as the article suggests, are investments worth making. I read more about the United Nations’ efforts to strengthen the family and have discovered that there was a year, 1994, dedicated as the “International Year of the Family”.
    The UN website states this regarding the 1994 dedication:
    “Activities for IYF will seek to promote the basic human rights and fundamental freedoms accorded to all individuals by the set of internationally agreed instruments formulated under the aegis of the United Nations, whatever the status of each individual within the family, and whatever the form and condition of that family.”
    This article also discusses future implications of society with respect to its relationship with the family:

  10. As I learn more about poverty, wars, criminality rates and human rights abuse, I see a clear connection between the lack of family structures and those events. Also, in countries were woman are not offered equal opportunities and basic education, the casualties are higher. I know I am being a dreamer, but I have seen how the LDS church has helped individuals in developing nations strengthen their family ties, and how nations have done a poor job regarding this important issue, that honestly, my only hope for those countries, including my own, is the gospel.

  11. I agree that it is in our society’s interest to encourage family formation because it forms a support structure for individuals not otherwise present. And being on your own takes on a different meaning as you age out and become less able to take care of yourself. Few among us relish taking care of our aging parents, but I think it’s hard to argue that the presence of children willing to assume the burden greatly eases some of the strain of old age. All of which ignores the emotional component of belonging, which is probably most beneficial of all.

    But when Mr Brooks proposes governmental policy favoring family formation, I am afraid too many of the single population will view that as discrimination against themselves. Is that really politically realistic?

  12. Not only does the family hold together society, but on the same note, by encouraging values that hold together the family one of which would be waiting to have sex after marriage. A Catholic Bishop brought attention to the issue that the spread of HIV and AIDS is due to premarital sex. By stating how stopping pre-marital sex would decrease the incidence of AIDS. By supporting values that strengthen the family you not only strengthen the moral fabric of society, but you also save lives.

  13. In my anthropology class, we talked about how the Western world has been able to experience so much success is because they have been able to adapt certain institutions, such as work ethic, competition, and the family. that have allowed societies to become dominant. We watched this TED talk in class.

    It offers an interesting perspective on the rise of the Western world, and how the Eastern world is increasing in stature because they are adapting these institutions to their own societies.

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