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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 debates.
In a meticulously researched, balanced account, nationally renowned historian Stephanie Coontz--author of The Way We Never Were-- provides compelling evidence that the structure of the modern family, although much changed from the traditional model, is intact and is actually working better than ever. 224 pp. $40,000 national marketing. Print ads. 5-city author tour. 50,000 print.
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 postWW 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.