Mead on Nuclear Families

Margaret mead, a very recognized anthropologist for her works on gender roles across cultures, is also considered an expert when it comes to families.

In an exclusive interview from 1963, Mead is asked a series of questions relating to the nuclear family in the United States and how is it changing. Margaret Mead’s insight in the subject is remarkable, and it is worth looking at it in order to have a better understanding about the demographics of the current family structure of the United States.

In 1963, families were already changing. Women were struggling keeping up with the housework, and a job outside of home. According to Mead, during this time “Today’s American mother is one of the hardest-worked women in history”. Yet, families were, for the most part nuclear, meaning a married couple, with children. When Dr. Mead was asked what was happening to the the family life in the United States, why was it changing, she replied:

”No society that has survived has ever been quite like ours today. Ours is made up largely of isolated families. The children are totally dependent on their fathers and mothers, with no other relatives to fall back on, or neighbors, or anybody. Yet we are coming to think that the only form of possible life is this kind of “nuclear” family. That could be dangerous.”

Could she be right? After more than 40 years from the time this interview took place, according to Kimmel, less than one out of ten families looks like the normative nuclear family from the 1950’s (149). When Mead was asked why many women look for a job outside of home, when household chores are tiresome, she replied “I think that the first thing we want to realize is that most working mothers are working because they have to keep up with the standard of living we’ve set up today.” Which can be completely relevant to this year, 2012.

Dual-earning families are increasing rapidly. I genuinely agree with Dr. Mead when she said that women look for another job to keep up with the living standards. Women, nowadays are waiting to get married and have children. However, the pressure to have a nuclear family is basically everywhere, from children’s cartoons to adult TV programs.


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