The Multiple Possibilities of Decency

Family and Society in American History

by Steven L. Schlossman

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Text of a speech which discusses the American family, determining its health by placing it in historical context. The family is not, as experts have maintained, in decay. Certain recent assumptions — that extended, not nuclear families were previously the norm, and that black families lack traditions because of their slavery background — are false. While no longer the "little commonwealth," the family remains a significant socializing institution. Each generation perceives itself "in crisis" and exaggerates the extent: while the divorce rate is alarming, it has seemed so for generations; and the current single-parent families are not vastly different from those resulting from parental death last century. Marriage is changing, but not disintegrating; more people get married now, and more marriages produce children. To overcome pessimism and frustration, we should approach child rearing open-mindedly, with respect for American pluralism. The American family is a resilient institution presently evolving in ways that permit optimism.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation paper series. The paper was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1948 to 2003 that captured speeches, memorials, and derivative research, usually prepared on authors' own time and meant to be the scholarly or scientific contribution of individual authors to their professional fields. Papers were less formal than reports and did not require rigorous peer review.

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