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The family myth and falling into the 'nostalgia trap' 24 years later




Cover of Stephanie Coontz's book
Cover of Stephanie Coontz's book "The Way we NEVER Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap".
Perseus Books

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Evergreen State college professor Stephanie Coontz has made a career out of examining the American notion of marriage and family. 

She's researched the topic for years... she's published articles and several books.

Including one which came out in 1992 called "The Way we NEVER Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap". 

In it, Coontz explained why the Leave it to Beaver model - the happy, breadwinning dad, the mom content to stay at home baking and looking after the kids - was never really a workable one. 

She made several predictions about where the future of the American family was headed.

Then, years later, she did what few authors do - she went back and revisited some of those prognostications. 

A new and updated version of The way we NEVER were is out now, and Stephanie Coontz joined the show to talk about it.

Interview Highlights

On getting how she became interested in the field:

"I was very interested in social history and in the late 1960's and early 70's we began to discover that a lot of groups were left out of history: minorities, women...so I began to look at women. And I also began to realize that women and men were in interaction in one fundamental place that was never talked about in history books and that was in the family. So I started researching family history back in 1975 and it really was not yet a respectable field..."

On American culture back in 1992:

"They were predicting in 1992, democrats and republicans alike, were predicting a wave of super predators that would take over the streets of America all because of the breakdown of this so-called traditional family. Well, it turns out that they were absolutely dead wrong. Since 1994 juvenile crime rates have plummetted by more than 60 percent despite the decrease in unwed motherhood...And yet politicians kept grabbing on to the excuse that if we could just go back to these largely mythical 1950's T.V. families, we wouldn't have to adjust our economic and political programs to the realities of the 21st century. "

On the future:

"So when you want to ask, what's going to happen to families in 25 years? I would say it depends on what we do right now. This is not the weather that's going to happen whether you take an umbrella or not. This is, are we going to start supporting families in all their diversity? Understand that they need new support systems such as family leave policies and affordable childcare like every other industrial nation in the world has developed? Or are we going to allow this economic inequality and insecurity to mount and continue to dismantle our social safety nets and that is going to decide what families are like in 25 years."

To hear the full interview, click the blue button above.