Living Alone: The Rise of Capitalism and the Decline of Families

Published on ZNet, by Harriet Fraad, October 14, 2012.

Three books. Three eye-opening accounts of tectonic shifts in American life. And one extraordinary analysis of the intimate connections between the new economy, the political power structure and the historic rise of one-person households … //

… Going Solo: 

“Going Solo” describes the meteoric rise of people choosing to live alone. Today – for the first time since the census began counting in 1880 – more than half of American adults are single. They are tied with childless couples for the distinction of being the most predominant residential type, more numerous than nuclear families with children, multigenerational families, roommate homes or group homes. Manhattan alone is home to a million people whom Klinenberg calls “singletons,” living alone in one-person dwellings. Manhattan is typical of US and European cities. The people living solo are not all old widows and widowers. For the first time in recorded US history, the majority of people that the census refers to as of “prime marriageable age” – 18 to 34 years old – are unmarried and live alone. For younger Americans this does not feel like a radical change. For older Americans it is a sea change … //

… Outsourced:

Arlie Russell Hochschild writes about another new phenomenon, one predominantly experienced by what I would call the top 20 percent of the US population who can afford to pay for personal services Hochschild presents the wide variety of personal services one can buy if one has the means. She points out that this is indeed a capitalist phenomenon happening in the context of frantic work schedules and market solutions. People hire children’s birthday party coordinators, and professional baby naming services. They go to baby farms in India to hire baby bearers who carry US parents’ fertilized eggs to maturity … //

… Coming Apart:

Murray’s book, “Coming Apart,” is very much like Patrick Moynihan’s famous study of the African-American family, “The Negro Family: The Case For National Action,” (1965) – often referred to as the “Moynihan Report.”

Moynihan blamed the dysfunction and male absence in the African-American family on poor work habits, immorality and pathology. In parallel fashion, Murray blames the disintegration of the white working class family on its immorality, loss of religious belief, laziness and lack of discipline. Murray does not imagine any social, economic or political development that may have contributed to causing this behavior, which is a mass social phenomenon … //

… What Happened – A Summary:

Beginning in the 1970s, computers reached a level of sophistication that allowed them to accomplish several goals favorable to large capitalist firms. Computers could and did replace millions of jobs. In just one of infinite examples, computer scanners replaced jobs in taking inventory in retail establishments. Bar codes knocked out millions of jobs.

Advanced telecommunications allowed capitalists to outsource US jobs to Third World workers from China, Bangladesh, etc., whose meager salaries and frightening working conditions were reinforced by police states.

Our compromised unions did not organize to prevent outsourcing. US middle class prosperity was based on wages that were raised in tandem with profits. Capitalists froze wages. Capitalists no longer had to pay extra for American workers in general, and white male workers in particular. They exported jobs abroad, and hired lower paid women and minorities at home.

Financial necessity forced the mass of US women into the labor force. That in turn created extra expenditures for prepared food, cleaning, child care, etc. to substitute for what had been women’s unpaid labors at home. Americans did not enjoy the vacation time, free child care, free university education and free medical care that their socialist compatriots had fought for and won in Europe. All were additional costs borne by individual families.

Men could not bear those costs and support their families on frozen wages. The hegemony of white men was struck a blow. The white middle class was decimated.

The economic model of the wage-earning male and dependent wife and children was finished.

New egalitarian models of relationships were present in family therapy ideology and feminism, however they did not and do not dominate the US romantic landscape.

The social and economic conditions of existence that might have supported egalitarian relationships of equal partners were, and are, not in place. There was and is no free universal child care, health care, maternity and paternity leave, family leave, job security or guaranteed vacation time. Women struggle with double shifts of work in both the marketplace and at home.

Men feel belittled, angry and entitled to more emotional succor to compensate for the financial blows they receive in their work lives. Children are neglected and needy. They demand more time and energy, primarily from their exhausted mothers. Women are deserting men who can no longer provide for their families and yet expect double shifts from their wives. Blue collar marriages blow apart at an unprecedented rate.

The people whose marriages last longer are in the privileged and professional sectors – people who can outsource tasks of domestic and personal life to maids, nannies, daycare and after school programs, summer and vacation camps, restaurants,takeout food, professional laundries, etc.

Outsourcing of tasks deprives well-to-do families of intimate family activities and leaves the majority, who cannot afford such extensive services, both deprived and wanting.

Living solo appeals to millions. The demands of relationships, the rules and expectations of which have changed, are too much to manage. Living alone is the fastest-growing form of household.

Millions of men who have been denied their family wages find refuge for male domination in right-wing anti-woman politics and fundamentalist and Catholic religions with their emphasis on denying women’s independence through anti-abortion and anti-birth control movements, opposing equal wages for women and denying support for raped and battered women.

Other men seek to take back their male power through guns. (None of the explosion of mass killings have been committed by women.) Millions more seek power in heterosexual pornography in which women are portrayed as inviting sexual degradation.

On the other side, millions endorse more support for expanding public services that support families, from schools, food stamps and school lunches to daycare or universal health care.

Each of the three books I discuss, “Living Solo,” “Outsourced” and “Coming Apart,” attests to tectonic shifts in US personal life. All three are silent on the apparition of the looming elephant in the room.

The elephant in the room is the capitalist colossus that has replaced and outsourced decent jobs, cut wages, denied family supports and decimated the US family. Within this disaster, living solo seems preferable. Emotional life is outsourced or neglected and families come apart.

Right-wing ideology has captured Americans who feel that their family lives are looted. The right is the only sector that explicitly, verbally supports the work of raising a family, even though it simultaneously denies financial support to every aspect of family well-being.

The Left has ignored the bleeding US family to our detriment. We have stood outside the personal arena too long. Capitalism and intimate life are intimately interconnected. All three of the popular books I discuss engage the crucial topic of changed personal life, a topic which the Left largely ignores. We will need to address both capitalist plunder and personal life if we want a chance to win.
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Links:

Living Alone: The Rise of Capitalism and the Decline of Families, on truth-out.org, by Harriet Fraad, Truthout, book Review, Oct. 3, 2012;

COMMENT: Living Alone – The Rise of Capitalism and the Decline of Families, on Bowlby Less Traveled, by Rick Leonhardt, October 3, 2012.

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