Dissolving Nuclear Households

With the frustration and expected fervor about the reversal of Roe v. Wade, there have been several conversations about the nation’s commitment to nuclear family households. Coupled with visual aids like “Leave It to Beaver,” “Dennis the Menace,” and several other sitcoms, people have been socialized to believe that nuclear households were the only healthy way to live. Such a mindset has led to people even concocting a myth about a brothel law prohibiting more than three women from living together–which is what my potential roommates and I were told in 2001 when we wanted to share an apartment as four women. Additionally, occupancy ordinances limit the number of people who are allowed to inhabit different multifamily units, such as apartment complexes, which further exacerbates the housing crisis and raises the cost of living for most people. I would argue that not only is the nuclear family an obsolete concept due to changing social norms, but because such an arrangement puts more strain on people in an increasingly unequal world.

In a number of nuclear households, everyone is on the same schedule. While that seems ideal, one should consider that a household where everyone comes and goes at the same schedule is a lovely target for theft. Moreover, people who drive constantly complain about traffic; in households where people are on different schedules, residents can share cars and reduce consumption, especially if one resident works from home. For households with children, there is always a tension around childcare because schedules have to be adjusted to accommodate additional lives. While multigenerational households may be beneficial for some with health family dynamics, living with someone who works at night can ease the expectations and allow people to more evenly distribute the household labor.

Moreover, when people live in non-nuclear households, they are exposed to different lifestyles. One of the most thoughtless phrases that people often say when learning about violent acts at night is, “They should not have been going around at night.” First of all, that implies that people who commit violence have more of a right to exist at night than people who are simply living their lives. Secondly, that negates the entire expectation of night life that most people have. Should bartenders and performance artists be forced to contend with violence when the sun has yet to rise but venues have already closed? Should movie theatres shut down when the sun sets? Should stock workers be forced to accept violence after making sure consumers have the goods we need? Finally, demanding that service workers own single-occupancy vehicles to avoid the “dangers” of night ignores how little most service workers make, and how much of an additional burden that expectation adds.

As society ventures into the future, we will have to examine whether clinging to certain stereotypes is more beneficial or harmful to establishing a more sustainable society. Yes, there have been nuclear families, but the pressure has now become too great to bear. We will have to start configuring households that accommodate the changing times without exacerbating inequality, and learn to have fewer expectation about how people live.

* Thank you for your patience. I have been working on research, but will return to the previous posting schedule in November.

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