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Capitalism and the Family - St. Lawrence University

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Steven HorwitzIHS: Morality, Capitalism, and FreedomSummer 2010
Capitalism and the Family
Opening Thoughts
A history of the evolution of the family in which capitalism is the source of desirable changes in the direction of more freedomLeft: family freedom good, but capitalism notRight: capitalism good, but family freedom notWhy not celebrate both?Two opening claims:No such thing as the “traditional family”The multiple meanings of “normal family”Function and form
The Modern and Pre-Modern Family
The modern familyMarital choice by consent and emotional/romantic attractionThe family as a private, insulated spaceChildren treated sentimentally and uniquely valuedLegal equality and more economic equality between gendersThe pre-industrial familyFamily as the unit of production not consumptionThe household is the firmFamily is also a political unit
Why was this “pre-modern?”
Arranged marriages – and even where it was consent, it was not about love“Yoke mates rather than soul mates”Production complementarities not consumption onesWomen were effectively chattelChildren were economic assetsLarge family size, high infant mortality ratesFamily was porous to the public and not privateChurch, state, and community involved in marriage, adoption, and sexualityNo divorce
Capitalism creates the modern family
So what changed the pre-modern family?Capitalism:Industrialization and the advent of wage laborHigher incomes due to economic growthSeparation of market and household productionHigher wages mean child labor eventually disappearsChildren go from directly producing assets to investmentsThis means they become expensiveChildhood becomes the “sheltered childhood” we now knowFamily size begins to shrink even as infant mortality drops
Changes in marriage
With families having more wealth:The state, the community, the church and even parents are pushed backMarriage is a matter of choice and affection not economicsConsumption complementarities matter more than productionWe get the “nuclear family” we now knowThe “separate spheres” of the Victorian EraBy early 20thcentury, women begin to enter labor force in clerical/service jobsHigher incomes mean more education for boys AND girlsWe more or less now have the modern family
The 20thcentury
Key event: the steady increase in women’s labor force participation ratesMyth: the 60s “caused” married women to start workingIf anything, women working caused the women’s movement!The Pill is more importantSince the 60s: rise of working moms with very young kidsWhat led to more women working?Higher wages that drew them out from the homea consequence of more education that raised their human capitaland higher demand for labor resulting from economic growth that raised the value of that human capital
Women, Market Work, and the Family
Changes in household production:Technological advances reduces time necessaryEconomic growth provides market substitutes for timeImpact on the familyWomen are freer to create and leave marriages thanks to greater wealth and reduction in specialization by genderFewer kids and more wealth means child care is less time consuming and more easily purchased on the marketFamily moves from an economic to psychological/emotional oneChildren become increasingly “precious”
Some thoughts on divorce
One effect of capitalism on the family is higher divorce ratesPreferences have changed: the bar for being happy, especially for women, is much higher. More easily disappointed.Constraints have changed: unhappy people, particularly women, can now leave in ways they couldn’t beforeCosts and benefits of divorceThis is clearly a win for women, although no-fault has issuesDivorce is not good for kids, but…Evidence is clear that a cooperative divorce is better than a tension-filled marriageFinally: even if divorce hurts kids, adults matter too
Capitalism and Same-Sex Marriage
Capitalism created gay and lesbian identityWage labor eliminated the economic need for a familyCapitalism produced anonymous urban centersWhy same-sex marriage now?Classical liberalism’s tolerance for “anything that’s peaceful”Wealth and technology separated sex, marriage, and reproduction for heterosexualsCapitalism transformed marriage from being economic and reproductive to being based on emotion and affectionAdd it all up, and this seems like the logical next stepFunction, form, and family freedomIt’s evolution not revolution
Marriage, Family, and the State
Some questions to ponder:Should the state have a role in marriageat all?If the statedoeshave a role, is there a libertarian case for legalizing same-sex marriages?If so, where would you find the constitutional argument?How might libertarians deal with the tricky question of children’s rights? Is the issue better thought of in terms of “parental rights?”Anyone know the constitutional law here?Final thought on capitalism, family, and instrumental rationality.





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Capitalism and the Family - St. Lawrence University