A Comeback for the Family?

Is the decline of the family coming to an end? Allan Carlson says it is, or at least it could be, in a new book called “Family Cycles: Strength, Decline, and Renewal in American Domestic Life, 1630-2000.”

I interviewed Carlson in 2015 at the World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City, Utah, about his provocative theory that the health of the family rises and falls in cycles. Carlson says we have seen “four distinct cycles” of strength and weakness in the family in American history. Each cycle lasts about 100 years, and he believes we have just passed through the trough of one of these cycles and that the health of the family is on the upswing again.

“Periods of family decline are nothing new in American life,” Carlson told me then. “Things may look really dark right now, but that’s been true before in different ways. The details are different, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel because the human race and Americans in particular cannot tolerate chaos and immorality for very long.”

He said, for example, that by comparing marriage and baptismal records from the colonial period, it is obvious that even among churchgoing people there was rampant immorality, with as many as 50 percent of brides coming to the altar already pregnant around the year 1700 in America.

“The Puritan experiment in New England, which had an astonishingly good run for about 50 years, or two generations, fell apart after 1680,” Carlson said. “And one sign of that was a new wave of immorality where the marriage laws broke down. Men in particular left the church. Men’s roles as fathers and gentle patriarchs toward their wives and children disappeared, and it took about two generations of living under that for things to start to recover.”

Carlson says signs of a modern renewal of the family abound, but they are often underreported by the mainstream media, or simply overlooked by those on both sides of the political divide for ideological reasons. For example, he says the fact that we now have 2 million homeschooled children in this country is a “remarkable cultural phenomenon.”

He added, “The most rapidly growing ethnic group in American today is the old-order Amish. [There were] 5,000 of them in 1900; close to 350,000 today. If they keep that up for another century there’ll be about 15 million of them. They’re repopulating the countryside. You see the Quiverfull movements among evangelical Protestants. There’s also Hasidic Jews, ultra-orthodox Jews in American cities—Cleveland, New York, and other places—growing very rapidly, deeply committed to family life and to fertility and children. . . . There are enough signs of things bubbling up that I think we can safely say something is happening right now.”

You can read more about Carlson’s book here.


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