Over brunch with a college friend, the Soprano in the Real World, we chatted a bit about changing family structures in America. An interesting point came up: American society in general is not particularly aware of how much we've lost as a culture with the loss of the extended multigenerational family and the enshrining of the nuclear family as the archetype. Specifically we spoke of the loss of support structures for young people and particularly young parents, and how our culture strangely treats the 1950's-era nuclear family archetype as if it were something deeply traditional, when it isn't at all. Yet there's very little general awareness that this significant cultural change even occurred, certainly far less than that of other contemporary changes such as women entering the workforce in large numbers.
Also, there's a really strange disconnect at work, where youth are expected to be more or less socially independent of their parents at the age of 18, while it is acceptable for them to remain economically dependent until their mid-20's at least. I mean, which 26-year-old does our society consider more respectable? The auto mechanic who lives with his folks because he's still single and thus has no particular reason not to, or the grad student who is entering his eighth year of spending other peoples' money? Living with one's parents in adulthood is often interpreted as a sign of hopeless immaturity, and yet our society doesn't seem to expect financial independence much before the age of 30. This is almost a reversal of the situation that would have been the norm a century ago, where an 18-year-old might quickly be expected to become a productive member of society (and indeed likely be engaged in productive work much earlier), but would not be expected to move out of his parents' home until he married.