Razib Khan on Post-Nuclear America

by Reihan Salam

Recent economic dislocation, family disruption, and rising longevity have encouraged a shift from nuclear family households to multi-generational households, and Razib Khan argues that the consequences for American society will likely prove deep and long-lasting:


From what I can gather a linear increase in the number of family members within a household does not entail a linear increase in the family drama. On the contrary, there is a very rapid increase, as inter-personal relationships become much more elaborated (this especially is true when you multiply grades of relatedness). A far greater proportion of one’s life is taken up by maintenance of household relationships. The American nuclear family is to some extent on the atomized side, but extended families tend toward hyper-sociality.

And I believe that this has consequences. The shift back toward extended families is due to the exigency of post-bubble America. Bu we may be on the way to a more thoroughgoing shift in the nature of American society, and how we relate to each other. The hyper-mobile nuclear family in the post-World War II America produced a particular kind of culture. What it lacked in family values beyond the core nuclear unit, it made up for in a commitment to civil society which could fill the breach. In contrast, societies which are ‘familialist’ often lack civil institutions and organizations because tight clusters of families can provide what in other societies would be part of the public good.

What I am proposing here is that for most Americans multi-generational living is a means toward maintaining the lifestyle and values which they hold dear, but the shift itself may change that lifestyle and those values in deep and fundamental ways.

That is, the civil institutions and organizations that have been so central to America’s distinctive way of life will continue their transition from genuinely participatory mass institutions to private administrative proxies of the state, as John DiIulio Jr. has put it, and social cohesion will continue to decline.

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.