Is The Nuclear Family The Ideal Family Structure?


The American family happens to be a rapidly changing institution. It is unlikely that one may find themselves in the stereotypical American family comprising of two parents and children. In this case, the father works whereas the mother takes care of the household. However, many women have joined the workforce, there has been a significant increase in divorce rate, and more single-parent households are continuing to exist. This has led to other family structures becoming common. If one’s family is different from the one their parents grew up in, then their situation is certainly a common occurrence. Currently, a great percent of American families have single parents, through a divorce, widowed, or not married.Furthermore, some children are taken care of by foster families, step-families, and gay or lesbian families.

American family units

Even though my family fits the traditional nuclear structure, it is most certain that I have friends living in households that have different structures. I have always had younger friends who question why their parents had to get divorced. One of them once asked me why his parents could not live together and why the father instead lived with another lady. This is an indication that families tend to be so important to children and parents need to explain the nature of their family structures with more than just quick replies.

Such questions imply that the children only want to understand the different family structures and the changes that lead to the structures. It is a typical situation for us to view the society through our family experiences and therefore grow up with the belief that “our” families are the same. Joining school as a child, I realized that the notion of what is a normal family was different from some of my classmates. The expectation of the ideal family comprising of the mother, father and children happily taking a meal together was not the reality for sole-parented families, same-sex families, extended families, and childless households.

The nuclear family has been considered by many to be the ‘ideal’ structure for American families. In the 1950s, Coontz (34) equates the family to a social group sharing a common residence and reproduction. It comprises of two adults of both sexes, who are in a socially approved relationship and with at least one child (Rockwell 18). The nuclear family is commonly used when describing a family unit. It has been considered ideal within the society for centuries. However, the nuclear family is now facing a decline as a result of the changes in trends within the society today. These trends include issues like divorce.

The Ideal 50s familyBased on Coontz (33)’s perspective, the standard family structure in the post-war America comprised of a male breadwinner, his wife in charge of household chores and taking care of the children, and the children. Families carried out all their activities together and lived within friendly neighborhoods. Parents were keen on disciplining children. In fact, in the earlier times, girls lived with their parents home until the point of marriage and rarely attended college (Graff 32). Graff (26) portrays children as emotional instead of economic assets, given that they were always close to their parents and happened to be the center of the family.

Given the nature of the relationship, parents always studied child development and socialized with them to help them become successful adults. All in all, it is evident that the nuclear family of the 50s was built around the necessity of a secure life. Middle-class, child-focused families under the leadership of wage-earning husbands became the norm, although it took a lot of time to make that family. This is why modern family structures, barely resemble the ideal family unit.

Suitability of the nuclear family to modern society Coontz (41) argues that the nuclear family was the product of the post war era. The emergence of the nuclear family was also best suited for the industrial society. The small nature of the family made it easy for geographical and social mobility, therefore providing a haven for its members. However, today the society is keen on a nuclear family based on heterosexual adults who are married and in turn become parents.

Coontz (34) expresses his feelings of the nuclear family being the building block of society. He believes that the family structure is ideal family for the modern society as it nurtures morality and discipline among children. Furthermore, the nuclear family allows for separate gender roles to be performed by the respective family members. According to Coontz’s argument, all other arrangements may be considered to be deviant. Rockwell (19) also considers the nuclear family to be the ideal family structure. According to him, the family has two primary socialization functions: the stabilization of adult personalities and socialization of children where they learn the norms and values of the society.

Changes today

The changes in family structures are majorly due to the expanding workplace and educational roles held by women in the society. The post-industrial economy that is information and services based has seen the married woman join the workforce (Coontz 46). On the other hand, more young adults prefer living outside their family systems. Families with the male-breadwinner and housewife currently represent very few American households.

The issue of marriage is considered by many Americans to be one in which both parents work and share household duties. Furthermore, women seem to constitute approximately 50 percent of the labor force. These shifts have led to a decline in marriage with a subsequent rise in the divorce rate (Coontz 48). Also, the number of American households headed by unmarried persons is on the rise with children being born to unmarried mothers. One major cause of these developments is the fact that marriage is regarded as an act crowning individuals to adulthood.

Personal experience

A family friend struggles to raise her three children on her own and acknowledges the fact that the family has been through several changes within the past few years. She divorced her husband two years ago. Since then, the family shifted to a cheaper house. Looking back, the family has had a hard time given that she acknowledges the many difficulties in being a single parent. On the other hand, partners in a nuclear family get to share all the jobs including childcare. Given that she is alone, she has to do it all. The family seems to sick of moving as the children want a permanent home.

However, the mother (family friend) finds relief on the argument that several other families are in a similar situation. In my case, I was not used to seeing single parents as I grew up. But today, it happens to be the norm. To some extent, it is good for the family friend. It means she finds consolation from the many other single mothers. The family friend also finds emotional and financial support from a charity organization dedicated to supporting single parents. This is an indication that she has owned up to the notion that a nuclear family is the ideal family structure for Americans.


Based on the works of literature, the nuclear family can be considered to be the traditional family structure in America. This family structure originated from the Roman Empire times but became popular in America in the 1950s. Ideal families need to comprise of a father, a mother, and children. This structure is proof that the family represents the basic unit in a society where the father takes the role of a breadwinner and the wife a homemaker. Based on the high divorce rates and increasing number of children being born to single mothers, it is evident that the family as an institution is facing its decline.

Even though the nuclear family has proven to be the best family, the other family structures have been accepted as a result of the changing social conditions. This, therefore, is an indication that the other families are on the rise. Finally, an ideal family structure should be able to meet the economic and socialism needs of the members. Based on the personal experience, it is important that the breadwinner worker provides for his family while both parents help their children learns the culture within which they have been born.

Works Cited

Coontz. “What We Really Miss About the 1950s.” Colombo, Gary, Cullen Robert and Lisle Bonnie. Harmony at home. New York: Macmillan Higher Education, 2016. 32-48. Print.

Coontz, Stephanie. “‘Traditional’ marriage has changed a lot.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer 23 February 2006. Web.Graff, E. J. “What makes a family?” Colombo, Gary, Robert’ Cullen and Lisle Bonnie. Rereading America: Cultural contexts for critical thinking and writing. New York: Macmillan Higher Education, 2016. 27-37. Print.

Rockwell, Norman. “harmony at home: the myth of the model family.” Colombo, Gary, Cullen Robert and Lisle Bonnie. Rereading America: Cultural contexts for critical thinking and writing. New York: Macmillan Higher Education, 2016. 18-21. Print.

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Is The Nuclear Family The Ideal Family Structure?. (2018, Sep 26). Retrieved June 12, 2024 , from

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