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March 1990, Vol. 113, No. 3
American families: 75 years of change
James R. Wetzel
Families are the quintessential institution of our Nation, providing biological and social continuity as they simultaneously shape, and are shaped by, the larger society. Families also are the locus of consumption, savings, and some production activities that are vital to our overall economic well-being, and they bear special responsibilities for nurturing and educating the Nation's future work force, a critical function that is not well-served by the deterioration of the nuclear family over the past 25 or more years.
Each of us has a concept of the typical family and how it has changed over time. Being rooted in our own family experience and community, our views are seldom, if ever, an accurate depiction of the typical family. Indeed, it is fair to say that there is no such thing as a "typical" family. In a nation as heterogeneous as the United States, the characteristics of families vary dramatically by race and ethnicity; education, age, and income of the adult members of the family; religious affiliation; region of the country; and by the interplay of these and other demographic, social, and economic factors. However, over the 75 years since first publication of the Monthly Labor Review, there have been dramatic secular changes that are observable in most subgroups of the Nation's population. Among the most visible of those changes:
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