29 Jul

Family Values: had no past, has no future

Family Values

I speculate that, in the not too distant future…

Family will disintegrate and no one will shed a tear

Today, we can’t imagine a world without families.  Families looks like fundamental building blocks of our societies.  Intuitively, we all feel that families have always been there.  We never think of questioning their origin or usefulness.

Contrary to the popular belief, family is largely a post-agriculture invention.  During our evolutionary past, smallest social unit was a tribe.  We did not pair-bond for life.  Our ancestors pair-bonded, disbanded, pair-bonded with someone else (most probably), disbanded, etc.  In other words, we evolved to be a serially monogamous animals.  By nature, we are not designed to be monogamous for life.

However, life-long pair-bonding and family evolved as a means of passing on one’s property to his or her offspring.  Before the advent of agriculture, one didn’t have significant properties to be passed on.  But agriculture changed that.  Agriculture made humans, who used to be nomads till that point in time, to settle down in a place, build homes, accumulate wealth, etc.  People who had accumulated wealth wanted to pass on their accumulations to their genetic descendants.  Thus, the tribes started to break down into families.

Historically, in most of the societies, agriculture (and subsequently, trade) was managed by men and hence they were the primary producers of wealth.  Men benefited from forming families as a tool for ensuring paternity.  Women liked the structure of a family as it provided them life long security, well past their reproductive age.

Families were built around men as their epicenter.  Economic potential of men was the glue that held families together.  But women’s liberation changed that glue in a fundamental way.  On average, women are better educated, get better jobs, manage their finances better and hence financially more stable than men.  Most women don’t need a man to support them or their children financially.

Without the economic incentive to stay pair-bonded for life, it appears that our serially-monogamous inner nature is re-surfacing.  In every country where women are largely independent of men for their economic sustenance, percentage of people who pair-bond for life is dropping slowly, but steadily (translation: divorce rate is increasing, age at first marriage is increasing and people who chose to remain single is increasing).  This trend will only increase!

Another force that is holding families together is man’s need to know his paternity.  But in a world of the near future where every child will be automatically DNA sequenced, man doesn’t need to take ridiculous measures to ensure his paternity.

In a world where birth control pills and white collar jobs, which liberated women’s earning potential, combined with fool proof paternity, life-long pair-bonding facilitated by a family is not the optimal social setting.

Today, single parents (both men and women) are living in a social system that was designed for nuclear families.  Template of a nuclear family is not the optimal social setting for serially monogamous humans.  Serial monogamists, and their children, do better in a social setting where

  • Parents pool their time and skills in a communal living like setting
  • These parents share similar values and outlook of life
  • The community enables the adults to be fluid with their pair bonding
  • The community compensates the children for the missing parents

Such communities are not common these days.  But if and when they start popping up, they will spell the death knell to the nuclear family.  I speculate that rapid improvement of communication, steep increase in longevity, better understanding of human nature, coming machine productivity, etc., all will increase the pressure and opportunities for creation and sustenance of such communities.

When that change arrives, I speculate, nuclear families as we know it, will start looking out dated and dysfunctional social model.


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