While values are important to americans most do not

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moralizing rather than mobilizing for concrete reforms. While values are important to Americans, most do not support the sort of scapegoating that occurs when all family problems are blamed on "bad values." Most of us are painfully aware that there is no clear way of separating "family values" from "the system." Our values may make a difference in the way we respond to the challenges posed by economic and political institutions, but those institutions also rein- force certain values and extinguish others. The problem is not to be- rate people for abandoning past family values, nor to exhort them to adopt better values in the future-the problem is to build the institu- tions and social support networks that allow people to act on their best values rather than on their worst ones. We to ast ab- strSlct _nostalgiafor traditional family values and develop sense of how past families actually worked and what the consequences of various family behaviors and values ha Lt Good history and responsible social policy should help people incor- porate the full complexity and the tradeoffs of family change into their analyses and thus into action. Mythmaking does not accom- plish this end. •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• "Leave It to Beaver" and "Ozzie and American Families in the 1950s
24 THE WAY WE NEVER WERE in that decade. If the 1950s family existed today, both sides seem to assume, we would not have the contemporary so- cial dilemmas that cause such debate. At first glance, the figures seem to justify this assumption. The Rates of divorce ana: marriage was almost praised; the family was everywhere hailed as the most basic institution in society; and a among all classes and ethnic groups, made a. Births rose from a low of 18.4 per 1,000 women during the Depres- sion to a high of 25.3 per 1,000 in 1957. "The birth rate for third children doubled between 1940 and 1960, and that for fourth chil- dren tripled. »2 In retrospect, tbe 1950s also seem a time of innocence and con- sensus: Gang warfare among youths did not lead to drive-by shoot- ings; the crack epidemic had not yet hit; discipline problems in the schools were minor; no "secular humanist" movement opposed the 1954 addition of the words under God to the Pledge of Allegiance; and 90 percent of all school levies were approved by voters. Intro- duction of the polio vaccine in 1954 was the most dramatic of many medical advances that improved the quality of life for children. The pro family features of this decade were bolstered by impressive economic improvements for vast numbers of Americans. Between 1945 and 1960, the gross national product grew by almost 250 per- cent and per capita income by 35 percent. Housing starts exploded after the war, peaking at 1.65 million in 1955 and remaining above 1.5 million a year for the rest of the decade; the increase in single- family homeownership between 1946 and 1956 outstripped.: the in- crease during the entire preceding century and a half. By 1960, 62

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