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Are family size and popularity about to increase?
Allan Carlson speaks during a press conferencein Salt Lake City, Tuesday, May 12, 2015, announcing that the World Congress of Families will be in Salt Lake in October. - photo by Linda and Richard Eyre
At the recent World Congress of Families, which was in Salt Lake City in late October, one of the more interesting presentations was by Allan Carlson, founder of the congress, who was previewing his forthcoming book tentatively titled Cycles of Families.

His thesis is that over the entire history of this country, there has been a pattern of 50-year eras in which families are highly in vogue with increasing birthrates and idealized family-centric lifestyles, followed by 50-year eras of declining fertility and less family emphasis.

Specifically, the period from 1630 to 1680 was a waxing family period with high fertility and lots of gravitation to the desire for large and stable homes and families.

Then, from 1680 to 1730, this emphasis waned a bit. But it picked up stronger than ever from 1730 to 1780, an exciting time of gaining independence but also of homesteading and establishing big families. Benjamin Franklin, according to Carlson, said that in Europe, women were having an average of four children while in America it was double an average of eight children per woman. Others in that era estimated that the population of this country would double every 25 years. The age of marriage and the age of first childbirth were very young.

The 50-year cycles continued. From 1780 to 1830 there was another dip, and then a resurgence again from 1830 to 1880. Then a waning for the next 50 years, and then another waxing from 1930 to 1970 (a bit shorter 40-year cycle that time before marriage and commitment started to fall apart in the early 1970s.) Weve had a 45-year decline since then and, according to the theory, will see a new orientation to traditional family starting about now.

We want to withhold any conclusions or our agreement or disagreement with the cycle theory until the book comes out next year, but we found the premise very interesting because according to Carlsons timetable, we are in the 45th year of a 50-year decline that should be bottoming out and giving way to a new, 50-year phase in which larger, more traditional families will once again become the norm.

We have been saying for years that we see many of the anti-family, anti-marriage, anti-children trends losing steam a bit and we see several signs of a general and genuine return to a more traditional family way of thinking.

According to Carlson, the 50-year periods of increasing birthrates and pro-family attitudes have been good for the U.S. economy and culture and have contributed to the growth and stability of this country on many levels.

So why does the theory appeal to us, and what evidence do we have that it might be playing out and becoming true? Well, consider some of what we think may be positive signs. These are subjective evidences taken from our personal experience as we meet with and speak to audiences of parents and families in this country and abroad:

Four is the new three. Ten years ago, among the majority of the business leaders and entrepreneurs we spoke to, there was a fairly predictable pattern of them having two kids and trying to decide if they wanted to have a third. Now, we see many more families who have three and are wondering if they should have a fourth.

Dads involvement. No question about it, in most of the families we speak to, dads are much more involved in parenting than dads were a generation ago. There is far more sharing of family responsibility and parenting duties in two-parent families.

Work supporting family. Where it used to be all about the home supporting the career (uproot and move or whatever it took for the next promotion), we hear much more of the reverse now, with career supporting family and with moms and dads avoiding or turning away from careers that demand excessive hours and total work allegiance at the expense of family.

Trickle-down trends. There is a correlation between level of education and peoples tendency to get married and stay married. Generally speaking, the more education people have, the more likely they are to want and to build a traditional family and to avoid divorce and family breakup. Since it is the more educated sectors of a culture that often start and lead societal trends, this bodes well for other sectors following suit and increasing the priority in which they place marriage, parenting and family.

Backlash. We see more and more people who have tried the no-commitment lifestyle keeping all options open, letting nothing tie them down, looking out for No. 1, perhaps cohabitating but not marrying. But many of them are coming up empty and lonely and even bored. These are people who are now looking for a more committed, more traditional family lifestyle because the alternatives have not worked very well for them.

Is Carlsons theory correct? Are we turning the corner and about to enter a new era of stronger homes and families and increasing commitment to building and preserving family relationships? And will this coming new era of stronger families strengthen and prosper America as it unfolds?

We can only hope! Well, actually, we can do more than hope. We can work to make it happen.
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