Modern Family

fam In 1970, four out of 10 households in the United States were made up of married heterosexuals with children. Today, that ratio is two out of 10.

The reason: Many more families than in the past are headed by one parent, parents with children from a previous relationship, or two parents of the same sex. There are also families with multiple generations under the same roof.

All of these non-nuclear-two-heterosexual-parent structures fall into what the insurance company Allianz, in a new study, categorizes as “nontraditional” families. One of its key findings: Nontraditional families are having a hard time of it.

Nearly half of so-called modern families, for example, live paycheck to paycheck,” the Los Angeles Times noted, summarizing the Allianz research. “That compares with 41% of conventional households, according to the survey.” Another difference: “Only 3 in 10 nontraditional households have a high degree of confidence in their financial well-being versus 41% for their conventional counterparts.” All of this, according to Allianz, adds up to “compelling evidence of the need to tailor products to the needs of specific family structures.”

When viewing the family from the broadest perspective, Peter Drucker saw it as a unit that had experienced upheavals since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago. “Industrialization divorces the family from society,” Drucker observed, because the factory meant that work was no longer a family-driven effort based out of the home.

Through it all, family remained treasured—but fragile. “The family is still as necessary as ever as a biological, and especially as an emotional, unit,” Drucker wrote. “Its very divorce from society makes it even more essential emotionally, and leads to glorification of motherhood, of children, of the family tie so extreme as to betray the increasing tension—especially as this emotional affirmation goes hand in hand with an increasing willingness to dissolve family ties in divorce.”

In his own time, Drucker saw changes in business and society creating more stresses on the family. The large-scale entrance of women into the workforce, while a welcome development, created a new kind of strain. Social welfare programs with bad incentives (discouraging employment and encouraging childbearing) presented another one.

And the transition to knowledge work ratcheted up the pressure, as well. “Today’s young people, once they have grown out of adolescent rebellion, feel a much greater need than my generation did to be close to their parents and to their siblings,” Drucker wrote. But, as we’ve noted, the mobility of knowledge workers makes it difficult to “count on family” in the same way that people have in the past.

What do you think business can do to provide more security for the “modern” family?