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Societal Trends--and Other Good News

Contrary to conventional wisdom.

12:00 AM, Mar 25, 2010 • By RYAN STREETER
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And while the highest marriage rates exist among professionals, Americans of all stripes are generally marriage-prone.  Eighty to 90 percent of Americans will marry, even if after a period of cohabitation, which is well above other advanced nations. While the evidence is mixed on whether cohabitation leads to higher levels of divorce after marriage, what is undeniably strong in America is the attractiveness of the married life among all groups of people.

Meanwhile, married couples with children are recovering a kind of preindustrial life, minus the disease and physical hardship, in which the family is the locus of vocational activity rather than the other way around.  In 2006 the home-based workforce had doubled twice as fast as in the previous decade, enabled mainly by telecommuting. By 2015, more people will be working from home than taking public transit.  This trend has been accelerating over the past two decades.  The Census Bureau reports that the number of people working from home between 1990 and 2000 increased by 23 percent, much faster than the growth of the overall labor market, and continues to grow.  According to the International Telework Association, roughly 20 million workers telecommute at least once each month in the United States, and a fifth of them nearly every day.  As energy costs, traffic, and the constraints of growth become more stubborn, telecommuting and decentralized work environments will increase.

This trend back to the working homestead is complemented by another movement Kotkin doesn’t address: new forms of education that are far more family-centric than a generation ago.  The homeschooling and charter school movements, together with other educational innovations such as for-profit schools, have demonstrated the level and intensity of demand in America for parent-driven educational environments.  Families now have more than “choice” in education; they have “choices.”  They can reclaim their children’s education if they desire – and they are doing just that.  Between 1999 and 2007, the number of homeschooled students in the United States grew by 74 percent. The status quo in education will continue to erode in the face of an increasingly confident and empowered nation of parents, even if it takes another generation.

In many ways the nation is moving in a direction much different than that favoured by the coastal elites.  Families, localism, and a kind of suburban preindustrial workplace – in all their mundane glory – are on the rise in America. The policies that support these trends – and the politicians who craft them – will likely dominate the domestic landscape for years to come.

Ryan Streeter is Senior Fellow with the London-based Legatum Institute.

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