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Allan C. Carlson spoke to students about the future of the American family. Josephine von Dohlen | Courtesy

The future of the American family is bright. Or at least it will be.

According to Allan Carlson, a scholar and former Hillsdale professor, the American family undergoes cycles of strength, followed by periods of decline, and the American family could see a cycle of strength in the upcoming future.

Carlson delivered his remarks to an audience at Hillsdale on Nov. 2 in a talk on the history and future of the American family. The talk was based off his most recent book, “Family Cycles: Strength, Decline & Renewal in American Domestic Life 1630-2000.”

“Certainly, the status of the family in America in the early 21st century is no laughing matter,” Carlson said. “The nation’s marriage rate is at an all-time low.”

Looking at the American past, Carlson notices cycles of family strength followed by a decline within the family, with each lasting about 50 years starting in 1630.

“These periods of strength all involved early marriage, with an average age of near 20 for women, and 23 for men,” Carlson said.

Other factors contributed to these periods of strength, according to Carlson: nearly universal marriage, high birth rates, parenthood, complementary gender roles, flourishing  small home economies, and stability.

Periods of weakness had influencers such as late marriages, a higher percentage of unmarried adults, smaller families, more divorce, loss of family economic independence, and weakened homes, Carlson said.

“These cycles are unique to the American experience,” Carlson said.

Carlson is the editor of “The Natural Family: An International Journal of Research and Policy.” His background in the family has resulted in the publication of “The Natural Family: A Manifesto,” which he co-authored with Paul Hero in 2007. From 2008 to 2013, Carlson taught as distinguished visiting professor of politics and history at Hillsdale College.

Carlson’s visit to campus was sponsored by the history department, Catholic Society, and Students for Life.

“We brought him in because the pro-life movement’s relationship to the development of the American family are closely related,” Students for Life President junior Kathleen Russo said. “It is important to be well-rounded in understanding this complicated emotional issue.”

According to Catholic Society President junior Sammy Roberts, Catholics care tremendously about the family and recognize its necessity as a social institution.

“Teaming up with SFL for this talk was a no brainer,” Roberts said in an email.   

Roberts said Carlson’s optimism in his conclusion was most appealing to the Hillsdale audience.

“Conservatives tend to focus on the worst of social developments and speak only of our decline as a civilization,” Roberts said. “Dr. Carlson’s cyclical understanding of the waxing and waning of the traditional family, along with his proposal that the traditional family may be on the verge of a revival, sounds a note of hope that too often grows silent in the ears of conservative students. As long as people continue to live and reproduce, the family always has a foundation upon which it may be rebuilt.”

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Josephine von Dohlen is a junior from Minneapolis, Minnesota who appreciates the communicative power of journalism and the community that it fosters. A graduate of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C., she has previously interned with Catholic News Service. At Hillsdale, she is part of the Dow Journalism Program and a major in American Studies. Email: jvondohlen@hillsdale.edu