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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
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 and the Santa Barbara News-Press. At Hillsdale, she is a member of the Dow Journalism Program and majors in American Studies. Email: jvondohlen@hillsdale.edu