The Family in the Modern Age, sociologist Brigitte Berger traces how the nuclear family arose in large measure to provide the environment for the “family’s great educational mission.”
The Mission, as we’ll call it, was not a plot against women. It was the answer to a problem newly introduced by modern life: how do you shape children into citizens in a democratic polity and self-disciplined, self-reliant, skilled workers in a complex economy? It didn’t take all that much solicitude to prepare kids to survive in traditional, agricultural societies. That’s not the case when it comes to training them to prosper in an individualistic, commercial, self-governing republic. “[I]n no other family system do children play a more central role than in that of the conventional nuclear family,” Berger writes.