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The Bourgeois Family As A Model

Although workers generally did not embrace the same family ideology as that of the middle classes during the period of industrialization, the bourgeois model did spread to lower-middle and working-class families in the early twentieth century. As the male wage rose, and legislation restricted children's work, large families became impractical. Realizing that their populations were a national resource, governments throughout the industrializing world became deeply concerned with infant and child mortality, fertility decline, and marriage. They sought means to improve the health of the population and to guarantee a high growth rate. They feared that birth rates in competing nations and among their own immigrants and ethnic minorities would outpace their own "native stock" (Gordon 1977; Weeks 1981). Reform often meant intervening in family life through restricting women's and children's labor and attempting to encourage women to have more children and to breast-feed them rather than sending them to wet-nurses (Accampo, Fuchs, and Stewart 1985). Birth control generally remained difficult to obtain, if not illegal, until after World War I; it then became a part of family planning rather than individual reproductive freedom when it finally became legal (Gordon 1977; Weeks 1981).

The family that industrialization made possible, however, also created the very conditions that would undermine it, because political democratization accompanied economic modernization in Europe and North America. Although motherhood had gained a new status that gave women more dignity, many women began to seek the individual social and political rights that their brothers, husbands, and sons enjoyed, and became critical of their complete economic dependence and lack of education. Over the course of the twentieth century there has been an enormous rise in all industrial countries of married women in the labor force as well as a continuing decline in fertility, suggesting that women do not think of motherhood as their only purpose. Martine Segalen (1996) notes that by the late twentieth century, an increasing number of women with young children were entering the labor force throughout the industrial world. She suggests that the modern family, rather than representing the bourgeois "traditional" family, is a fusion of several models, including that of the working class where women never had the leisure or economic resources to make a "cult" of domesticity. High divorce rates and a sharp rise since 1970 of the number of unmarried, cohabiting couples suggest that the post-industrial family is continuing to reinvent itself (Segalen 1996; Burguière et al. 1996).


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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaModern Marriage & Family IssuesIndustrialization - Marriage, Family, The Bourgeois Family As A Model