Deeper Dive into the Nuclear Family

What exactly is a nuclear family? According to Merriam-Webster, a nuclear family is “a family group that consists only of parents and children”[2]. If the nuclear family is merely parents and their children then why is there such a stigma around those who don’t fit with the “norm” and more so what is the “norm?”

The “norm” in the discussion here is the nuclear family stereotype from America in the 1950s that is still looked upon today as the ideal that people strive for. More importantly, the idea of the 1950’s nuclear family in America is more of a myth, than it is a norm. This stereotypical nuclear family has been idealized and is never truly attainable and on top of that, it’s not truly representative of daily life. However, this ideal family that people hope to achieve is so deeply ingrained in our society that people use this myth to help them make decisions and judgments throughout their lives[3]. This is why the nuclear family of 1950s America serves as a point of comparison and analysis throughout the exhibit.

Following the title of this exhibit, let’s take that deeper dive into the nuclear family. The traditional nuclear family of America was defined as a household with the husband, wife, and children where they live separately from the parents of the husband and wife. In addition to that, the man is, the one that makes the money to provide for the family, “the breadwinner” and the woman is, the one that takes care of the house, children, and husband, “the homemaker.” Furthermore, this nuclear family tends to be centered around two main ideals: first, that a man and woman marry one another and agree to satisfy each other, and second, that the parents are responsible for meeting their children’s every need[3].

This article by Betty E. Cogswell, “Variant Family Forms and Lifestyles: Rejection of the Traditional Nuclear Family” defines the nuclear family, how people view this nuclear family regarding those who don’t fit the tradition and the variant family forms that don’t fit the tradition. The reason this is specifically mentioned is that these ideals that are held influence how people view family life and individuals. As well as leading us into the Ambivalent Sexism theory and how it ties back to the nuclear family.


[2] Dictionary, s.v. "nuclear family," accessed December 7, 2021.

[3] Cogswell, Betty E. "Variant Family Forms and Life Styles: Rejection of the Traditional Nuclear Family." The Family Coordinator 24, no. 4 (1975): 391-406.

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