Stephanie Coontz

Stephanie Coontz, the director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families, teaches history and family studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. She is the author of Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage and The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap.

Recent Articles

Can the Working Family Work in America?

America still hasn’t adjusted to family realities in the 21st century. Here’s what needs to be done and why we need to do it. 

(Photo: AP/Seth Wenig)
(Photo: AP/Seth Wenig) People cheer at a rally for paid family leave in New York on March 10, 2016. This book review appears in the Spring 2016 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here. Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family By Anne-Marie Slaughter Penguin Finding Time: The Economics of Work-Life Conflict By Heather Boushey Harvard University Press The Tumbleweed Society: Working and Caring in an Age of Insecurity By Allison J. Pugh Oxford University Press T he male-breadwinner family is arguably the least traditional family form in all of world history. For thousands of years, husbands, wives, and children worked together to provision the household. In the United States, it wasn’t until the 1920s that a bare majority of children lived in homes where the mother was not working beside her husband in a family enterprise or earning income in other ways, with the children exempted from labor to go to school. Receding in the Great Depression and World War II, the male-...

The Real Story of the American Family

Two new books explain how rising inequality shattered the working-class family of the mid-20th century.

CSA Plastock/iStock
CSA Plastock/iStock This book review appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . Celebrate our 25th Anniversary with us by clicking here for a free download of this special issue . L abor's Love Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working-Class Family in America By Andrew J. Cherlin 272 pp. Russell Sage Foundation $35 Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis By Robert D. Putnam 400 pp. Berrett-Koehler Publishers $28 D uring the culture wars of the 1970s and 1980s, conservative crusaders worried about threats to “traditional” families stemming from both the top and the bottom of the social ladder. In the name of “family values,” they denounced educated elites for denigrating marriage, endorsing premarital sex and cohabitation, and refusing to get judgmental about divorce and unwed motherhood. The “do-your-own-thing” individualism of such people, they claimed, was bad enough for spoiled middle-class children, but threatened disaster when it seeped down...

Marriage, Poverty, and Public Policy

Marriage, Poverty, and Public Policy A Discussion Paper from the Council on Contemporary Families Prepared for the Fifth Annual CCF Conference, April 26-28, 2002 by Stephanie Coontz and Nancy Folbre O ne of the stated objectives of welfare legislation passed in 1996 was "to end dependence by promoting marriage." With this legislation coming up for re-authorization, many policy-makers want to devote more public resources to this goal, even if it requires cutting spending on cash benefits, child care, or job training. Some states, such as West Virginia, already use their funds to provide a special bonus to couples on public assistance who get married. (1) In December 2001, more than fifty state legislators asked Congress to divert funds from existing programs into marriage education and incentive policies, earmarking dollars to encourage welfare recipients to marry and giving bonus money to states that increase marriage rates. On February 26, 2002, President Bush called for spending up...

Nostalgia as Ideology

T he more I listen to debates over whether we should promote marriage, the more I am reminded of one of my father's favorite sayings: "If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride." Yes, kids raised by married parents do better, on average, than kids raised in divorced- or single-parent homes. Yes, the long-term commitment of marriage confers economic, emotional, and even health benefits on adults as well. Certainly, we should remove marriage disincentives from government programs -- 16 states, for instance, still discriminate against married couples in welfare policy. We should expand health coverage to include "couples counseling" for all who wish it. With better support systems, we may be able to save more potentially healthy marriages and further reduce rates of unwed childbearing among teenagers. But there is no way to re-establish marriage as the main site of child rearing, dependent care, income pooling, or interpersonal commitments in the modern world. Any movement that sets...