One Big Idea: Hanna Rosin on The New American Family


ASPEN -- Hanna Rosin is an Atlantic contributor with a sharp eye for the social consequences of demographic shifts. Her article from last year, "The End of Men," proved one of the most popular of the 2010 and continues to spark conversations about today's gender relations.

Here at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Rosin debuted what I think might be her next big demographic idea: economic pressures will force a rethink of what American families are and ought to be. Here's the capsule version of the idea she presented on Monday. It's been condensed and lightly edited.

The Ideas Report

In other countries, people value filial duty and sticking around the family home, but in America we value independence. You're supposed to -- after you graduate from college -- leave the house. You're supposed to pay your own rent. You're supposed to find a spouse and raise your own children. But lately that process has gotten blocked. The latest census shows that in the age group 25 to 34, 5.5 million Americans are living with their parents.

And here's what's worse: the grandparents are moving in, too.

There is a new phenomenon in America called the multigenerational household. It now accounts for about 16 percent of American households, which is by far the highest it has been almost since the Great Depression, more like since the 1950s...

Nonetheless, I'm choosing to see the silver lining. What is the silver lining? The American family is long overdue for a definitional overhaul. We've got 40 percent of children who are now born to single mothers or at least parents who are not married. We've got gay families. We've got adoptive families. We've got fertility technology, which makes almost every kind of family possible. So I'm thinking we can stop calling on the traditional family as our vision of the American family.

What's your big idea? I'm wandering around Aspen looking for the most interesting ideas. Feel free to stop or tweet your ideas to @alexismadrigal.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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