Family . . . who needs 'em?

A few days ago, I asked what it would mean to live in a culture with no family. Gabriel Rossman offers this fascinating analysis:

Who needs brothers, sisters, brother-in-laws, sister-in-laws, nieces, nephews, and cousins? It’s not as if we can’t substitute non-familial friends. There are two problems with this. First, family ties are unique in that they can’t be replaced (you can stop talking to your brother, but you can’t recruit a new brother to replace him) and this makes them very important in low trust societies. It could be that a lack of relatives could drive people to trust strangers of necessity and you’ll have a decline in corruption, or it could be that they just won’t trust anyone, transaction costs will go way up, and nothing will get done. Second, in the United States non-kin strong ties are rapidly disappearing as people are basically discussing serious issues only with their spouses and parents. While I’ve seen no evidence that this change is also occurring in low fertility countries, if it is then the “mass society” nightmare scenario of atomized individuals wasn’t wrong, just ahead of its time.