Are American Economically Family-Independent

Maria and I discussed for a long time during and after the Culture Matters talk show, about the relationship in families in America and China. Her point of view is very interesting, and I tend to agree, but before I do that, let me check with my readers first.

Maria’s Theory of “Economically Independent from Family”

Maria talked about the change in U.S. in 1960s.

During the period of time, with the country becoming richer and richer, there are more and more support from the society, and individuals are actually support by the society, instead of family.

In most countries, like in China, family is not only an emotionally connected unit, it is also an economical organization.

As a child, he/she HAS to rely on the family to provide food, shelter, and education.

As an adult, to form a family is economically beneficial for couples, and many couples live together not just for love, but also for stability of their economical interest. For example, many wives will face financial challenge after devoice.

As an older person, they rely on their children to support them, and children have the obligation to do that.

There are of cause emotional connections, but the economical connection is also very important in people’s relationship.

In America, in contrast, there are lesser financial connection, since:

1. As a child, he/she is basically support by the society – education, food, and health care. When they need to go to university, although they need a lot of money to go to Harvard, but they don’t need too much if they go to state university, and family’s support is that that critical.

2. When people get old, they have their own social insurance, and their own doctor, who can help them when they need help.

Basically, Maria argues that although there is some economical connection, basically, America can be very independent from their family.

When People are Independent from Family

When people are independent from family, what they need from family is just emotional support. The sole propose of a family is to make them happy. If a family cannot make them happy, they leave.

The contract is, family in economically family dependent society, parents care about their children’s future more than the children themselves, since their future depend on the children. While in a family independent society, the parents care about the happiness of their children, much more than their achievement, since at the end of the day, the life when they get old is not dependent on the children.

Does it Make Sense?

It makes a lot of sense to me, but I am not that familiar with the American society. Anyone wants to give any comment?

10 thoughts on “Are American Economically Family-Independent

  1. I am not sure that I follow. One thing is clear in the United States and that is that it usually takes a lot of money to go to many colleges/universities, not just to Harvard. An individual student normally needs a lot of financial help from his parents (‘family’).

    As for health care and health insurance in the US, the cost of it has become prohibitive for millions of working Americans.

  2. This touchs 3 important topics in our society: education, health care and retirement. I guess one topic would merits one book :-)

    Having grown up in China and lived in the US for last 10 years, I have seen both sides of the things: China and US; good or bad.

    These problems are especially challenging for big countries like China and US, mainly because of the size. I don’t hear much negative comments about Singapore’s social security (insurance).

    I think one principle lies beneath the problems is: how best to re-distribute the wealth generated by individuals to provide human’s basic needs to live (food, healthcare) and to be a productive citizen (education).

    There are many flaws and much unfairness in the US system. Unfortunately, from my observation China’s healthcare system is moving into things like US, which made me feel very sad.

  3. In some ways there is not much of a difference between the 2 types of families from the parents perspective in the US. As a parent, I love my children and while I will not need their financial help later in life, I want them to succeed very much. If they do not, I hope they will be able to inherit much money from me. Parents in all cultures love their children.

    The children’s perspective is different when they are young, but hopefully changes later in life. My older son is currently enrolled in a very expensive US university. I pay it all. He considers himself quite independent of me and his mother. The college is far away and I suspect (fear) he will eventually live far from us. Nevertheless I hope to have a close relationship with him.

    Later in life, children are often called upon to take care of their parents. Sometimes this means sending a parent to a nursing home. In the US, nursing homes are often terrible places. Arranging for home care is better. Living with children is uncommon. That would be a big difference with the 2 types of families.

  4. I think that there are generalities that could be said to be true of any country, how they are similar internally and different from other countries; there are also pockets of similarities between countries. I stayed with my grandparents in the summers on their farm. Living there were 4 generations – a great grandparent, 2 grandparents and an uncle. As this was in a rural area, it was not all that unusual and I strongly suspect that similar situations were scattered throughout the country in urban, suburban, and rural areas.

    As to Social Security, the problem as I see it is that the program has expanded well beyond its initial scope. It started in the mid 30s with workers and employers each contributing. A few years later, spouses of the worker, widows and children of the worker, and those who retired and had never paid into the system were added. The latter being a particular burden to the initial system. The taxes were later raised to 4% with 2% from the worker and 2% from the employer. Later still retirement age was reduced from 65 to 62. These and a few other changes contributed to the large expansion of the system and Congress was always adding to the benefits (so they could get re-elected).

    Perhaps the current largest problem is the number of workers expected to retire within the next 20 or so years. Birth rates have gone down and as the system is funded only by current workers we will shortly have more folks receiving benefits than folks paying into it. Insolvancy is expected around the year 2020. Indeed, the program is a huge mess and elected officials lack the courage to fix it.

  5. Oh, I have so much to say on this subject, Jian Shuo, but we are still away from home and on a fragile internet connection. In two days I will be back at my own computer again, so look for a belated comment from me then :-)

  6. Eh, that’s quite an overestimation. There’s no support in the form of food and housing I know of in public high school system, and to go to college you need money that are beyond average young person’s summer or part-time salary. The state health insurance program exists but with varying political support and funding levels (more with Democrats). What is true, is that college is at least partly subsidized by society, and typically involves leaving family to live in a dorm; and that culturally people are expected to make their own life choices at this point and later. I’d say people are indeed expected to be able to care about themselves after they start college until very old age.

    Note that the amount of money necessary to go to “elite” isn’t necessary more than the amount of money to go to average state college — Harvard, Princeton and other schools have financial aid, which, I believe, pays all tuition and an additonal stipend for people who don’t have money at all. Google for it; it’s quite a hot topic right now.

  7. What *is* true and more to the point is that with more opportunities everyone is indeed more financially independent — e.g. a girl is also expected to work, so she isn’t economically bound to her boyfriend, a young person out of college can typically get job that will pay enough for him to live; a salary of working couple is enough to rent/buy a house, thus they will not live with parents; parents have enough money for retirement, so they are not an economic burden for children, etc. In a similar way, people are more independent from their bosses in America when they can easily find a new job if they are fired.

  8. american society might have be the driving force from 1960-1990’s…but I

    would suggest that its now fallen down and that the American family such as mom and dad are playing a larger role in their kids development. (I suspect mostly via financial, pay for university, deposit on a home). Varies Wildly.


  9. I find interesting your take on American “family” and its financial connection to generations. I am certainly no expert but can hopefully give additional clarification.

    First, all Americans have social security numbers and are required by federal law to pay federal (and state in many cases) taxes from wages earned.

    Taxes pay for many things, public education being one item. Therefore, as a taxpayer, even though my husband and I choose to send our children to private school ( and pay full private school tution ) we get no money back or discount for not utilizing one of the services we pay for. In the same manner, taxpayers who have no children or no longer have children in public school still pay the same taxes to support a service that they do not use.

    My point is that public education is not free to anyone. Free meal programs in schools are paid for in the same manner, through taxes paid by the citizens.

    Insurance is also not free. Insurance is paid for either through individual policies or through employers. Most employers deduct money from their employees pay checks to pay for the service. Health insurance is extremely expensive and many American’s choose not to have it.

    My husband and I care very much about the happiness of our children, part of that extends to their acheivement. I think most American parents hope that their children are as successful or more successful than themselves. We have paid for private school educations and will be paying for college for our childeren, hoping that not only will they find happiness and be able to support themselves, but also that they meet wonderful people, get married and raise a family. Currently, most American families have both the husband and wife as wage earners.

    You are correct that many families do not support the elderly, but culturally that seems to be changing. For instance, we have brought my husband’s elderly mother to live with us since her husband passed away. Many of our friends are doing the same thing.

    I hope I have been helpful with my additional explanation.

  10. Sounds right to me. One thing though, America is made up of so many, many different cultures, it is hard to say that American act in one way or the other. Many Asian and Latino families still have an economic partnership in the USA.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *