Family Life After the Great Depression vs. Family Life Today

For my post I read and analyzed an economic sociology blog entitled “A Few More Thoughts on Culture, Consumption and Frugality” that was posted by an author identified as Brooke. I found this article very interesting because it compared and contrasted life after the Great Depression to life today from an organizational perspective. Brooke begins by detailing what family life was like in the 1930’s after the stock market crash. Families placed significant effort towards not only reducing consumption, but towards effectively using what resources they DID have to survive and progress in life. For example, families relied on their own means, both materially and physically, to make their own clothing and food. They raised chickens in the back yard and mastered the arts of sewing and hemming.  The parental figures in the family unit headed these operations while they encouraged their children to attend school for the hope that they would grow up and have a better life than what they did at the time. As a result, the parents became very good at doing a variety of things.

The familial trends of this time period can be analyzed from an organizational theory perspective.  These families lived in a society that was very simple. People were not specialized in any one trade. They learned how to do it all: farm, cook, sew, and build. There was no division of labor present in the family unit.   On the other hand, complex societies tend to practice division of labor and specialization, but these trends were not present in first half of the 19th century.  In modern society, which is complex, people tend to have very specialized behavior. They pursue careers that tend to be focused on a specific subject.

These two very different family organizations can be also be analyzed through a social psychological lens. Social psychological analysis deals with the behavior of individuals within an organization.  Families suffering through the aftermath of the Great Depression were forced to rely on their own material and physical means to survive. Their lifestyle gave them no choice but to perform those tasks that would support the family. These individuals lived a life void of the option to pursue specialized interests.  If someone was intrigued by a subject like science or engineering, it was unlikely that the opportunity to pursue those fields was a viable option.  Comparing this scenario to a company organization, it is like working somewhere where you feel as if there is a glass ceiling in place, preventing you from moving upward in your career. You are stuck performing certain specified duties with minimal opportunity for advancement or the pursuit of your own interests. This glass ceiling, in both a company unit and a family unit, makes people feel very constrained since they are unable to pursue innovation through their creative interests. Although a person can see the purpose to the duties they ARE performing, he or she feels as if their skills or abilities are not being tested or put to good use and this can have a detrimental impact on his or her motivation.

Ultimately, this blog identifies a significant contrast between life after the Great Depression and life today. People today know that they have the option to pursue their specialized interests, an option that was not present in the 1930’s. As a result, family structures have changed dramatically over the past 70 years and it has had a large impact both on family organization as a whole, and on the personalities of the individual members that compose family organizations.


2 Responses

  1. I can’t imagine many people are learning sowing now adays due to the recession, so what skills are becoming comonplace? If I had to make a guess, I bet the number of adults becoming more literate in Microsoft word/excel/powerpoin has increasedt. Also, 2 year degree enrollment in online colleges have sky rocketed in recent years. Do you think the economic downturn has anything to do with this?

    • I definitely think the economic downturn has a lot to do with the 2 year degree enrollment in online classes increasing. These programs are generally cheaper than going to college and can be done while working another job, which is important to fund this kind of career change. Also, for many parents who have been laid off in the workplace, their skills may be mainly suited towards one type of job that is not quite as needed in today’s modern world. A 2 year degree program can have someone back on their feet in no time.

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