‘The most suburban nation in the world’ – origins and influences for the Australian nuclear-family suburban model

Australians were amongst the first to claim the space between city and country as sites to raise nuclear families, and laid the foundation for a way of life that would see Australia become the world’s most suburbanized country in the 20th century. They were inspired by religious interests in purer lives and European/American movements to create and live in healthier, greener environments. The English Garden City movement started by Ebenezzer Howard encouraged an interest in creating new communities in places like Northern and Western Sydney.

American innovations had even more to offer us. The Chicago School of Sociology provided a model for the rise of the suburbs in most countries, with the movement of wealthier families into these outer regions as a natural progression away from the poverty, ill health and poor sanitation in the cities. American experiments also influenced the design and spread of our cities, from the proto-suburban model communities of Llwellyn Park near New York – featuring set-back houses, fixed blocks, contoured streets, and shared gardens funded by private owners’ association levies – to the back to front design of Radburn houses that were incorporated into Australia’s large scale, post-war, public housing projects.

And critical to the development of American and Australian suburbs was the taxpayer-subsidised ascension of the automobile over pedestrians and streetcars. Motor cars enabled longer commutes, ‘easy’ movement in and out of suburban spaces, and the creation of shopping plazas with large car-parks built around highway junctions – precursors to our modern, Westfields, mega-shopping malls.

All of this lead to the rise of the ‘special’ 1950s, and the dominance of the ‘quarter acre block’ suburban nuclear family in Australia at this time and for several decades thereafter. Families had never seemed tighter, smaller, younger, or more specialised, with most adults married (only 22% single), an absence of grandparents and extended kin, a median marriage age of 23, and with less than a third of mothers working in some form of paid employment.

However, these movements were already laying the seeds of their own undoing. The unsustainable sprawl of houses, the congestion of cars, and the stifling, mono-cultural and patriarchal nature of the suburban nuclear family, would all become apparent features of suburban life within a few short decades.

#S208UOW17 #Tut3

Posted in Families, Opinion, Research, SOC208 - Cities, Communities and Families, UOW, Urban Studies.

6 Comments on ‘The most suburban nation in the world’ – origins and influences for the Australian nuclear-family suburban model

Liam Marsh said : Guest Report 2 years ago

I think that there seems to be a change in what is desirable living every few decades as opinions of marriage and family structure change. There is obviously still quite a few families who do seek the nuclear suburban family structure however due to rising housing costs, unemployment and the cost of living in general this can be seen as unachievable. I do think with the change in marriage ages as stated in the previous comments, that we are seeing more single people, unmarried couples and newly married young couples without children chase a different dream of renting an inner-city apartment. I think that around the 1950's having the quarter acre block with the house and yard for your family gave you a sense of social status. Now it seems that the more desirable social status comes with living in a smaller apartment near the beaches and the city. #SOC208UOW17 #Tut3 #MON1130

Savaan Goldsmith said : Guest Report 2 years ago

Grace’s focus on family structure and the conclusions drawn by historians serves as an interesting point for further discussion. I find the way in which certain customs such as marriage have changed so dramatically overtime to be intriguing. I begin to ask myself questions such as how everyone’s ideas on family size and the correct age to be married can change so significantly without ‘bouncing back’ to what was once previously acceptable. Emily Martin refers to the fact that during the Industrial period the average age for women to get married was 18 years old, whilst now it is 30. It is obvious that overtime Australian’s began wanting better situations for themselves. The lecture for this week (4) states that during the 1950’s “Australian’s didn’t just want any home, they started wanting better homes, designer homes, garden homes.” This idea that Australian suburbia began to change during the 1950’s can assist in explaining reasons for more career and work focused Australians, which consequently changed and continues to change the way in which family structure once was. #SOC208UOW17 #tut3 #Mon16:30

Alexandra Milora said : Guest Report 2 years ago

The rise of suburban Australia was a result of a desire to escape the overcrowded, over polluted industrial cities. With a search to live a better lifestyle with a higher standard or health, open spaces, nice surroundings, while simultaneously benefitting from the perks of the city, in some sense, the best of both worlds. This was made possible thanks to the rise of the automobile allowing individuals to maintain their quick access to work life in the city, while maintaining their household and family separate from the city in ideal living conditions. This lead to the rise of the ‘special 1950’s’ in Australia, a time where the shift in living structures, ideals and conditions also lead to a shift in family structure ideals. The nuclear family became the standard. Families became much smaller and connected with the disconnection from kin and neighbourly aid and a focus on mother, father and children relationships and interdependency. The family shifted to doing things themselves rather than hiring someone else to do them with an added desire for privacy contributing to this better lifestyle. The father was responsible for working and making money, while the mother remained at home, no longer doing paid work, responsible for the child and the household responsibilities, leaving her entirely dependant on her husband. This lead to much earlier marriage as marriage was the main sense of security for a woman and her children in order to survive in society. “In families, as well as in social formations, the same processes that are essential to maintain a particular relationship or institution simultaneously create oppositions that eventually transform,undermine or even destroy it”. In my opinion this quote rings particularly true in regards to modern suburban families and lifestyle, which quickly found its flaws brought to light leading to further shifts and ideals both in living and family structure. What started off as seemingly better lifestyle quickly turned into a monotonous, identical boring lifestyle, the car which originally facilitated transport to and from the city was now also looked to be used to escape the unexciting monotonous life that was suburbia. The benefits of living out of the city are no longer holding their grounds as strongly as before as people are trying to use the automobile to escape this suburbia. Furthermore, with marriage a transforming institution, with its original values and importance no longer standing strong. Additionally with women reintroduced into the paid working field, some today now earning more than their male counterparts marriage is no longer viewed as necessary for financial security and no longer as permanent as earlier on in life, as well as the reality of it being much more difficult to support a family on one salary. Instead things like careers have been set on the foreground before choosing to get married. There is a decrease in young marriages with some people not married until the age of 40 compared to a young age of 20 in the past. There is once again a new shift in family structure, a much more fluid one, with marriage no longer being a necessity which no longer lines up with this nuclear ideal. We can see over time that the there is a constant shift in the driving factors of society and that both lifestyle and family ideals are highly related and interconnected, constantly adjusting in relation to each other in order to adjust each institution in order to attempt at finding balance again. #SOC208UOW17 #tut3 #MON1130

Tegan Wilson @TeganWilson11 said : Guest Report 2 years ago

Over time transformations in family dynamics could be related to socioeconomic factors/pressures, cultural conflicts, and political change. But it was also the industrial revolution and modernisation that brought about these changes as well. As Grace Lynch stated - Theorists found the industrialisation saw an increase in family structure and as per the reading; "conflicts over resources, power and sense of autonomy and their abilities to make choices and decisions" increased (as there were interests in healthier and greener lives and as per the reading - "marriage had fallen and the rates of fertility rose with the idea that nuclear family style living should be your main area of focus. Marriage is stated to not be a “doomed institution but a transformed institution” due to non-marriage and divorce becoming more socially acceptable. And with the relevance of divorce, unwed mothers and gay and lesbian couples, and the introduction of reproduction technology, there has been a separation of childrearing and marriage". But as stated, the wealthiest of people were the ones to move to outer areas progressively to move towards further work opportunities and the 'ideal lifestyle' with greater sanitation and housing. People became more dependant on the market as many removed themselves from extended families. Because people moved towards newer suburban areas; it led to rapid and unsustainable sprawls. Although there were projects addressing public housing, or ways in which they planned for urban sprawls (even through 'Satellite cities'); many areas were not prepared for the increase of people and communities. Some areas that were not prepared suffered from over crowding, homelessness and unemployment. This wasn't made any easier with the introduction of automobiles as this then gave people greater opportunities to travel further in to the already unsustainable sprawls. With the ideals of nuclear family living, non-extended households, greater work opportunities, socialisation and security, came more people. Through this, came the inevitable; not only the over crowding of people and housing, but that of the automobile.

Emily Martin said : Guest Report 2 years ago

I absolutely agree 100% Grace. I find it very interesting that in modern society, especially with the ageing population that there has not been a wave of change back to how it used to be. In present time, the median age for women getting married in 30.4, quite a jump compared to 18 in industrialisation times. Families are no longer as big as they once were, as there is now no need for poorer families to have lots of children to send them away to work to provide for the family. At present, many people are now more focused on their careers before having a family, meaning that the families becoming younger, as you stated with the marriage age now falling. Very interesting observations about family structure, was very intrigued. #SOC208UOW17 #tut3 #MON1130

Grace Lynch @Gracely78713000 said : Guest Report 2 years ago

In terms of family structure, historians initially drew a conclusion that traditional (extended) family households experienced decline due to modernisation and industrialisation. This conclusion was found to be outdated and inaccurate. Instead, industrialisation saw an increase in this family structure. Historians later amended their findings, stating that due to shorter lifespans prior to the 1950s, very few families had enough living, multi-generational members to become an extended-family household. The 1950s saw a significant shift in family structure, moving toward private, nuclear families. Families no longer preferred external assistance such as nannies and servants, instead preferring to divide responsibilities between the parents. Modern Australian nuclear families conducted three main functions, considered vital to the upbringing of children at the time. These were socialisation, regulation of sexual activity, and providing material and emotional security. Families were also becoming younger as the marriage age fell and fertility rates rose. Despite an increasingly ageing population today, and the severe cost and demand on aged health care services, it is surprising that family structure has not begun to shift back toward extended family households. Instead, we once again rely on external services and assistance to meet the needs of our elderly, extended family members. #SOC208UOW17 #tut3 #MON1130

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