Life at home in the 21st century

This fantastic book explains in detail the way families live in the early 2000s. The study was conducted by the Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) at UCLA from 2001 – 2010. It is the result of an interdisciplinary and collaborative research project that shows the impacts of the material worlds of 32 American families.

There were 21 families with a mother, a father and two children, two families with two fathers and two children, and nine families with one mother, one father and three children.

  • The median age was 42 for fathers and 41 for mothers.
  • The children were on average eight to 10 years of age.
  • 23 of the families had a household income of $50,000 – $149,999 American dollars.

Important note:

The findings were taken 2001 to 2005 which predates smartphones.

Material worlds of American families

The largely photographic text highlights the hyper-consumerism rampant in families of this demographic. Some of the notable findings were that families spent infrequent time together or in the backyard and that homes were child-centred spaces with toys throughout the house.

The text is broken into themes:

  • Material saturation
  • Food
  • Vanishing leisure
  • Kitchens command
  • Bathroom bottlenecks
  • Master suite sanctuaries
  • Plugged in
  • Personalisation of home with family photos, names of kids rooms

Material saturation

  • Pervasive consumption in all socioeconomic brackets due to the price of goods being lower than ever before.
  • Universally, families find the clutter of material goods cause high levels of mess and stress
  • The study found that most families were unable to park their car/s in the garage due to clutter
  • The fridge in most homes was representative of the clutter in the house, the more stuff on the fridge, the more items in the home altogether

Food

The study found that families’ food consumption centred on convenience, stockpiling, and eating separately.

Vanishing leisure

The study highlights the prevalence of indoor TV gaming. It is important to note the study predates smartphones and social media, which would significantly change this data. However, I would guess outdoor leisure would not change substantially.

Although outdoor leisure is desired, and many backyards feature play equipment and entertainment zones, families generally do not use it. The study showed the children use the backyard for less than 40 minutes per week.

Kitchens as command centre

Unsurprisingly, the kitchen has become a command centre, where families cook, eat, do homework and catch up. As a result, clutter piles up in this room, as the most used room, and it can cause substantial stress. Modern kitchen designs reflect this trend with mini offices and computer areas making their way into the kitchen.

The master suite

In all of the photos, the master bedroom has very little clutter is strikes the researchers as the only sanctuary in the home.

Technology

The average home has three televisions with one family having seven! Most families spend more time with game consoles than on computers.

Personalisation of home

The authors note that “houses of the American middle class are larger and contain substantially more material goods than those of other societies” (p. 135). Those items are designed to personalise the home and create a personal identity to differentiate one family from another. Items of sentimental value and relating to family heritage are also on display.

Of interest, almost all families had name displays for children’s rooms.

Family photos are displayed throughout the home, a trend seen more in American homes (and Australian homes I believe) than other areas of the world.

Overall, the text conveys the largely material world families live in, and the impact on mental health, family quality time and the financial status of the family.

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