Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Dr. Susan M. Carlson
The United State's “great recession,” beginning in December 2007, is the latest indicator of the economic decline of middle- and working-class families. This research questions why the economic condition of U.S. families deteriorated after World War II. To address this research question, social structure of accumulation theory is used to examine the changing role of the family as an institution in capitalist society.
First, a qualitative institutional analysis of federal welfare, labor, and financial regulatory policies from the New Deal to the present is conducted. This analysis shows that, initially, the family was vital to the capitalist economy as the institution reproducing labor power. As economic growth stagnated in the mid-1970s, this role changed as the family became more important as a consumer of goods and services than the supplier of labor.
Time-series models test expectations derived from these qualitative analyses. A strong indicator of family economic deterioration is increasing household debt. During the late-1960s through the 1970s, high levels of public assistance spending significantly reduced change in consumer debt while it had no significant effect after 1980. Bank mergers at the state and local level after WWII significantly increased change in consumer debt, while bank mergers across states since 1993 had over four times the impact on increasing consumer debt levels, showing the increasing role of the family in consumption. In turn, increasing consumer debt significantly enhanced the rate of capital accumulation up until 1992, while it had a significant negative impact thereafter as families exhausted their ability to repay their debts.
Conclusions show that after WWII the state provided a social safety net to support the economic wellbeing of families and a stable environment for capital accumulation. Eventually, the social safety net was replaced by the promotion of self-sufficiency and responsibility of families to provide for their own needs. Up until the current recession, the family propped up economic growth and capital accumulation, first through public support, and then through private expenditures. Because earned income was no longer able to sustain consumption, the economic condition of families deteriorated as they became dependent on unprecedented levels of debt.
Gillespie, Michael David, "From Reproduction to Consumption: The Economic Deterioration of Families in the United States after World War II" (2010). Dissertations. 560.