ABSTRACT

As an anthropologist, I know that families-even nuclear families-do not exist in isolation. As an American, I know that nuclear families in the United States are very isolated. Yet current debates about the American nuclear family emphasize attributes such as self-sufficiency and independence rather than isolation, suggesting that there is something inherently natural and positive about isolation. In reality, however, the American nuclear family model has never worked as an emotionally and economically self-contained kinship unit. In societies throughout the world, regardless of the type of family organization, each individual is linked to other extended kin through a vast array of mutual obligations that continue throughout each person's life. Reciprocal exchanges solidify connection between generations, establishing continued support for young and old.