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Third-Wave Family Structure

Futurologist Alvin Toffler has written an insightful book titled The Third Wave. Toffler suggests there are three eras, three periods of history, three waves in American culture. Then he reflects on the implications of these three waves for the individual, the family, the church, and for society at large.

First came the agricultural wave: Little House on the Prairie, squatters' rights, the simple pioneer lifestyle; men planting crops and building a home; grandmas and grandpas, uncles and aunts living nearby, often in the same home.

The second wave was the industrial wave, when families moved from the country into the city. They moved from developing farms and croplands with their own hands to becoming part of a larger corporation, working with machinery and developing technology. The extended family was not always nearby. Often they were scattered in different and far away cities. Now we spoke of the nuclear family. The family became smaller; a husband and wife with two or three children was a family in the second wave.

The third wave could be called the information wave--the wave of computers, fax machines, and mass media. In this wave we see growing affluence on the one hand, a growing poverty on the other, and a shrinking middle class. The fast-paced, driven third wave has tremendous implications for the family.

Alvin Toffler says, "A powerful wave is surging across much of the first world today, creating a new and often bizarre environment in which to work, play, marry, raise children, or retire. In this bewildering context, value systems splinter and crash, while the lifeboats of family and church are hurled madly about. The third wave makes a quantum leap from what we have known of the familiar waters of yesterday to the uncharted course of tomorrow." He concludes, "If we define the family in today's third wave as a husband, a wife, and two or more children, and ask how many Americans still live in this type of family, the answer is an astonishing seven percent." Ninety-three percent do not fit the normative second wave model of a family. This is life in the third wave.

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