ArticlesVolume 14, Number 2 (2005)

From Our Family to Yours: Rethinking the “Beneficial Family” and Marriage-Centric Corporate Benefit Programs

Abstract

In his Father Knows Best world, Jim Anderson was accustomed to clarity. Each week the show conveyed the message that the Andersons had found the most beneficial social formation in which to live: one comprised of a breadwinner father and homemaker mother in a nuclear family, living in a middle-class, suburban dwelling. The Andersons inhabited a 1950s television world filled with upper-class, white-collar fathers, stay-at-home wives, and two or three children, and offered a comforting unified vision of the American family. Given his title character status as the “father who knows best,” Jim Anderson would expect that the way he lived would be accepted by the majority of Americans as the most advantageous way to do so. Corporations registered their approval of the consumeristic suburban way of life that the Andersons and their “beneficial family” model represented by sponsoring 1950s television sitcoms about such consumeristic nuclear families.

Long after these 1950s television programs have stopped being part of networks’ scheduled programming, corporations continue to reward nuclear families that fit the narrow “beneficial family” mold in their benefits programs, largely dismissing nonnuclear family structures as nontraditional outliers undeserving of recognition and protection. This preference prevails regardless of the fact that the “beneficial family” model, comprised of a consumeristic nuclear family, is not the predominant family model. Despite media images to the contrary, the nuclear family is only one of many different and valuable family models found throughout the United States and the world.’ Nonnuclear family units such as extended family, kinship networks, and friends-as-family are often wrongheadedly referred to as “nontraditional,” despite centuries of enduring existence.