Wednesday, February 3, 2021

53. Fifteen Defining Features of the Post-Nuclear Family ⸺ Demographic Doom Podcast Transcript

This is the transcript for my Demographic Doom podcast Episode #53 recorded in Eastham, Massachusetts on 3 February 2021 and released the next day from Provincetown, Mass. The audio master for this episode is found at Podbean and a video version is on YouTube (below). Also available on all major podcast platforms like iTunes and Google PodcastsSee the description on the YouTube version for extensive annotations, links and corrections. You can also comment on this episode there. The main website for this project is

This transcript was derived from the automatically generated YouTube transcript, reformatted and lightly edited for clarity.

I'm Glenn Campbell. I call myself a demographic philosopher. I'm looking at life and trying to predict the future through the lens of demography, or the study of human populations. I'm trying to view humanity from a distance, like aliens would see us from space.

For the past few days, I've been working on a series of web pages on the post-nuclear family trying to nail down some of its specifics. In this episode I'm going to give you a little dramatic reading of one of those web pages defining the main features of this system.

If you don't know what the post nuclear family is you might want to go back to my Podcast #46, which is the first time I describe it. But even if you haven't listened to that podcast, this web page I'm going to read is probably a pretty good introduction, because I'm starting off from scratch and just telling you what the system is all about. 

On this webpage,  I've listed 15 features that I believe define the post-nuclear family. I may come up with other features, but these 15 seem pretty stable. I've come up with a dozen other features I don't regard as essential but I think that they're strongly implied, so I'll read those features after the first 15. 

And then finally I'm going to give you a third list which is the items that need to be resolved by policy. These are things that the founding parents are going to have to determine on their own. I can't tell you, for example, what you should be teaching your children, in this family or any other. That's something that you have to work out. I have my own ideas, but they aren't part of the definition of the post-nuclear family. In this final list I can only list the questions that need to be resolved. I can't give you the answers, because that's for you to figure out.

So the webpage I'm reading from is currently located at — that's all lowercase with no dashes or spaces. Obviously, if you've already read the webpage you may not need to listen to this dramatic reading, but I could add some nuances or additional information that's not in the in the webpage.

So here is my dramatic reading of that web page… 

The Post-Nuclear Family: Main Features. 

The post-nuclear family is a system of collective parenting where between 9 and 18 children are raised in a single household by a group of cooperating adults who do not live there. The children are evenly spaced in age with a baby born into the family every 1 to 2 years. This wide spectrum of ages means that older children can care for younger ones and teach them basic skills, which relieves the adults of many routine tasks.

The household is supported financially by a system of family taxes levied on adult members, similar to a church tithe where members give 10% of their income. Children who age out of the main household can live however they choose and are free to move elsewhere, so long as these family taxes are paid. Their incentive for paying them is the promise of ongoing family support and eventual care in old age.

The post-nuclear family addresses five main issues:

➤ Number 1: How does my community or culture produce enough children to sustain itself.

➤ Number 2: How do we raise our children economically so we can afford to do it. 

➤ Number 3: How do we raise them intelligently and consistently so that they can achieve their potential. 

➤ Number 4: Who will care for me when I get old or sick and can't care for myself.

➤ Number 5: Who will support me emotionally and be there for me when I get in trouble.

So to address these five issues I've come up with a system of parenting that I call the post-nuclear family. The goal of the post-nuclear family is to raise a large number of children at a low per child cost without compromising the quality of their upbringing. The ultimate aim is to sustain and expand a local community or culture whose existence is otherwise threatened by low birth rates and the high cost of parenting. 

This plan is not presented as a solution to the demographic woes of a whole nation, and it does not require government sanction or support. It is instead an independent plan for raising children by any small group of adults who choose to form an alliance. 

The post-nuclear family is intended to preserve and perpetuate your culture, whatever you consider that to be. For a culture to survive beyond a single lifetime, it needs new members, ideally raised within that system from their earliest days. The post-nuclear family, like traditional families, is a vehicle for acculturation and character formation, as well as a safety net when members get in trouble. 

To entertain such a plan, you would have to see your culture as valuable and worth preserving beyond your own lifetime. You would have to be willing to make a substantial lifelong investment in this project, but it shouldn't be as costly in time or money as a traditional nuclear family is. Costs and risks would be distributed across multiple adults so no individual or couple is bearing an excess of burdens.

The post-nuclear family can be started as a simple parenting collective. For example, three or more couples, producing children in the traditional way, could choose to raise their children in a single shared household. The founding adults would not live in the shared home but would take turns as on-duty parents on a scheduled basis. This scheduling of responsibilities is intended to reduce competition among parents and grant more autonomy to the children. 

Children are expected to perform all of the routine tasks of the household that are within their ability, like preparing meals, cleaning house, changing diapers and teaching younger kids basic skills. The children are evenly distributed in age, from 0 to 18, which allows older children to care for younger ones. 

If the system is founded by three or more heterosexual couples, the original mothers would bring a new baby into the family every one to two years. The system becomes more complex when the fertility of those original mothers runs out, some 10 to 20 years after the collective is formed. To preserve its cumulative wisdom and culture, the post-nuclear family is intended to be a permanent institution, continuously raising children in perpetuity. If the system is to continue beyond the fertility of the founding mothers, decisions would eventually have to be made about where the next generation of babies come from, but initially they come from the traditional means of a loving couple making babies in the usual way.

This system is not a commune or a kibbutz or a group marriage. Apart from clearly defined responsibilities in support of the household, adults of the family can live any way they choose and retain all of their own assets. Like members of a church, they live away from the main household but close enough to it to perform their duties. They remain free to accumulate their own wealth and aren't expected to share it with other family members, except at their death. While alive, their only obligations to the family are taxes based on income and the sharing of parenting tasks according to a predefined schedule. Furthermore, they have to be available to devote special attention if some unexpected crisis arises.

So these are the 15 defining features of the post-nuclear family—the ones I've identified so far…

➤ Feature #1 is that between 9 and 18 kids are raised in a single dwelling. 

And here are a few notes I have on that… 

A large family allows economies of scale and systems of mutual care that aren't possible in smaller families. It also discourages any sense of entitlement, because no child is a prince or princess in a large family. They all have to cooperate to get what they want. If nothing else, a large family means lower childcare costs, because one on duty adult can manage all nine kids. 

Nine kids is considered the norm, but 18 kids is the target size when the family seeks to expand. Eventually, they would split into two families of nine kids. Although nine children is unusually large by today's standards, it's not implausible. It is similar to a very large blended family today or a traditional farm family of the past. 

You can imagine the Brady Bunch, a popular TV show, where there were six kids. Well, this is only 50% higher than that. 

➤ Feature #2: Children are evenly spaced in age, born every 1 to 2 years. 

This spacing is intended to reduce direct competition between kids and to create a natural hierarchy among them. Older kids have more privileges responsibility and authority. Since every child is a different age, each of them has a special place in the family and can be expected to be to be treated differently. This reduces claims of unfairness, because every child knows that he will eventually grow into the privileges that his older siblings get. 

Older children, once they learn a useful skill, can teach it to younger ones without much adult intervention. 

If the intention is to split the family in two at a later date, then new babies are added every year; otherwise every two years is considered the norm. The only kids that are likely to be the same age are twins born at the same time.

If family members are spaced every two years and average longevity is 80 years, the total size of the family—that's kids and adults—will eventually stabilize at about 40 members. This is consistent with a large extended family today.

Feature #3: Children themselves provide most of the routine labor of the household, children prepare meals, clean house and care for younger children. A child is given important household responsibilities at the earliest age when they can reasonably handle them. At age 17 or 18, a teenager can manage the whole family for short periods without an adult present at all. This might happen, for example, overnight. Adults are needed to supervise the tasks of the home, and they may pitch in to help, but the ultimate goal is a self-regulating system that needs little adult intervention for routine tasks. Freed of these repetitive tasks, adults can focus on higher level functions. 

➤ Feature #4: Adults provide supervision, education, mentoring, financial support, logistical support and long-term planning. They supply the physical dwelling and protection from outside threats—all the complex things that teenagers can't reasonably be expected to do. 

As a general rule, adults don't perform duties that children and teens are capable of, except, perhaps, to show how it is done or to share in those tasks on an equal footing. Adult interaction with the family should emphasize quality time that makes maximum use of their skills and creativity.

The adults also define and enforce the policies and rules that the kids and adults have to follow.

➤ Feature #5: Adults come into the household for assigned duties and social visits but they do not live there. 

They live separately in their own homes in any arrangement they choose. This gives the kids more autonomy and helps prevent adults from stepping on each other's toes. 

Although adults cooperate on the raising of children and supporting the household, they retain their own property, lifestyle, relationships and careers, independent of other adults in the group. This is not a commune, as I said. It's not a group marriage—unless the adults choose it to be. It is people living their lives as they do today but just cooperating on this one shared project.

The system is analogous to a community church, where many members contribute to the church and its functions, but no one lives in the church, and parishioners lead separate lives outside of it. The household may have an open-door policy where adult family members can visit anytime they want, but at any particular time, only one adult is in charge.

➤ Feature #6: Childrearing never ends.

As teenagers age out of the core household, new babies are brought in. Where the babies come from is a policy decision and not part of the core definition of the post-nuclear family. 

➤ Feature #7: Most basic knowledge, culture and training is passed from older children to younger ones. For example, language is taught primarily by older children to younger ones. Adults step in only to fine-tune these basic skills, teach advanced skills and provide a system of formal education.

➤ Feature #8: Admission to the initial group of founding adults is highly selective.

Before they form the collective, these adults have to have high confidence in each other and have to be in general agreement on all the basic principles of parenting.

➤ Feature #9: Once a child is born into the family, they are a member for life.

This is just like families today under normal circumstances. No one gets to choose their family, but once you're a member, you are a member forever. Now, people are certainly free to leave their families, and they do it today, but that's not human nature. Human nature under normal circumstances is that you remain connected with your family and your parents for life. Members can be excommunicated from a family, but they have to really do something bad. It's highly unusual in both today's families and in families of the future.

➤ Feature #10: the family is a lifelong support system—just like families of today ought to be. 

If you get in trouble as an adult, you know your family will do what they can to help you, usually without pay. Pride and mutual respect keep you from taking advantage of this system, but if you do get in trouble, you have your family to call on. 

➤ Feature #11: All adult members of the family are expected to support the family financially through a system of family taxes. 

This is similar to a church tithe where a percentage of your income is given to the group. 

➤ Feature #12: The family provides lifelong health care for its members. 

For example, they would provide health insurance in the U.S., and they provide appropriate care when a member gets sick or disabled. This includes care for the elderly when they can no longer care for themselves. 

➤ [Feature #13:] Unlike other adults, sick or elderly family members may live in the same household as the children or in lodging nearby. 

This allows the children to participate in the care of these elders, for example by providing meals

➤ Feature #14: Adults choose their own leadership structure and governing system. 

The system of governance is initially determined by the founding adults, perhaps in a written charter. That charter can be modified later by an established process. Authority among the adults is clearly defined. At any given time, one adult is clearly in charge, and they are probably going to elect a leader as well.

➤ Feature #15: One household can be split into two through a system of mitosis, which is making two households from one while preserving the family's culture and institutional memory. 

So what happens here is a new dwelling is prepared a short distance from the original home, and children of alternating ages are moved into the new household. It's kind of like the undoing of a zipper. This increases the number of households from one to two and grows the community while preserving the family's internal systems—their cumulative wisdom. 

In preparation for this division, the original family would be increased from 9 to 18 kids over the preceding 18 years—that is, a baby would be added every year instead of every two years. After the families are split, there would be two families of nine kids, each spaced every two years. The adults connected to the original family will also split, with half of them being assigned to the new family. 

This change need not be traumatic for the children, since they would have known about it for years. The new household could initially be located close to the old one to allow continued daily communication. You wouldn't lose contact with the people you've considered your siblings. It's just that they become cousins now. After a period of adjustment—maybe two years—the new household could be moved further away, as it becomes appropriate. 

This whole process of mitosis takes about 20 years, from the time the original family starts producing children every year to the time of division 18 years later, and then another two years for the system to stabilize. 

So those are the 15 core features, the defining features that I don't think the post-nuclear family can do without. 

Now I'm going to give you a list of what I call “implied” features—things that I think are likely but are not an essential part of the definition… 

➤ So one implied feature is that children are homeschooled under the supervision of a paid professional teacher. If you're going to go to all the trouble to establish this system, you're not going to turn its most important function over to a public school. You're going to do it yourself. You're going to establish a curriculum, and the contents of this curriculum is going to be a matter of a lot of debate and negotiation among the adults, because it's so important. The curriculum is the plan for what the children are going to learn and when, and it's not static. It's a continuously evolving organism that is going to be adapted to changes in the world and changes in philosophy. 

The teacher is assigned exclusively to this task. This is not a shared position. It's an exclusive position, and that's why you should be paying someone to do this. It can be one of the founding parents, but it doesn't have to be. He or she works a standard Monday-through-Friday schedule, managing the education plan of one family or maybe several of them. 

The teacher is really more of an educational manager than a teacher, per se, because they assign educational resources more than they actually teach. They will directly teach students only when other educational resources don't work. The educational resources they have available might be online learning, kids teaching other kids, textbook learning, standard exercises and any new options that technology might bring about. Formal education is going to be a on a fixed schedule during the day just like school today. During certain hours during the day, you are at school, you're doing your job of learning. 

➤ Another implied feature is that children of the family are genetically diverse. That means they come from a lot of different biological parents. I'm not declaring in advance where the babies come from, but it makes sense to have genetic diversity, because this allows a lot of talents to emerge and it encourages overall resilience in the population. 

Genetic diversity is a lot easier to achieve than some sort of genetic plan, which might be known as eugenics, where you're trying to breed a certain kind of person. Eugenics is a political minefield and ultimately, it's impractical. I think it doesn't work. The problem with trying to breed humans is their lifespan is so long, and it's so difficult to identify and isolate the traits that you want. How, for example, do you breed for intelligence? It's not just one gene that you can select for.

Dogs can be bred only because their time to reproductive maturity is short—that is, maybe two years—and the traits we expect from dogs are very simple. With humans, it's much more complicated. So rather than get into the whole eugenics thing, it's a lot easier just to seek out diversity—that is, a lot of different gametes from a lot of different parents. 

Where the babies come from is a policy decision, and it's not part of the core definition of the post-nuclear family. Whatever method you choose for making babies, there's going to be a lot of controversy. There's a lot of politics. There's a lot of negotiation. That's the way humans make babies. That's always been true, and it's going to continue to be true. What sperm is going to be united with what egg? That's always been a fraught topic, and it will continue to be. 

➤ Another implied feature is that the family should be evenly balanced between girls and boys, with roughly the same of each, ideally alternating. So in a 9-child household, the ideal sequence -would be boy-girl-boy-girl-boy-girl. If you have an 18-child household, intending to split it, the ideal sequence would be boy-boy-girl-girl-boy-boy-girl-girl. That way, when you divide the family, you get the traditional sequence of boy-girl-boy-girl. 

In theory, you don't need males at all. As a male, I'm allowed to say that. I mean, what good are males after all? you just collect a little bit of sperm, and that sperm goes a long way. So an all-female society is theoretically possible, but I just have the feeling it would be dangerous. I think it’s probably not a good idea unless you really know what you're doing. Nature has this 50-50 ratio, and I think you probably should stick with it. 

➤ Another implied feature: The primary parental bond between a young child and their parent is not going to be between a young child and an adult. It's going to be between that child and the person who cares for them most of the time, which is probably a teenager. So, yes, young children will have a firm parental bond, or maybe several of them, but it will be with their older siblings, probably not with the adults, because the adults only come in one day a week. 

I don't want to predetermine who bonds with whom, or who a child runs to for comfort, but generally speaking, a young child bonds with the person who is caring for them, who is there every day, who's talking to them. that's who they run to for comfort, and that's who they look to as a reference point as they're exploring the world. 

These roles could be emphasized by calling adults “aunts” and “uncles” rather than parents. For example, you could refer to one person as Aunt Mary and someone else is Uncle James when they come in to care for you—unless, of course, you know who your biological mother and father are. In that case, you can call them Mom and Dad, but your primary bond is going to be with this older sibling who cares for you.

Every child has a biological parent, at least a biological mother, and if that mother is known, you are allowed to have a special bond with your mother. They will always be your Mom, presumably because they nursed you and brought you into the world and breastfed you and have a special bond with you. I don't want to deny that to anyone. But these biological parents should not be allowed to give their child any kind of material benefit that other children don't get. They can have a special relationship with them, but they shouldn't be giving them special gifts that other children don't get. 

➤ Here's another implied feature: Most resources within the core household are shared. That includes food, clothing and toys and other equipment. A family naturally is a communistic system. You can't get around that, but children would also be allowed to own their own property. The way this would work is that your property has to fit into a defined space. I think it should be a footlocker that's at the end of your bed. Everything that's inside your footlocker is yours. For example, you go to the beach, and you collect some shells. Those are your shells, and you can keep them as long as they fit in your in your footlocker. That's a nice way to regulate private property. It all has to fit in this defined space. 

Individual kids cannot own pets, and the rationale here is that a pet isn't going to fit in your footlocker. Individuals can't own a dog, but the whole household can own a dog, and it's shared by everybody. Outside the main household, adults are not required to share, any more than you, as an adult, would share with your adult sibling [today]. You may share with them, but you still retain all your own assets. You don't give your brother or sister everything you own. The walls may come down a bit if your brother or sister gets in trouble and needs you. In that case, you may give them more of your resources than you normally would.

➤ Another implied feature: Regardless of the family's wealth, children should be raised in conditions of what I call “benign poverty”, where resources and privileges are relatively rare and have to be negotiated for. Toys, for example are going to be very well used, and most clothes are going to be hand-me-downs. 

This is another reason why adults should not reside in the house itself. Their accumulated wealth can corrupt the children. The sort of resources children get is a subject of negotiation and control, and it's something you want to be very conscious about. There's going to be plenty of healthy food supplied to the household from the outside. The kids shouldn't have to worry about where the food comes from, but it may not be exciting food. There may not be a lot of gourmet items or a lot of sweets. That stuff could be controlled. That's all a matter of policy. 

➤ Another implied feature is that children must obey an “Electronic Media Policy”, with the policy being determined by the adults. Electronic media could be television. It could be computers or video games. All of that stuff is so addictive and potentially destructive that it has to be very closely controlled. Since technology is rapidly evolving and its effects may not be fully known right away, this policy is always changing. It's always evolving. Books, I would imagine, are generally exempt. You can read any book you want at any time, but watching a movie, that’s a matter of negotiation. It's not automatic that you would watch any movie you want any time you want. And the same would apply to any other electronics. Once a child reaches adulthood they have access to everything, but up until that point, there's a gradation. There's a system for deciding what media you have access to. 

➤ Another implied feature is community service. So once a teen reaches the age of adulthood—whatever that's deemed to be—they enter a period of family service or community service for several years, which is similar to military service of some societies today. This labor can be used for a variety of purposes for the family or the community. It can also be used for child bearing, if that is deemed to be the policy. In other words women between the ages of 18 and 22 may bear babies for the family. 

➤ Another implied policy: After a young adult has completed their community service, they can conduct their lives any way they want. They can travel. They can live anywhere in the world. They can form any romantic relationship. They can pursue any career. There are no restrictions on people who graduate from the family, except that you have to pay your family taxes. 

You're also expected to keep in contact with the family, but that that comes naturally to most people. You always want to keep in touch with the people you grew up with.

➤ Another implied feature: When a graduate of the family eventually reaches retirement age at 65 or 70, it's generally expected that they will come back home. They will return to the family and serve as active parents and live out their final days with their birth family. This isn't a requirement it's only an expectation, but I think it's normal for most people even today. Retired people tend to have a strong desire to return home in their final years. 

➤ Another implied feature: The family is generally indifferent to the sexual relations of its adult members. You can marry. You can divorce. You can have a boyfriend, a girlfriend. You can do anything you want in adulthood, and it's not going to faze the family. The family really isn't interested because this all takes place outside of the main household. You can associate yourself with other people any way you want—as long as you're still paying your family taxes, as long as you're still attentive to your family obligations.

The family is only going to draw the line at childbearing. If you go off and have a tryst and produce a baby with someone else, there's not an automatic guarantee that your family will take that baby into its system, because this is something that has to be controlled. This is something that's a subject of negotiation. It's not a a matter of whim. When you produce a baby, it's produced on a plan, so this family's going to be very sensitive about you going off and having a baby without their permission. 

Due to something called the “Westermarck Effect”, sexual relations within the family are unlikely, because people naturally are not sexually attracted to their siblings. That's part of evolutionary psychology that was first discovered in the Kibbutz's of Israel. In the Kibbutz's of Israel, where you have a lot of children raised together from different parents, they very rarely married with each other. They always sought partners outside of the family. 

If you do get married, your spouse or romantic partner is certainly welcome to visit your family, but they are not automatically part of your family. In other words, they're not entitled to care in their elder years just because they married you. That's something that may be possible, but it has to be negotiated. It's not automatic, because obviously this other person hasn't paid into the system the way a normal family member would.

➤ Another implied feature: When a child of the family grows old and eventually dies, it is expected that they will leave all of their assets in their will to the family. So all of their accumulated wealth should be transferred to the family, which is what happens today in most families, and in the post-nuclear family it would be expected as well.

So that's my list of implied features that I think are likely based on those 15 original features. I'm probably going to add more implied features later, but in my final list I want to give you a list of things that I cannot determine in advance, that the founding parents and the adults of the family are going to have to determine. And here are those things… 

➤ How the family starts—how you're going to form this family. Initially, I have an idea that it should be three or four heterosexual couples joining together in this parenting collective, but that's just one option. It could be started in a lot of different ways, and that's not something that I'm not going to dictate. 

➤ I'm also not going to dictate where the babies come from. Initially, if you start this as a parenting collective, then the babies obviously come from the founding mothers, but when their fertility runs out, where do the babies come from? Well, that's not something I'm going to determine. I've recorded a podcast about it—I think Episode 50—but basically it's none of my business where the babies from. That's something that the parents have to negotiate. 

➤ The parents also have to negotiate how duties and financial responsibilities are assigned among the adults. All of that scheduling has to be worked out.

➤ The family also determines the rules the children must follow and the rules the adults must follow. It has to write that Electronic Media Policy. 

➤ It [also] has to define, more broadly how the world is presented to the children. What a family is, is protection from the outside world. No one as a baby is exposed to the full brunt of the outside world. They are protected from it in a sort of Disneyland, which is the family, and it's a topic of negotiation how we let the outside world to come into the family, just like the electronic media policy. 

➤ There [will] have to be systems developed for how disputes are resolved, and that includes disputes between children and disciplinary problems with children and disputes among adults. How are we going to resolve them? There should be some very clear procedure for doing so.

➤ And of course we have to come up with an educational curriculum. We have to decide among ourselves what we're going to teach our children and on what schedule we're going to teach that. What books are we going to require them to read? All of that is part of the educational curriculum. 

➤ And we have to decide how the family is going to be managed. How it's going to organize itself, and who's going to lead the family. 

➤ We obviously have to decide where the family lives. What part of the world do we start our family in? What kind of dwelling do we choose? Do we build a dwelling from scratch? Do we buy an existing dwelling? Where should it be located? Should it be in the city? Should it be in the country? That all has to be negotiated.

➤ And we have to negotiate family taxes. We have to figure out how we're going to fund this thing, and if we're going to assess taxes from family members, how much should the tax rate be? When will they be paying their taxes? How will these taxes be enforced? That all has to be worked out.

➤ And in the happy situation where you producing more taxes than you have expenses, how are we going to spend our additional funds? How are we going to do this? 

➤ And when are we going to divide the family? When should we take our family and divide it into two families? That has to be decided. 

So these are all the features that I can think of right now regarding the post-nuclear family. I'm sure I will come up with more, but for now I hope you enjoyed this dramatic reading of my web page. If you want to see if I've come up with any new items, you can look at the webpage itself:


Written, recorded and edited by Glenn Campbell. For annotations, links and corrections, see the description on the video version of this podcast. You can also leave comments there. See here for all my podcast scripts on this blog.

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