fell steadily between 1946 and 1960, while the number ofnnew households created each year soared. Young Americannwomen embraced suburban domesticity with a fervor thatnembarrassed their suffragette mothers and grandmothers. Bynall signs, the laws of sociology and history had beennshattered and a familistic America had been reborn. In mynmost dreamy-eyed moments, I even imagined that the GreatnDistributists — Belloc and Chesterton — would have smilednon this American scheme to “share the property” with thenpeople.nI was aware, to be sure, of the dour complaints registerednby economists and others of the Malthusian persuasion.nSome noted the manner in which federal housing subsidiesnactually redistributed income from the poor to the well-off.nOthers complained about a startling “over investment” innhousing by both individuals and the nation at large, whichndisrupted capital markets, retarded other forms of capitalninvestment, and caused a net reduction in Americannproductivity growth rates. Still others cited the heavy penaltynimposed on renters. Environmentalists, for their part,nfretted about the loss of prime farm land around Chicago ornIndianapolis, or the new strain on air and water resources innPhoenix or Los Angeles. But these all struck me as relativelynminor complaints alongside the gains in family strength andnautonomy that the great suburban experiment seemed tonhave spawned.nAt some point in the 1980’s, though, my confidencenbegan to waver. True, the great American housingnindustry was continuing its forced march across the countryside.nThe massive Housing and Urban Development Act ofn1968 had looked to the imminent “huge increase” in thennumber of new families, as the baby boomers reachednadulthood and began.to form households of their own.nAccordingly, it had sharply increased FHA mortgage ceilings,nsubsidized interest rates for first-time home purchasersnwith low incomes, and established the Covernment NationalnMortgage Association (“Ginnie Mae”) to buy up FHAnand other loans at nonmarket rates. Moreover, these actionsnhad infused huge new sums into housing, residentialn(nonfarm) mortgage debt rising from $358 billion in 1970nto $2,162 billion in 1987, an extraordinary after-inflationnincrease of 311 percent. And yes, I nervously chanted thenmantra that all of this new money was going to new familiesnin new homes, and strengthening our nahonal fabric.nYet I couldn’t shake off the reality that family life innAmerica was, in fact, unraveling. All the positive trends ofnthe 1950’s had shifted noisily into reverse. The birthratenplummeted, from 118 (per 1,000 women, ages 15-44) inn1960 to 65 in 1978, while the number of annual divorcesntripled over the same time span. Meanwhile, the level ofnillegitimate births soared, from 224,000 in 1960 to 715,000nin 1982 and over one million in 1989. The formation ofnnew family households, meanwhile, slowed down, as youngnadults deferred marriage, many indefinitely. Once centers ofnoptimism and bearers of the spirit of new community, thensuburbs became instead symbols of gender-role confusion,nwhite flight, and escape.nIn face of these contradictions centered on the growingndisjunction between housing and family life, I tried denial.nHousing policy, I reasoned, had nothing to do with thenfamily crisis: better to blame it on the feminists; or thenpornographers; or the New Left. Indeed, I convincednmyself for a time that the family situation might have beenneven worse, if the federal subsidies had not been there,nworking to shelter- families from the cultural storms. Whennthat argument ceased to reassure, I clung to the “standards”nargument: everything would have continued to work if FHAnexaminers had stuck to their guns, and had continued tondeny mortgages to “unconventional” households and unmarriednpersons.nYet some correlations continued to haunt me. Forninstance, the number of housing units had climbed from 53nmillion in 1960 to 91 million in 1987, while averagenhousehold size had fallen from 3.33 to 2.64. In the 1970-n76 period alone, the population of the United States grew byn10.3 million people, while the number of separate householdsnrose by 9.5 million. In rough terms, this meant that fornevery individual added to the population a new householdnin a distinct dwelling was also formed. Amazingly, thesenchanges had occurred when real incomes were relativelynstagnant and the ratio of median home-sales price to mediannincome was rising sharply, from 2.37 in 1970 to 3.05 inn1978.nThen, stumbling one day across the book America’snHousing: Prospects and Problems by George Sternlieb andnJames Hughes, I found my suspicions confirmed and myndreams shattered through cogent analysis. Noting thatnhousing demand since the late 1960’s had been drivennprimarily by the shrinkage in average household size, theynconcluded: “The very decline in the size of household, withnits nominal generation of increased demand for housingnunits, may in turn be a consequence of the availability andncosts of housing units generally.” Put another way, thenexcess capacity of the residential construction industrynresulted in the building of homes that could only be filled bynthe parts of shattered or never-formed families.nSlowly, agonizingly, the horrible truth came into focus:nnot only had federal housing policy ceased to sustain familynlife; it had now become an engine destroying families!nRepeating the classic bureaucrahc pattern, the regulatorsnand the regulated had conspired to keep the housingnindustry afloat by sabotaging the very social institution theynhad once sworn to serve. A recession could be avoided, thenmacroeconomic argument went, only through the maintenancenof residential construction at an artificially high level.nThe American economy was hooked, with a superheatednhousing market being its drug-of-choice.nIndeed, it was now obvious that both industry andngovernment had a vested interest in family disruption.nFederal regulators showed their hand by easing mortgageneligibility standards and offering direct subsidies that reducednthe real costs of creating two households out of one. Otherndirect and indirect subsidies encouraged home ownershipnamong the unmarried by substituting government help fornthe economic gains (such as economies of scale) provided bynmarriage and family living. Through this ready sacrifice ofnthe family, the real estate and residential constructionnindustries gained another two or three decades of life-asthey-knew-it,nwhile the federal government gained a burgeoningnnumber of “nonfamily households” (8 million innI960, 27 million in 1990) that would have more “needs”nnnFEBRUARY 1992/15n