That is hardly surprising, because the family is fundamental to our sense of social well-being.Trends in divorce rates or in numbers of single-parent families are serious causes of concern and also sources of heated political rhetoric.
I would have thought that the harm done by spousal violence cannot be captured in dollars--at least, the ancients would never have dreamt of applying such a measure.
The value of historical knowledge is that it gives us a sense of perspective to understand and assess our own condition and values.
A historical perspective is especially useful in thinking about the family and the moral values that contribute to our ideals of family life.
In ideas about the sad state of the contemporary family, there is almost always some explicit or implicit historical narrative.
When we lament the fact that families today are falling apart, it is generally understood that this represents a deterioration from a better past when families were healthy and whole--the image of the Cleaver family in "Leave It to Beaver," with a gentle father, a wise housewife-mother and two basically decent but mischievous sons.
The politics of such an image of the family are powerful.
In the conservative view, if families were healthy and whole again, government wouldn't have to have a good many social support programs.
In the feminist view, this image of the family idealizes a subordinate role for women as housewives.
I have no intention of entering these contemporary political debates.
My point is that these debates, and the social issues underlying them, look different depending on your historical perspective--that is, whether you believe that history is a long struggle against patriarchy or a development toward fragmentation of the family, or whether you believe women have always been in the home until the aberration of the last few decades.
Now, I am not a sociologist, able to comment authoritatively on trends in family life over the past three decades.