Coronavirus might break the nuclear family. That wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Many dual-breadwinner families struggle to afford child care but have no realistic alternatives. Those who can afford it often pay strangers — nannies, au pairs, day-care centers — a large chunk of their income to watch their children, while also paying others — nursing homes and retirement communities — to, essentially, quarantine their elderly parents. These professional caregivers tend to be women, who in turn must find (often lower-quality) child care for their own children and parents while they provide bespoke care for the children or parents of the more well-to-do.

Again, this was not always the default, and it need not remain the default. In 1940, 25 percent of Americans lived in multigenerational homes. The number plummeted to 12 percent by 1980, the lowest in American history. But it has been climbing since, reaching 18 percent in 2012, largely powered by economic necessity after the Great Recession. While multigenerational living is increasing and might continue to increase during our present economic crisis, the isolation of older generations remains the cultural norm.

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