The problems and challenges in the world today are easy to learn about in the mass media, and sometimes simply by looking outside one’s door. Solutions also seem to be easy to find; just figure out for whom to vote, then go back to sleep.
However, trying to figure out what are the causes, meanings, and solutions for the problems we see can keep a person awake with the complexity, complications, frustrations, contradictions, and deliberate diversions from the truth that are everywhere. Yet many of our contemporary problems are not new, some of them never went away, while others keep getting worse. So if it helps, please keep in mind that people are living lifestyles today that have been found in the past to successfully aid people in surviving similar tribulations.
Many people through the past up to the present have found that an effective method for responding to the challenges of the day is to work, play, and live together in small, extended-family-like community. This seems to be a simple idea, given that for tens of thousands of years of our prehistory humans lived in small-groups, like clans and tribes, yet applying a cooperative lifestyle to our contemporary, competitive world can be a difficult challenge all its own. For this we need to know what successful communitarians have learned about living in community in the 21st century.
The problem, of course, is that we cannot see the future, and so it can be helpful to look to the past to identify trends, both in the progression of problems as well as in the evolution of the solutions. To help you with this the present author recently completed a very long book tracing and explaining the history of communitarianism through all of human civilization! Communitarianism is not a short story; it is actually comprised of many short stories, some of them very beautiful, others so dramatic they will tear your heart out. The book is titled, The Intentioneer’s Bible: Interwoven Stories of the Parallel Cultures of Plenty and Scarcity, available at $9.99 as an ebook on Amazon.com, which permits interested people to read for free the first 80 pages or so of the book.
While The Intentioneer’s Bible covers the history of communitarianism, and projects some of the paths through the future for building communitarian lifestyles, called “intentioneering,” there is another book that focuses upon detailed descriptions of the current communitarian movement. This is the Communities Directory, the seventh edition of which is to be available in July (discounted pre-sales are available for $30 at: http://www.ic.org). Further on in this article is a study of the communities movement using information published in earlier editions of the Communities Directory.
Considering relatively recent American history, with regard to increasingly difficult economic conditions, consider what Robert Reich and others have explained, that in the 1950s and ‘60s a person, usually a man, could get a job that paid enough to support a house-wife and a couple children, and stay with it his entire career. Then beginning in the 1970s this ideal began to fade. Wages stagnated while the cost of living rose, so much that the wife could no longer stay at home and had to also work in order to maintain a middle-class or even a working-class lifestyle.
Two-income, two-car families became the norm. Who then minded the children? First it was the television, now the Internet is the surrogate babysitter. Of course the best thing to do is to find other compatible families with whom to share childcare, and this is where intentional community comes into the story.
From reading the history in The Intentioneer’s Bible of the origins of the cohousing community movement in Denmark, one finds that a big reason for the design and growth of the cohousing movement was to create child-friendly communities for young families. It worked so well in Denmark that Americans began to apply the community design here around 1990. As shown in the study of the data from the Communities Directories (below), cohousing is now the fastest growing intentional communities movement in America! The same is probably true around the world.
Cohousing communities are also some of the largest new communities listed in the directories, and it is amazing to see how effectively the cohousing movement uses standard professional services for building community, including architects, builders, developers, lawyers, and bankers. Cohousing has done wonders for the communities movement, except that it is expensive to buy into a cohousing community. One has to have a middle-class income to be able to help create a new cohousing community, unless one can wait a few years until people want to move on and rent out their cohousing unit. Yet there must be a better way for lower-income people to also enjoy community for themselves and their children. Who is working on identifying that community option? Do we need a new communities movement that can help working-class people provide for themselves what the middle-class has created for itself? Creating working-class community should be easier now with the example of the success of cohousing community for the middle-class.
The trend seems to be clear. In the ‘50s and ‘60s one income-earner per family was enough, then from the ‘70s through the twenty-teens two income-earners per family have been needed. With housing and other price inflation continuing, now the American family needs more than two income-earners. Increasing the minimum wage certainly helps, yet how does the “American Dream” family, that patriarchal ideal of the nuclear family, add income earners? And if it manages to do so, is it still a “family?” Perhaps the need is to come up with a new form of family for responding to the challenges of the new millennia.
Three or more adults working and living together for mutual advantage is called an “intentional community.” Community, then, is the answer! People simply need to be aware of this lifestyle option, and need to learn what others know about creating small, extended-family-like communities, because many expect that the need will be escalating through the future. Consider the following demographics.
According to U.S. Census reports and other studies, half of all marriages end in divorce, one-third of all adults in America live alone, one-third of all women with more than one child had them with more than one man (called “multiple-partner fertility”), one-quarter of all children live in single-parent families, and half of those children live in poverty. These are the statistics on the American family, showing that the American Dream of the happy nuclear family is not working for many people. These statistics can be interpreted so as to present the case for community, or at least some form of collective family that does not rely only upon marriage and biology, instead a form of family that emphasizes adults’ commitment to the domestic living group or community they create. (See references at the end of this article: Guzzo, 2014; Logan, Manlove, Ikramullah, & Cottingham, 2006; Martin, 2011; U.S. Census reports)
While the traditional nuclear family will never go away, extensions of it have always existed. The term “extended-family” means including other family members, like aunts, cousins, grandparents, or grandchildren of the nuclear family in the same household. More and more, however, the desire and need is to include with the biological family other non-biologically-related adults, especially if they also have children, for two reasons. One is in order for parents to be able to help each other with childcare and other domestic labor, and the second reason is for people to be able to live with others of like mind. These “affinity-families” create intentional communities rather than extended-families, and since the biological and marriage ties are less emphasized, something else has to provide the glue or the rationalization for people to practice small-group mutual aid, which usually means finding common interests, values, or goals. These are the affinities among people important to the creation and maintenance of community.
With the conservative, religious-right defining the nature of the ideal or God-sanctioned “family” as being the nuclear design of father, mother, and children, a different term is needed for affinity-based families which can be comprised of any number of adults of either gender, with or without children. For this the term “cofamily” is offered.
The term “cofamily” has an obvious connection with the term “cohousing,” while the meanings are somewhat different. The Cohousing Association of the U.S.A. has a very limited definition for the term “cohousing,” with six specific criteria to which a cohousing community is expected to adhere. Many groups calling themselves “cohousing” do not follow all of these criteria, and so a different name is needed for their type of community. Essentially, any small group of people whose community does not fit the classic cohousing model (explained on the cohousing website and in The Intentioneer’s Bible) can instead call themselves a “cofamily community,” or simply a “cofamily.” Like with an extended family, a cofamily is typically comprised of fewer than ten adults, while ten or more adults can simply use the term “intentional community.” An intentional community is defined as three or more adults, yet for small groups the cofamily name suggests a more intimate lifestyle. In fact some people actually leave cohousing community in order to find a more intimate form of community, which requires a smaller group. Cofamilies of 3 to 9 adults can provide more intimacy in relationships than do large groups.
While the term “cofamily” is not yet an established term for small communities, the need for focusing upon the development of small communities is growing. Between the surveys made of the communities movement for the 1990 and the 2010 communities directories, the number of small communities of from 3 to 9 members grew by almost two-and-a-half times. This need to concentrate upon developing an identity or tradition for small intentional communities may result in cofamily becoming the first new intentional community movement of the 21st century.
The Communities Movement in America
In the 2010 Communities Directory published by the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC), the population total for American communities with more than 2 members is: 21,660 people. In the 1990 Directory of Intentional Communities that total is 8,054 people. So the increase in population in the communities movement (or at least its reported population) in those 20 years was 269%.
In the 2007 Communities Directory Laird Schaub, then the FIC’s executive director estimated that there is 100,000 people in the American intentional communities movement. The actual count of 21,660 people, or about one-fifth of the estimated total, is a reasonable representation for a movement that typically prefers to be quiet, unobtrusive, or hidden. The rest will have to be assumed, because we know that there are always more communitarians than are willing to be counted, or that even know about the larger movement!
Consider that excluded from this 100,000 population figure are the 11,000 or so Hutterites, a movement which started with 16th century Anabaptist Christians, now in the northern plains states, although most Hutterites live in Canada. Then there are also about 2,000 Christian Bruderhof members in America, a movement that started in the 1930s and affiliated with the Hutterites. While a few Hutterite and Bruderhof communities are listed in the FIC directory, most are not listed or counted. So we can estimate that there is somewhere around 13,000 Hutterite/Bruderhof members in America.
Add to that count the Catholic monasteries which alone comprise about 88,000 people. The best source for this number available to the present author is the 2014 article written for the Pew Research Center by Michael Lipka titled, U.S. Nuns Face Shrinking Numbers and Tensions with the Vatican. The term “nuns” is misleading as that term refers to the cloistered sisters insulated from worldly influences. The term “sisters” is the generic term including both cloistered nuns and other women religious living in convents and working in Catholic schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other worldly activities. In his article Lipka explains that the number of Catholic Sisters dropped precipitously from a population of about 180,000 women religious in 1965 to about 50,000 in 2014, a 72% drop in fifty years. This information was reported by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.
The primary reason offered by a reader (Emmett Coyne) of Michael Lipka’s article for explaining the drop in the number of Catholic women in religious vocations, is that after 1965 women began to enjoy opportunities to have careers and lifestyles which they did not have earlier. Women had entered Catholic monasticism for the education and the opportunity to be leaders in their communities, and once that was possible in the dominant culture they lost interest in religious communalism. This says that for most Catholic Sisters, other than cloistered nuns, it was not about religion, or about having Jesus as their bride-groom, or about service to the community, instead the allure of Catholic monasticism for women was about getting out of the house!
Neither was Catholic monasticism more than nominally about celibacy, as a reader’s comment (by Fred Jones) on Lipka’s article states that a survey by researchers at St. Louis University commissioned by “several orders of Catholic nuns” found that 40% of all Catholic sisters report having experienced some form of sexual trauma “at the hands of priests and other nuns.” The report was not published, although it has been acquired by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Sexual harassment of women may be another reason why Catholic Sisters give up their vows, and it may help to explain why the drop in priests (women cannot be priests in Catholicism) is only half that of women during the same fifty years. Catholic Orders of women always have to be under the oversight of male priests.
Another important consideration offered by a reader of Lipka’s article (George Waite) is that there are now more Catholic Sisters over the age of 90 than there are Sisters under the age of 60. Interestingly, the same dynamic of most members leaving while the remaining members age and are not replaced by younger members was experienced by the Shakers.
The drop in male priests in the same fifty years between 1965 and 2014 was from about 59,000 to 38,000. This includes both diocesan priests or those who lead the Catholic community, and the religious priests who live in monasteries.
Adding together the 100,000 estimated non-Hutterite and non-Catholic-monastic communitarians with the 13,000 Hutterites/Bruderhofers and the 88,000 female and male Catholic monastics totals to a little over 200,000 people, or around a fifth-of-a-million people living in some form of intentional community in America. Again, a few small Catholic monasteries appear in the FIC directory, yet not many.
Since intentional communities involve gifting and sharing economies, partly to minimize use of monetary economics within their communities, like what many Native Americans practice on their reservations and elsewhere, the population of Indian Reservations may be included along with that of the communitarians. According to the USA Census Bureau, there are about 1,144,000 Native Americans on reservations. Add that to the fifth-of-a-million communitarians and we now have about one-and-a-third-million Americans (1,344,000) living at least partially outside of the dominant culture’s monetary system.
Since the population of the USA is somewhere around 324 million people, 1.3 million people in gifting and sharing societies equal less than half-of-one-percent (0.4%) of the American population. Although this is quite a small proportion of the population, it is very important to know that these alternatives to “business as usual” do exist, since whatever your background or proclivities, there is probably a community somewhere that you and your family would fit into. Or if not, you could always start your own gifting and sharing culture with like-minded people when you need or want more of a community than what you’ve got.
That 0.4% of America comprises the American portion of the “Fourth World,” while the dominant culture of the 99.6% of the American population comprises the American part of the “First World.” These are political-economic terms. The 1st World is the global system of neo-liberal market capitalism, while the 4th World may be defined partly as comprised of small, non-monetary economies based upon gifting and sharing in community. Small countries or “micro-states” are also included in the 4th World.
Keep in mind that while people are born into Native American Fourth World culture, most non-Indians who comprise the intentional communities movements, religious or secular, are born into the dominant, First World culture, and become Fourth World when they join or create intentional community, thus leaving the First World to create the counterculture or parallel culture.
For a little more perspective, consider that the total of active-duty and reservists in the American military is around 2 million people. Also consider that military personnel are engaged in a form of communalism, since everything they do and have is government property, which is a form of commonly-owned property. Military personnel do get paid, in the same way that some who live communally get a small allowance, although like some Wal-Mart workers, some military folks do not get paid enough to live on and so sometimes have to get food stamps and other welfare assistance. So actually, the military is something like an authoritarian intentional community (remember that Catholic monasticism had its military orders like the Teutonic Knights and the Hospitallers of St. John), yet a person can get too liberal with the use of the “intentional community” term, and so it is necessary to affirm that the military ought not to be considered to be part of the counterculture.
A way to think about the similarities between the military and the Fourth World, is that while we need a military for some important things in our culture, we also need a counterculture, or as I prefer to write, a Parallel Culture, because people always need to have a choice of lifestyles from which to choose. Youth, especially, needs an alternative to being part of the 1st World that they grew up in. Youths often look for a way out of the “Matrix,” and the Parallel Culture provides a peaceful option for that, as opposed to anti-social activities like becoming a criminal extremist, mass-murderer, or fanatical terrorist! So yes, we need an alternative culture in some ways as much as we need a military.
Another corollary is that in America there are about 2 million people incarcerated in our jails and prisons. This we do not need, and hopefully with the end of marijuana prohibition many of these non-violent people will be freed! What will they do when they get out once marijuana is legal? How will they fit into the dominant culture, and what is the chance that they will want to fit in? If they want or need an alternative to the dominant culture, they can be offered America’s 4th World communitarianism!
In some ways the 4th World is a “through the looking glass” world, an alternative culture that any of us can step into at any time to get at least part way out of the dominant culture. Some of us actually have figured out how to live in both worlds, with one foot in each! Cohousing community does this better than any other, and that is part of why cohousing is the fastest-growing communitarian movement in the world. Another big reason why cohousing is so successful is that it involves the gifting of labor and the sharing of private property in community.
As the cohousing movement clearly shows, people are not as much interested in working to create communal societies based upon the sharing of commonly-owned property, as they are collective communities based upon the sharing of privately-owned property. For this reason cofamilies do not emphasize communalism, although that lifestyle option remains available for the building of communal cofamilies.
The remainder of this article presents information on the growth and development of the intentional communities movement, from small intimate cofamilies to large, bustling cohousing communities.
American Communities Movement Statistics
A survey done by the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) for their 1990 directory counted 240 intentional communities with more than two members in the USA, and in 2010 the total was 679. The number of communities increased 283% during the twenty years from 1990 to 2010, while the total membership increased 269%. How much of this increase is from communities becoming aware of and being willing to be listed in the FIC directory, and how much is it from a growing communities movement? One answer comes from the communities’ founding dates.
There is a grand total of 845 unique communities listed in the two FIC directories (240+679-74duplicates=845). Observing their founding dates, the oldest community was founded in 1891, Synergy House Cooperative, CA. From each of the decades of the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s less than ten communities have survived through to today. From the 1960s Baby Boom Cultural Revolution 26 communities still survive, and from the ‘70s 95 founded communities remain. The 1980s “Big Chill” resulted in only 67 founded communities surviving the decade, then from the 1990s with the advent of cohousing 155 founded communities exist today. From 2000 to 2006 170 communities were founded, averaging 24 new communities per year. Then with the Great Recession new community foundings doubled to 53 in 2007, and 44 in 2008! 2009 was the 2010 directory survey year, so no additional data is available until the next Communities Directory is published, expected in July, 2016.
74 communities appear in both directories (or 31%), although there are also at least 20 more communities in the 1990 directory that are known to still exist yet that opted out of the 2010 directory.
The “retention rate” or “survival rate” of communities from the 1990 to the 2010 directory is about 40% (74+20=94/240). The population increase in twenty years for just the 74 communities is 132% (from 2,423 to 3,195 members), which is about half of the growth rate of the whole directory, perhaps because these 74 are mature communities while most of the others are young.
Small communities (from 3 to 9 members) increased in number from 1990 to 2010 by 239%, and increased in membership by 238%, while at the same time the proportion of small communities fell from 47% of the 1990 directory to 40% of the 2010 directory. This is consistent with cohousing communities starting to be formed in 1989, which are typically larger than non-cohousing communities.
While the number of small communities (3-to-9 members) in the directories decreased, the number of larger communities (>9 members) increased from 53% in 1990 to 61% in 2010. Most likely this is due to the rise of cohousing communities, which typically have larger memberships than non-cohousing communities.
Cohousing Lists: Some of the communities in the FIC Directory are also on the CohousingUSA website list, and while there are 192 groups listed as “using the cohousing model” in the 2010 FIC directory, only 122 of these appear in the cohousing directory (June, 2016). Meaning that there are 70 groups in the FIC directory that have either been refused by or that have not asked to be listed by the cohousing association. There is a total of 200 communities listed in either the FIC or the CohousingUSA directories, and of these 114 cohousing communities appear in both.
The cohousing directory (at: www[dot]cohousing[dot]org) lists a total of 247 communities. Of the 247 communities in the Cohousing USA directory, 146 are listed as established, and 101 are forming. 143 are in the FIC directory and 104 mostly forming cohousing communities are not in the FIC directory. Of the 200 unique communities that either self-identify as “using the cohousing model” in the FIC directory or that appear on the cohousing directory webpage, 21 were founded before the publishing of the cohousing book in 1988 (1 of the 21 was founded in 1988). Thus, these groups discovered and adopted the cohousing identity after their founding. According to their reported founding dates, new cohousing communities were founded at a fairly steady rate of about 9 new communities per year between 1989 and 2009.
Cohousing Labor: Of the 200 cohousing groups listed in either the FIC’s or the cohousing directory, 25 or one-eighth (12.5%) state that they do not share labor, which is contrary to the classic cohousing model. Twelve or nearly half of these 25 are listed in the cohousing directory. This could mean that these 25 communities do not require a labor contribution, yet no cohousing community can legally force residents to sell and move if they do not contribute labor. The FIC survey question was probably, “Are members expected to regularly contribute labor to the group?” What is the difference between a cohousing community that does and one that does not require a labor contribution? Perhaps a group that does not require labor is not a “classic cohousing” community, or perhaps the community pays for all its labor rather than rely upon volunteer, community labor.
Students and Ecovillages: Of 679 groups with >2 members in 2010, 25 communities or 4% self-identify as student housing, and 34 or 5% self-identify as ecovillages. There is no survey question for either of these designations, they come from either the name of the group or their stated “purpose” in the directory.
Governance: Of 679 groups with >2 members in 2010, 434 communities or 64% use consensus, 361 or 53% use consensus with no leaders or core groups, 214 or 32% use consensus with leaders or core groups, 422 or 62% have leaders or core groups, and only 29 or 4% use majority rule. Contradictory statistics either reflects ambiguous survey design and/or the flexibility and evolution of group process.
Sharing Labor and Income: Of 679 groups with >2 members in 2010, 566 or 83% share labor, and 89 or 13% share income (total income sharing is 5%, partial is 8%). In the 1990 directory 77% shared labor and 19% shared income (total was 14% and partial was 5%).
Land: Of 679 groups with >2 members in 2010, 42% or 282 groups are one of three types of community land trust models offered in the survey, yet what is the difference between “community-owned land” and a “land trust?” This is another ambiguous survey item, like cohousing labor, where different respondents may mean different things while using the same survey option, resulting in confusing information. 26% or 175 communities report that an individual or subgroup owns the land. 29% or 197 communities made useless responses.
Spirituality: Of 679 groups with >2 members in 2010, 261 or 38% are spiritual, 28 or 4% are spiritually-identified cohousing communities (classic cohousing communities are secular), and 120 communities or 46% are spiritual with no leader.
Out of 240 communities in 1990 directory >2 members: 134 were spiritual or ecumenical (56%). This reduction in the percentage of spiritual communities from 56% in 1990 to 38% in 2010 is partly due to the change in the survey question, since the type of religion is designated in 1990, while only the simple Y/N option was offered in 2010. However, the change is probably mostly due to most cohousing communities being secular.
Membership growth between 1990 and 2010 was seen by 54 communities or 23% of the 1990 listings. Membership decline between 1990 and 2010 was experienced by 20 communities or 12% of the 1990 directory listings.
Guzzo, K. B. (2014, July). New partners, more kids: Multiple-partner fertility in the United States. Ann Am Acad Pol Soc Sci. Retrieved October 9, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4182921/
Lipka, Michael. (August 8, 2014). U.S. Nuns Face Shrinking Numbers and Tensions with the Vatican. Pew Research Center. Retrieved June 28, 2016 from: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/08/08/u-s-nuns-face-shrinking-numbers-and-tensions-with-the-vatican/
Logan, C., Manlove, J., Ikramullah, E., & Cottingham, S. (2006, November). Men who father children with more than one woman: A contemporary portrait of multiple-partner fertility. Child Trends research brief. Publication #2006-10 4301 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 350, Washington, DC 20008, 202-572-6000. Retrieved October 9, 2015,from htttp://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/2006-10MultiplePartnerFertility.pdf
Martin, M. (Host). (2011, April 19). Multiple partner families: More common than you think. (Radio broadcast) with Cassandra Dorius and Maria Cancian (Guests), National Public Radio News. Washington D.C. Retrieved October 9, 2015, from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=135541549
http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/adults.html, figures: AD-3a, HH-6, HH-4, HH-7b
http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/children.html, figure CH-1; see also: America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2015 at http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/family1.asp