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Evolving rural nuclear families, superstores

Two tales of Schumpeterian Gales of 'creative destruction'

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Tale One: Rural Nuclear Family

Rural Bangladesh portrays its lush green landscapes and lively communities through the tightly knit joint family system. The traditional extended family setup is based on principles of shared ownership and collective responsibilities among family members, creating a diverse web of intertwined lives flourishing in the rhythmic pulse of rural existence. A joint family unit - parents, children, and grandparents - engaging in intergenerational communal living supported by mutual aid served as a safety net for individuals and enabled agricultural work, crucial in a predominantly agrarian economy. In extended family dynamics, children receive affection and attention from relatives and enjoy recreational activities with siblings during their free time, while older members play a crucial part in guiding family affairs and making decisions together. Emotions are shared through discussions, finding comfort, and acquiring knowledge, skills from their elders.

Conversely, advancements in agricultural technologies and mechanization (e.g. tractors, irrigation machinery, combine harvesters) have gradually transformed rural life and the economy. Modernisation in agriculture has reduced the need for farm labour, increased productivity, and enhanced efficiency, leading to a shift in employment from agriculture to other sectors. The nation's shift towards industrialisation and urbanisation has opened up new economic prospects, creating new job opportunities, and people prioritised independent income sources breaking the reliance on collective family resources. The emergence of new job opportunities facilitates urban migration for employment, leading to a shift in resource allocation, and driving growth and development in rural areas while disrupting traditional ways of living and working in rural areas, leading to changes in social structures and family dynamics. The shift of rural nuclear family structure away from the joint family is observed vividly in the Population and Housing Census 2022 report of Bangladesh Bureau Statistics (BBS). Regarding housing size, a rural household is home to 4.1 people, down from 4.5 individuals in 2011. Moreover, the dependency ratio in the rural area dropped to 56.09 in 2022 compared to 77.00 in 2011.

The evolution of the nuclear family structure is influenced by increasing individual economic opportunities, which allows for better personal income and expense management. This shift in individual earnings also reduces the reliance on family resources, resulting in changes to the traditional roles and responsibilities within the family. Moreover, rural communities face challenges to their traditional values and way of life, prompting the development of a new social structure that aligns with the changing economic landscape. As people strive to adapt to these new circumstances, they are leveraging fresh knowledge and skills using greater individual freedom, and enhanced mobility. According to the BBS Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) of 2022, the rural literacy rate has risen to 71.56 per cent from 47.16 per cent in 2011. Additionally, the average income per household in rural areas climbed to Tk. 26,163 in 2022, a significant increase from Tk. 9,648 in 2011. These shifting economic dynamics are evidently reshaping family dynamics and giving rise to nuclear families in rural Bangladesh.

Tale Two: Superstore

Small, family-run grocery stores that serve local communities are commonly found near neighbourhoods, grouped together in vibrant street markets to guarantee convenient accessibility and control the country's retail landscape now. In addition to serving as retail outlets, they function as focal points for socializing, nurturing relationships of trust and belonging, promoting community unity, and enhancing cultural exchange. Grocery stores often showcase Bangladesh's diverse culinary traditions and regional specialties, reflecting the country's rich cultural heritage. While they provide personalised service, they typically have limited product variety due to limited storage space and lower purchasing power, lower efficiency due to manual processes, poor inventory management, logistical challenges (e.g. refrigeration and air conditioning), and lack of economies of scale due to limited investment. Despite many limitations and weak competitiveness, the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) survey report, named 'Wholesale and Retail Trade Survey, 2021,' revealed the presence of 15,39,450 grocery stores across the country. These establishments are dedicated to enhancing customer satisfaction (e.g. lending essential items in the hardship of the consumer) and fostering robust relationships through the sharing of both sorrows and joys.

As the country progresses, consumer demand has grown due to rising disposable income, purchasing power, and urbanisation, resulting in a greater desire for a wider range of competitively priced products. Moreover, globalisation has ushered in new technologies, while modernisation has brought many international brands and products, broadening consumer choices. These factors have prompted superstores to evolve by offering bulk purchasing options, lower prices, and improved inventory management, ultimately increasing their cost-effectiveness. Due to the economy's scale effect, Superstores offer more product variety, centralised shopping, and convenience by modernising retail, streamlining logistics, and supply chains. This trend pushes small grocery stores out of the market, causing economic hardships and closures. The Bangladesh Superstores Owners' Association (BSOA) states that around 30 superstore owners oversee more than 260 outlets across the country, with EUROMONITOR INTERNATIONAL recognising it as one of the 20 most promising future consumer markets.

Connecting both storylines

It appears that the two narratives are moving in contrasting directions, with one shifting from large to small (nuclear family) and the other expanding from small to colossal (Superstore). Both the Rural Nuclear Family and Superstore are undergoing Schumpeterian Gales of creative destruction. Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter introduced this concept in his 1942 book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, illustrating how innovation and technological progress led to the decline of old industries and the emergence of new ones.

The overarching theme in these stories highlights the fluid nature of societal transformation, where conventional norms of living, working, and consuming are disrupted to make way for novel lifestyles, entrepreneurship, organisational structures, and innovation. In both cases, established systems are being challenged and fresh configurations are arising. Schumpeter's notion of creative destruction aids in comprehending the unfolding of these changes, necessitating adaptation, innovation, and the establishment of new economic and societal landscapes.

Dr. Md. Abdul Latif, (PhD in Development Policy), is Additional Director, Bangladesh Institute of Governance and Management (BIGM).

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