In a single word...responsibility. My grandparents emigrated from Italy in the early 1900's (wow, 100 years ago!). They arrived in this country with nothing but a sense of responsibility and desire to have a better life. My grandfather came over first, found work as a coal miner in Oklahoma, then sent for his wife several years later. Can't say I see much of that happening in America today.
Today, we as a society (yes, this includes me) become impatient if we have to wait for anything. Yes, we still have responsibilities, but the nature of those responsibilities has changed. For example, my grandparents were responsible for their children's, my father and his sisters, education. They insisted on their children obtaining the best education available, considering time and place. They did not leave this to an uncertain outcome. They made sure, by being responsible parents, their children were educated.
Responsibility also showed in how my grandfather worked. No job was beneath him. As stated in the 1st post, the male was the bread-winner. The entire family relied on him. Imagine that level of responsibility. There was no quitting a job because you didn't like it. There was no staying home because you didn't feel 100% today. You didn't work, you didn't eat.
I don't mean to minimize the role of responsibility in today's environment (especially given the current economic conditions), but there were no agencies to help out if a bread-winner lost a job back in 1920's.