Increasing independence for the most vulnerable

familyIn the not too distant future, the percentage of children growing up with the advantage of married birth parents will be a minority.  (And it is, on average, an advantage – with no offense meant to those living outside that arrangement for one reason or another.  No one wants to see women and children trapped in awful marriage/family situations, and in some cases “non-traditional” households work out fine for everyone involved.  But we’re talking on average.  Mountains of social science attest that we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater.)

Giving your kids a married home until they head off to college will become more of an advantage for your kids than sending them to college.

Here’s Nicholas Eberstadt in today’s WSJ, The Global Flight from Family:

Our world-wide flight from family constitutes a significant international victory for self-actualization over self-sacrifice, and might even be said to mark a new chapter in humanity’s conscious pursuit of happiness. But these voluntary changes also have unintended consequences. The deleterious impact on the hardly inconsequential numbers of children disadvantaged by the flight from the family is already plain enough. So too the damaging role of divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing in exacerbating income disparities and wealth gaps—for society as a whole, but especially for children. Yes, children are resilient and all that. But the flight from family most assuredly comes at the expense of the vulnerable young.

That same flight also has unforgiving implications for the vulnerable old. With America’s baby boomers reaching retirement, and a world-wide “gray wave” around the corner, we are about to learn the meaning of those implications firsthand.

In the decades ahead, ever more care and support for seniors will be required, especially for the growing contingent among the elderly who will be victims of dementia, or are childless and socially isolated. Remember, a longevity revolution is also under way. Yet by some cruel cosmic irony, family structures and family members will be less capable, and perhaps also less willing, to provide that care and support than ever before.

That contradiction promises to frame an overarching social problem, not just in so-called developed countries but throughout the world. It is far from clear that humanity is prepared to cope with the consequences of its impending family deficit, with increasing independence for those traditionally most dependent on others—i.e., the young and old. Public policies are the obvious candidate for the task. But as the past century of social policy has demonstrated, government is a highly imperfect substitute for family—and a very expensive one.

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