What’s the Quality of the Quantity?
Yesterday, Michael Cook at MercatorNet, posted this great overview of the demographic issues facing the planet. Rather than the neo-Malthusian “People are bad! Contraception! Where’s the Margaret Sanger of today?” rhetoric, he summarizes what the changing composition of 7 billion people really means, in particular, the overwhelming agedness of so many Western societies. One of the problems he lists is loneliness:
How caring will society be? Families in countries as diverse as Korea and Singapore and Spain and Germany are having only one child – the Chinese population ideal achieved without a whit of coercion. So, as in China, the only relatives many children will have are their parents and grandparents – no siblings, no cousins, no aunts and uncles.
Furthermore, many women are choosing childlessness. In an increasingly atomistic society, who will cherish them in their declining years? In France, or Singapore or the United States, childless men and women may have an adequate social support network. Japan is creating cuddly robots, but will they be able to afford them in China? In Tunisia? In Thailand? At the moment almost half the world lives in countries with sub-replacement fertility. The future for people with small families looks bleak and lonely.
I already am seeing this effect in my own social circle. Compound this by divorce and remarriage, and you have a situation of one young(er) person, being pulled in multiple directions when it comes to duties to their aging parents and step-parents. If Boomers thought they were the Sandwich Generation, then Gen X and Y will be the Smorgasbord Generation — spread in tiny little bits on a whole bunch of plates. I can see the moral dilemmas now: How many times per month do you visit your Dad’s ex at the nursing home? What if she has no one else? How many years of step-parenting are required before she has claim as a “real” parent? What if they married and divorced after you left home?
Do not think me flippant in suggesting that pastors and teachers of the faith must quickly provide substantive, moral reasons for GenXers not to euthanize the Boomers; for them, the Entitled Generation will quickly morph into the Expensive Generation as they and Millennials are bent low under the weight of social programs that were strapped on their backs without their consent.
Doesn’t the future sound great? Acres of ill-maintained nursing homes, with the occasional distant relative showing up at your bedside with a cup of Helmlock, trying to tell you how you need to preserve your “dignity.”
The problem with kids is that when you really need them, it’s too late to have them. Yes, my little ones are a drag on my lifestyle — now. When I was overdue with my third, I was sent to the Hospital for an ultrasound to ensure the baby was doing okay. In the waiting room, I started chatting with two middle-aged ladies. Turns out the were accompanying their 80 year old mother for tests.
“There’s 4 of us,” one sister said. “So, we all take turns helping Mom. That way it’s not too hard on any of us, and we don’t have to worry about her.”
There is a whole world of people entering their Golden Years, with not even one person to help, who will forced to rely on the State or charity. I remember hearing a story about Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World. He was speaking with some students about his Dystopian vision and was shocked so find that they saw it as a Utopia — they couldn’t wait to get started on this grand project. It’s hard not see that these same young people, having had their crack at civilization building, are now the elderly of today.
Hopefully, unlike government, people don’t get the old age that they deserve.