Thursday, September 05, 2019

The Widening Generation Gap

Solid evidence has arrived to confirm what many feared. Despite what has been visibly obvious for the past several years, many held out hope that it really wasn’t so bad, or that it was only temporary and would eventually turn around again. The results of an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last week dispelled that hope. They were a reality slap and a very painful one at that.

According to the poll, nearly four out of five Americans aged 55+ consider patriotism a strong value, but only about half as many millennials believe that. Two out of three aged 55+ believe religion/belief in God very important, while fewer than one in three millennials do. Lastly, desire for children is way down too. Most 55+ Americans consider having children very important, but fewer than one in three millennials do. There is a little good news, however. Most of us still value hard work, community involvement, and tolerance for others.

The values my generation (I’m 68) considers essential for the continued survival of America as we know it are dying and will soon expire along with us. As conservative essayist Rod Dreher put it: “Those under 40 don’t believe in God, their country, or having children (which is to say, the future), but they do believe in fulfilling themselves. They have nothing to live for except themselves and their jobs.”

While millennials believe in hard work, what about the fruit of their toil? If their money isn’t spent raising a family, what is it for? If it’s not donated to a church, where does it go? Do millennials spend it all on themselves? And why don’t they want children? It’s a question I’ve visited in this space often over the past twenty years. Asking millennials why they eschew raising a family, they cite the high cost of children — a claim for which there is much evidence. Others point to the huge sacrifice of time and energy. Still others want to avoid pregnancy because it can cause stretch marks and sagging breasts.

Also released last week was a very insightful book by essayist Mary Eberstadt called Primal Screams, a collection of essays by several authors which attributes the rise of identity politics to many of the trends highlighted in the above-mentioned poll. During an interview with Kathryn Lopez in National Review, Eberstadt claimed that Americans are becoming more tribal as family support diminishes. They identify with others of their race, sex, and sexuality and Eberstadt claims these trends result from the sexual revolution and social upheaval of the ’60s and ’70s.

When asked what the connection is, Eberstadt said: “In part, it’s simple arithmetic. Think of all the post-revolutionary phenomena that are quotidian facts of life. Abortion, fatherlessness, divorce, single parenthood, childlessness, the shrinking family, the shrinking extended family: Every one of these developments has the effect of reducing the number of people whom we can call our own. And since we are relational creatures, the result is a great vacuum. That’s a lot of what the increasingly panicked flight to collective identities is about.”

As an undergraduate sociology major in the seventies, I recall my left-wing professors still referring to the family as “the basic unit of society.” I doubt sociology departments would countenance that assertion today. Eberstadt points to recent confusion about “gender identity” stemming from the same source. Social upheaval starting in the sixties, she said: “… whittled away at our primary attachments [and] have by now deprived a great many people of traditional answers to the question, ‘Who am I?’ These traditional answers involve our relations to others: I am a sister, mother, aunt, cousin, wife, etc. We define our identities relationally — as the popularity of 23 and Me indicates; as the well-known search for biological relations by children of anonymous sperm donors also affirms. But for a lot of us today, thanks to family vanishing, those fundamental familial building blocks of identity are harder to come by.”

They are indeed. Throughout my long teaching career I assigned students to interview someone seventy or older and ask them: Do you think it’s easier for children to grow up today compared to sixty years ago? Elders said it was easier back then because everyone had the same values. Other questions included: How many brothers and sisters did you have? How many children did the average family have when you were growing up? Did you know any couples who got divorced? To that last question, the answer would often be: “No. I didn’t know anyone who was divorced.” I wanted students to understand, first hand, that it didn’t use to be this way.

The great unraveling began in the late 20th century and continues at an accelerated pace today. Not only are we unable to answer the question “Who am I?”; we can’t even figure out if we’re male or female — or something else entirely.


Brian said...

It seems ass-backward to be so concerned about lowering birth rates and seemingly unconcerned at all with the earth these babies would inherit. You want a lot of babies but stick your head in the sand when it comes to climate change and the threats it poses to future generations. You also happily cheerlead for a president who is rolling back every environmental and pollution protection he can. If you aren't worried about the health problems this causes for living children, and adults, why the worry for those that aren't being born? You also seem very unconcerned with the rapidly growing income disparity and the obscene accumulation of wealth in a handful of families and corporations.

Why do you suppose that the number of women who want children but aren’t having them is growing? The following is from Vox:

Children that women say they want to have (2.7) and the number of children they will probably actually have (1.8) has risen to the highest level in 40 years.” Rather than a “natural” reflection of a changing society, this is a political problem that needs to be addressed.

Following a significant drop in the birthrate after the 2008 recession, women are continuing to have fewer children. Why hasn’t the rate recovered?

Sociologists and economists agree that the economy plays a role. One study even found fertility rates to be a “leading economic indicator” — predicting downturns (and upticks) in advance — while another found the sharp decline in fertility rates to be “closely linked to the souring of the economy” that began around 2008.

One reason for the continuing low fertility rates, then, is that the economy hasn’t recovered. Sure, GDP may be back up and unemployment back down, but the economy isn’t just quantitative; it’s people, and quality of life is a critical measure of economic health. If women want children but think they can’t afford them, the lag in birthrates should raise alarm about just how much “recovery” the average American is experiencing.

Also, why would we expect millennials saddled with debt to decide it’s a great time to have kids? The amount of money owed after graduating college is very limiting to one's options.
Indebtedness is through the roof.

Anyway, the US population continues to grow. Religion? That is neither here nor there when it comes to "values". It has nothing to do with "goddness". There are Christians and atheists alike doing horrible deeds.

And my guess on patriotism is that so many youths have seen the meaning of the word distorted, seeing creepy politicians like Trump and many others use it as a tool or a many examples of false patriotism.

Divorce? Families that stayed together while hating each other and fighting, women feeling compelled not to leave their cheating that really any better?

I know you don't have the guts or character to converse about these things....just spit it out and hide.

Uber_Fritz said...


Before you refer to Trump as creepy, examine your own base. And if you are a socialist then I will gladly get free shit by taking half of your federal taxes.

Uber_Fritz said...

Brian . . .

I find this comment interesting:

"I know you don't have the guts or character to converse about these things....just spit it out and hide." How do you know this? Is this similar to the way the Democrats knew that Justice Kavanaugh assault woman because she was a credible witness? Forget about the Due Process Clause of the 14h. Or is this similar to HDR using a personal server for classified transactions?

Better yet, Tom has provided you with his full name and place of residence. Is that considered hiding or are you with one hiding? After all, ANTIFA represents the epitome of cowardness. They wear masks to hide and do not permit people to have any independent thoughts. There answer is ONLY violence.

So please, vote for Socialism, but I would expect you to offer a greater percentage of your income to help illegal aliens.

Nick Peace said...

Patriotism. Religion. Having Children. All less important to the younger generation. So? Is this necessarily a bad thing?

Patriotism- globalization, TV, movies, the internet, and modern travel have increased our understanding of other countries and cultures. Also, no major global wars like WWI and WWII have decreased the "Us-versus-Them" mentality.

Religion - organized religion is dying. It should. The idea of taking a 2,000 year old book that has been compiled, edited, and translated by humans as literal truth is problematic. So too is trusting an all-male patriarchal organization that protects pedophiles to be the voice of God on Earth. Might I suggest that all things evolve, including religious thought. While organized religion may be dying, spirituality itself is still alive. It is changing, away from institutions to a more personal relationship with the Divine.

Children - the US population in 1990 was 76.2 million. In 2000 it was 281.4 million. In 2010 it was 308.7 million. Our country is still growing. Global population is still growing. (Have you experienced the traffic outside of Boston lately???). On a personal level, there is the high cost of raising kids. On a societal level, will there be decent jobs for everybody between the effects of globalization and automation? On a planetary level, the growing population is a strain on a finite ecosystem.

Brian said...

How do I know that about Tom? The same way I know that Trump is a pathological liar with the mentality of a 7-year old - he has proven it over the years....the recent marking a weather map with a Sharpie is a hilarious and perfect example!! And the continuous lies about new wall being built "rapidly" awesome that Fox News has started calling him out on his obnoxious BS! Has the pampered clown whining that "Fox doesn't work for us anymore". WOW!

As for socialism, sorry if you don't care for Social Security, Medicare, our highways and roads, public libraries, our taxpayer funded firefighters and police force, public parks, etc, but most of these socialist programs are very popular.

CaptDMO said...

The NEW generation...
"Cold cereal means you have to wash a dish..."
"Learn to drive? Why, there's Uber!"
Find "A Place For Mom."
"Sell us your Life Insurance policy!"
"Class action law suit!"
Got a structured settlement, but "Need Cash NOW?"
"Wow! You did that you HEAD?"
"Hetero, "white", male, conservative, tax paying, head-of-household, capitalists, are LITERALLY HITLER!"
I COULD go on of course, but we have

Brian said...

SORRY Capt...
I'm actually quite good at math
NO smartphone
55 YEARS old...
LITERALLY hetero, "white", male, tax paying, CO-head of household
I COULD go on of course babbling INSANELY!!!
"NON hetero, "dark", liberal thinkers are LITERALLY FASCISTS!"
"If you are not well-off you are LAZY!!!"
"ALL Neo-Nazis and white supremists aren't bad, some are very FINE PEOPLE!"
YES INDEEDY, I COULD go on but we have TRUMP

Brian said...

Some last thoughts on the "generation gap"

The youth Tom describes, those selfish, childless, godless heathens....why would he WANT them to have children? Do they sound like they would make good parents? Which brings up the question of - how did these youngsters BECOME selfish, childless, godless heathens? It's obvious - for the most case it is the parenting of the previous generation. Which was raised by the previous generation to be the way they are. So it makes no sense to scorn or look down upon or blame the youths for how they could just as easily do the same to the generations who raised them. The youth didn't create themselves, we older generations created them.