The Bleak Future Of The Western Family Must Be Averted

The family forms the nucleus of community and civilization. Some data suggest however that maintaining these primary units will become harder and harder over time.

Studies show that western social norms pertaining to traditional familial relationships have been evolutionarily selected for. Primarily this is to reduce social costs associated with less stable family arrangements. There are many group beneficial effects of monogamy. For one, by limiting intrasexual competition and reducing the number of married men, monogamy reduces crime – primarily violent crime like rape, murder, assault, robbery – and decreases personal abuses, fostering a more healthy society (Henrich, Boyd & Richerson 2012).

Comparatively, children are much more likely to be abused in polygamous sexual arrangements, have less stability, and are more likely to become criminals. In other words, by shifting male efforts from seeking sexual partners to parental investment, monogamy increases savings, child investment, and economic productivity. By increasing the relatedness within households, monogamy reduces intra-household conflict, leading to lower rates of child neglect, abuse, accidental death and homicide.

Sexual norms are correlated with the level of civilization a society experiences. When looking around the world, polygamous societies exist primarily in the least successful and most unsustainable countries – mostly in sub-Saharan Africa (Tertilt 2003). British ethnologist and social anthropologist at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, J.D. Unwin details one of the most comprehensive studies on civilizational decline in his 1934 book Sex and Culture. Unwin looked at 86 civilizations through 5,000 years of history and found a positive correlation between the achievement of a people and the sexual restraint they observed (Unwin 1934).

Testing the hypothesis of Sigmund Freud, who postulated that the progress of a civilization was a product of repressed sexuality, Unwin found that sexual discipline appropriated social energy toward ends that were more conducive to building and maintaining civilizations – and that heterosexual monogamy was the optimal arrangement for the planning, nurturing, and maintaining of the family. Unwin found that if enough heterosexual partners made a monogamous commitment, societal energy was directed toward the finest civilizational foundation possible. Without exception however, each civilization he studied allowed success to lead to the abandonment of monogamy. When this happened, societies lost their cohesion and ultimately failed before being taken over by a more chaste civilization.

Additionally, much can be said for the amount of Parental Investment with traditional familial relationships. Parental Investment refers to the effort involved in increasing the quality of offspring, and may include amount of rearing time, as well as the amount of energy and resources exhausted in order to do so. In most species, females usually exhibit a higher amount of Parental Investment, which can be regarded in terms of the biological investment made providing scarce eggs for fertilization and the caring and nurturing of young.

This is not to say that males do not invest in their offspring. Finding food and providing protection serves an important biological function for facilitating the perpetuation of the species. In human beings for example, men are usually considered to be the primary providers of resources for children. Absent this paternal investment, many studies suggest increased risk of early sexual activity (Kiernan & Hobcraft 1997) and teenage pregnancy (McLanahan 1999).

Also, father absence may correlate with heritable individual differences in emphasis on mating effort or parental effort, personality, the quality of the spousal relationship, and child characteristics (Luster & Okagaki, 1993; MacDonald, 1997; Prrusse et al., 1994). Childhood experiences like attachment to parents, level of parental conflict, and divorce are correlated with lack of paternal investment as well (Belsky et al., 1991; Flinn & Low, 1986; L. C. Miller & Fishkin, 1997) – as is higher mortality, higher impulsivity, higher rape-prone activities and sexual coercion for males (Lynn & Sawrey 1959; Malamuth 1981).

Furthermore, the absence of the father has been showed to be the single largest predictor for poverty (Hill & O’Neill 1990; Rector 2010). As such, children living in female-headed families have a poverty rate of 45.8 percent, compared to just 9.5 percent for children in married-couple families (Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation 2014). In terms of elevated criminal propensity, state data has shown that a 10 percent increase in the number of children living in single-parent homes is accompanied by a 17 percent increase in juvenile crime.

Moreover, Adolescents living in intact families are less likely to engage in delinquency, commit serious property crimes and violence than their peers living in non-intact families (Demuth & Brown 2004). Until relatively recent times, it has been seen as a social responsibility not only to maintain healthy parental arrangements for the sake of children, but to take care of one’s elderly or ailing family members as well. Parents that provide investment of time and money in the raising of children may necessarily place obligatory expectations on what care they might receive from their loved ones during old age. Those now in their 30s and 40s face a new challenge however.

Dubbed the “Sandwich Generation” because of their predicament, around 15 percent of Americans aged 40 to 60 are raising a child and caring for a parent (Parker & Patten 2013). The Pew Research Center identifies the Sandwich Generation as such:

…members are mostly middle-aged: 71% of this group is ages 40 to 59. An additional 19% are younger than 40 and 10% are age 60 or older. Men and women are equally likely to be members of the sandwich generation. Hispanics are more likely than whites or blacks to be in this situation. Three-in-ten Hispanic adults (31%) have a parent age 65 or older and a dependent child. This compares with 24% of whites and 21% of blacks. More affluent adults, those with annual household incomes of $100,000 or more, are more likely than less affluent adults to be in the sandwich generation. Among those with incomes of $100,000 or more, 43% have a living parent age 65 or older and a dependent child. This compares with 25% of those making between $30,000 and $100,000 a year and only 17% of those making less than $30,000. Married adults are more likely than unmarried adults to be sandwiched between their parents and their children: 36% of those who are married fall into the sandwich generation, compared with 13% of those who are unmarried. Age is a factor here as well, since young adults are both less likely to be married and less likely to have a parent age 65 or older.

Elderly individuals in the United States, identified as 65 years or older, numbered 46.2 million in 2014 representing 14.5 percent of the population. By 2060, there will be about 98 million older persons, more than twice their number in 2014 (Administration on Aging 2016). As such, it can be said that demands from adult children and from elderly parents compete for individuals sandwiched between them. Researchers have postulated that this results in a zero sum outcome for those being provided for. An alternative hypothesis however, that has been tested by researchers, is that family solidarity is such that Sandwich Generation parents engage in intergenerational exchange in both directions.

In a study that analyzed national surveys from Great Britain and the United States on the care provided by 55 to 69 year old women to their children and parents, results show a positive association between helping both (Grundy & Henretta 2006). As such, one-third of the women reported providing help to members of each generation with just one-fifth providing support to neither. This may be welcome news to an aging and overburdened elderly population as shifts in age demographics make the fiscal solvency of programs like social security suspect.

One issue that may be problematic however, is the associated health risks with being a multigenerational caregiver. In one longitudinal study that looked at 4943 participants from a Midwestern community, researchers found that multigenerational caregivers were less likely to check food labels, choose foods based on health values and use seat belts than other caregivers and noncaregivers (Chassin, Macy, Seo, Presson & Sherman 2010). In addition, they smoked marginally more cigarettes per day and were less likely to exercise regularly.

This could mean a substantial diversion of capital to pay for health related issues that might be otherwise allocated to child and elder care. Add this to the decreasing reliance on informal care as Baby Boomers approach retirement and old age, and the future is not clear for the chronically disabled elderly. When looking at the 1984 and 1994 National Long Term Care Surveys and examining changes over a decade in the population of the chronically disabled elderly, their sources of care, as well as the characteristics of family caregivers, researchers found that as the total number of active family caregivers declined, a constant number of primary caregivers were looking after recipients who were more severely disabled (Spillman & Pezzin 2000).

Therefore, members of the Sandwich Generation and full-time workers maintained or even increased their participation as primary caregivers, meaning that the competing demands confronting these caregivers and the higher disability levels among care recipients will likely contribute to the growing pattern of reliance on more expensive formal care. This could spell disaster for western families as time goes on, especially when considering that marriage rates have dropped significantly over the last decade (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2015). Add this to the reality that young people are by in large less enthusiastic about marriage and are marrying much later than they have in the past (Hymowitz, Carroll, Wilcox & Kaye 2013), and the bankruptcy and ruin of the family unit may soon be on the horizon.

The destruction of the family means the destruction of western civilization. According to the Brookings Institution however, there are just three things Americans need to do in order to stave off this cultural and monetary familial crisis: finish high school, get a full-time job and wait until age 21 to get married and have children. The data shows that of the Americans that did these three things, only about two percent are in poverty and nearly 75 percent have joined the middle class (Haskins 2013). Adhering to these “three simple rules” could literally mean the difference between a successful and failing future society for generations to come.


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