I came across this article (h/t: Instapundit) about the squeeze middle-aged folks, particularly women, are under as they are stressed caring for both their children and their aging parents. According to the article, it is supposedly difficult and stressful to care “for both their children and their aging parents while also managing their income-generating jobs and keeping their partners happy–all at the same time.”
To which the only possible response is: no duh.
It is difficult, if not impossible, because nobody was ever meant to do all that at once. People simply do not have the time and energy to deal with children, old people, a career, and other activities at the same time.
Traditionally, there have always been societal and biological mechanisms to deal with this, but, over the last few decades, we’ve decided to spit in the face of both.
Throughout history, these mechanisms have varied. Tribal structures, villages, and the like made raising children and taking care of old people a community thing for most people. Combined with the typical “low” age of average death, “early” child-bearing ages, and large families things mostly worked themselves out.
When people started living longer and tribal and community ties began to die due to the mass dislocations caused by industrialization and urbanization, society adapted by adopting what we now know of as the traditional nuclear family in the early 20th century. Combined with some help from local churches and community organizations this worked fairly well, reaching its apex in the decades following war boom.
In the nuclear family model, the family adopts a division of labour to help the running of the household. The husband works and the wife takes care of the family. Families have many kids and they have them at a young age, so when they get old, the children can care for their parents.
Given the realities of modern, mass society, this structure works.
Having children young (in your late teens/early 20s) provided future children to take care of you and makes it so that by the time you need to take care of your elders, your children are already nearing self-sufficiency. It means that you have your youthful vigor to raise your children when you need. (Did you ever think of why you are able to go with minimal and erratic sleep when you’re young? It’s because it lets you physically handle the realities of a squalling infant unable to tell time. You are not built to naturally be able to take care of young children in your 30s and 40s, you lose the vigor necessary to do so as you age.)
Having lots of children meant that there would be enough people to take care of you when you aged without it being an undue burden on any single child.
Having the wife stay home provided the family with a person who had the time to take care of the children. She had time to take care of elderly relatives. She had the time to take care of sick family members.
There was no generational squeeze, because the division of labour and proper family planning inherent in the nuclear family model gave each individual only what they could actually handle and there was no undue burden on any single family member.
When feminists, and others, criticize the “housewife”, they miss the importance the housewife has for modern, mass society. Absent the traditional bonds of tribe and villages, anomie was destroying people in an urbanized, industrial environment.The development of the housewife held this back.
The housewife may not contribute to “GDP” but she contributes something just as important, she socially bonds the family together and bonds the family to the rest of the community. She has time to take care of dependent family members. She has time to develop meaningful relationships in the neigbourhood and the family’s social circle. She had time to support local organizations and by taking care of the household, she gave the husband time to support them.
The bread-winning husband is economically productive, while the housewife is socially productive.
In a modern, urban society, social productivity is as essential to the health of society as economic productivity, as the natural social relations and community of a tribal or village lifestyle simply do not exist. But building community takes time, something people working full-time, while taking care of children, simply do not have. The housewife had this time.
She has time to get to get to know Edna down the street and develop a meaningful relationship, which would then transfer into a meaningful family relationship, building community. If Edna’s husband, Bill broke his leg and couldn’t work, her neighbour, the housewife, would have the time to comfort them; she would prepare meals, look after Edna’s children, provide emotional support, run errands, etc., which she was able to do because she had time. She would know that Edna would do the same if something happened to her family.
The housewife would build community where community did not naturally exist.
But, some sections of society (read: leftists and feminists) were unhappy with this adaptation to modern society and set out to destroy it.
The traditional, nuclear family was “oppressive” and being a housewife was unfulfilling, so patriarchy had to be destroyed. (Because working 40 hours in a dead-end office job simply to expand your ability to mindlessly consume was somehow more fulfilling than meaningful community).
And destroyed it was.
The housewife was replaced by a second provider. The traditional family replaced by the broken family. Social productivity was exchanged for economic productivity, with little real benefit.
The result: anomie.
The social capital the traditional family, particularly the housewife, created began to disappear. As Robert Putnam has documented this decline in social capital and social trust. As one example, over the last 25 years the average adult has gone from having 3 friends to having only 2; half of all adults have one or fewer real friends.
The squeeze occurred, as no one is able to work full-time, raise children, care for elders, and develop community. There is simply not enough time in the day and peopel simply do not have that much energy.
So, how was the squeeze handled?
The traditional family was replaced by the broken family and the surrogate family.
The broken family lost the husband and father. Of course, raising a child, while also providing for this family is brutally hard work, almost impossible. So, the husband and father the broken family did not have was replaced by the state, which became a surrogate husband and father. The state would offer provision through welfare, mandated leave, tax breaks, funded child care, public health care, and a wide array of other benefits.
The housewife was working and could no longer raise her children. Instead, families gave them to a surrogate mother: subsidized daycare and the public school system.
The housewife no longer had the time to take care of elderly or ill relatives and the relatives had forgone having enough children. The work of supporting them became overly onerous, it simply was impossible. So, families entrusted their elderly and ill to a surrogate child, the state. Social security, subsidized senior housing, public health care, and a wide array of government benefits replaced the family.
The problem with using the state as a surrogate family is twofold.
First, the state can only provide bread, but man does not live on bread alone. People need community, friends, family, and social interaction. The state is incapable of providing this; it is a cold, faceless, bureaucratic institution. The best it can do is hire a paid nurse or teacher to tolerate your company for a few hours.
The state can not build community. It can only replace community with economic transaction or destroy it.
The state can not end the squeeze, as personal relations are still necessary for the elderly, the infirm, children, and the building of community. It may alleviate is somewhat, but the squeeze remains.
Second, is the cost. The state’s coffers are not bottomless and when the benefits of social capital that were previously built by unpaid labour, now has to be built by labour paid by the state, the costs become onerous.
The state goes broke.
Greece is experiencing it. Other part of Europe will experience it soon. North America will experience it in time if her course does not reverse.
When the state goes broke, it can no longer replace community, but people have lost the community to replace the state. There can only be a void, with people left to their own devices. Those unable to repair community or provide for themselves suffer.
Without the traditional family, the squeeze is unavoidable.
The traditional family, particularly the housewife, was essential to building community. The state as a surrogate family has replaced the traditional family. Mindless economic production and consumerism replaced community. The bureaucratic state expanded and replaced community.
For what benefit? A squeeze on the middle, a dubious increase in material well-being, and the end to an amorphous concept of oppression.