T Nation

Old and lonely


Thought this article was provocative enough to share. What might it be like to have 1 child paying and caring for 2 parents and 4 grandparents? Forget directly paying for, how about the necessary taxation for old-age safety nets? How about them dark clouds on the horizon, eh?

Women planning to have 1.x children, enough to replace themsleves but not their 'partner?' What might it be like to watch the world population decline? Or, be a rare commodity, a young worker in a sea of elderly? I suppose for the student class sizes will get smaller, more personal attention...if there's enough teachers still in the workforce.

People might be living longer, but in what kind of condition? According to the author, no we can't rely on an older yet vibrant workforce.

[i]"But only if older workers are healthy. And that's a big if. You might have noticed a lot more middle-age Americans using canes, walkers, and wheelchairs these days. So many of Walmart's customers are now physically impaired that the giant retailer has replaced many of its shopping carts with electric scooters that allow shoppers to remain seated as they cruise the aisles. Such sights are reflected in statistics showing that, for the first time since such record-keeping began, disability rates are no longer improving among middle-age Americans, but getting worse.

According to a recent Rand Corp. study published in Health Affairs, more than 40 percent of Americans ages 50 to 64 already have difficulties performing ordinary activities of daily life, such as walking a quarter mile or climbing 10 steps without resting -- a substantial rise from just 10 years ago. Because of this declining physical fitness among the middle-aged, we can expect the next generation of senior citizens to be much more impaired than the current one.

It isn't just Americans. Obesity and sedentary lifestyles are spreading globally. Between 1995 and 2000, the number of obese adults increased worldwide from 200 million to 300 million -- with 115 million of these living in developing countries. From Chile to China, McDonald's and KFC are opening franchises every day, even as people everywhere spend more and more of their time in automobiles and in front of flat-screen TVs and computer monitors. More than a billion people worldwide are now estimated to be overweight, creating a global pandemic of chronic conditions from heart disease to diabetes."[/i]

The only thing left to ask is, besides having few if any children to rely on in their old age, how many will even have a spouse?


Sloth, good post, and it is an interesting problem in the long-view, for sure:

  1. People are surviving into older and older age.

  2. Childbearing and rearing ain't what it used to be, even in the US (and the West). Demographic trends portend "more old, less young".

  3. Older folks are relying more and more on the young people (and their resources) to take care of them, and with the longer ages, that means extended reliance.

  4. The older folks' reliance on younger folks' is predicated on the model of a Ponzi scheme.

  5. At this point, young people paying into the Ponzi scheme now must foot the bill for two old unsustainable entitlement explosions (Medicare and Social Security) and two new ones (Prescription Drug program and Obamacare).

  6. Education expenses are soaring, and it's almost impossible for young people not to go into debt to get higher education.

  7. So, in the not-so-distant future, a typical young person will have mountains of student loan debt and a tax bite that will essentially make owning a house and raising a family near-impossible. After all, their is only so many resources left over after we feed the growing entitlement state that must bulge with the boom of older people.

  8. And so, the most fundamental rule of society - that we have a duty to leave society undiminished or even improved for the next generation - has been turned completely on its head: we vote ourselves all the benefits we can right now, and stick our children with the bill.

We've committed treason against future generations, and this recent push for limitless entitlements, while encouraged as an exercise in humaneness and selflessness, was nothing more than the single-largest act of selfishness we have seen in American history. It's shameful.


And, a point that I don't think I clearly stated, is that these older folks - needing help at a younger age of "old" - don't have traditional family/community support because of the dearth of their own children/families. Thus, the "care" must come from outside of that unit, through the broad-based Ponzi schemes.

Indeed, they will be old and lonely and reliant upon the productive class of the really young - a really young shackled by debt and less able (if at all) to start and nurture a family of their own.

This is the section where I would normally break into a tirade of righteous indignation about the policies and cultural attitudes that have led us to this precipice, but I'll digress.


Ouch, there is that. In a free trade atmosphere, we're all supposed to seek higher and higher levels of education, leaving unskilled and low-skilled jobs behind. At least, it's the answer I see posted most often when one mourns the loss of local and regional jobs that had been a fixture in the lives of surrounding communities. But, education isn't free. Even when we're talking about financial aid, we're talking about a waiting debt. So, we're supposed to encourage the young to NOT earn a respectable paycheck until later and later (an associates and bachelor's isn't exactly rare nowadays) in life. And, to graduate with debt waiting for them. Which just compounds the shrinking tax base problem, and further exacerbates the decline of a youthful workforce (less likely to start a family and have children while chasing higher and higher education).

Predictably some will answer that open border immigration is our salvation. Forget the debate over the cost of assimilating throngs of people, for now. So, the plan would be to import in different cultures, which start young families and have many children. But then I have to ask, why? Why even defend the native dinosaur culture? Why encourage and celebrate a barren society which, ultimately, aims to replace itself with what it rejected? If the only answer is to inevitably replace itself, through the demographic dominance of larger, more reproductive, more--dare I say it--religious families, what the heck does any social-traditional conservative have to feel ashamed about in voicing his objections to our culture and progressive values?


I see two possible solutions, which the author briefly mentions. Extreme government intervention. We're talking laws demanding employers to flat out lose their shirts hiring and maintaining employment of mothers and expectant mothers. Concessions which would make any present maternity considerations pale in comparison. If businesses are lucky, some of the cost might be covered by subsidies. Some.

The university won't escape, either. They will have to, by mandate, drastically, I mean drastically, accomodate motherhood. Which sort of lays flat both the equaltarian crowd and the dreadful "gender roles are an artificial construct" hipsters.

Or, there will be a retreat to traditional values and norms.

I'll root for the second, but place my money on the first.


i will place my money on another scenario :

no solution at all until it's too late
then, mass production of human clones raised in robotized industrial nurseries.

when we will be there, PWI will discuss if this new industry would be best led by some productive neofeudal megacorps with private funds or by a giant technonanny state stealing the people's money.


Huh. Well, I thought it would make for an interesting topic, considering the implications it has for funding entitlements programs. Yet, also, the implications it has for 'self'-reliance in a libertarian world. Won't have the workers to support entitlments, but also won't have the wide family base sharing the 'burden' in the face of outright bankrupt programs. Ah, well, I suppose it isn't happening today. This is for a future generation to suffer through, as they're trying to pay our bills and shoulder our debt. I wonder what's on TV.


i'm not sure if you're reacting to my post or to the lack of other answers.

but anyway, i actually think the "graying of the world" is one of the major issues our children and grand children will have to face.

the more time we take to realize this, the more likely we will end up with the kind of technocratical monstruosities i described in my post.

After all, the koreans are already trying to use robots as teachers. And i doubt the ethical ban on human cloning will last very long when we will actually be able to do it.

i also think that the two possibilities you evoked are not mutually exclusive and that they should be attempted together.


Human clones will never happen.


Nah. Just double-dog daring others to join in, I guess. After all, how many atheism vs religion/catholic vs prostestant/tea-party vs rally for sanity (or whatever they're calling it)/fox news is bad (or good)/Beck vs Olbermann, posts can we do? I'm kind of half-heartedly posting in some of them, having been over the same arguments so many times. This is fresh meat for your consumption, folks!.


And by "never" you mean about 10 years, right?

Embryos are selected to weed out genetic errors already, it is only a matter of time before wealthy people will suddenly have exceptionally attractive and bright children and we will have an arms race going that no government in the world can stop.


No ethics board has yet allowed human cloning to my knowledge.


Oh my, if the ethics boards wont allow it, I guess we will be safe then.


guns were illegal in Chicago too!


Well, I guess if they kill babies and old people, it wouldn't be to far a reach for some people to accept cloning.


Yes, I'll have more kids just to create a slave labor force to help care for me in my old age. And if one of them happens to become a scientist and wants to go do research on a colony on the moon (yes, it will happen), then I will shame that child and cut him or her out of my will. That'll learn 'em trying to get some fancy education. Sorry kid, you can't get a Ph.D. in molecular biology. Your role is to work at Walmart for minimum wage and then help wipe your old man's ass when he's too old to do it for himself. Hooray for family values, because THAT'S the real reason to have kids, right?

Do you even have kids, Sloth? I do. The thought of forcing her to care for me in my old age is so anathema to my why of thinking - you have no idea. The thought never entered my mind. And yes, believe it or not, the private sector and free market can and will provide a solution. Ever hear of long-term care insurance? I plan on getting some. Do you? Oh, I guess your "long-term care insurance" will be to have children and shame them into being your nurse.


The thought of you having to force her (and or him, if there is a permanent him anymore) is what's anathema to me. That's a good biblical word BTW. Anathema is a Greek word used by the apostle Paul to describe the state of those those who would pervert the gospel. It means in short accursed or given to evil. What's interesting is that etymologically it first meant something devoted to a purpose in general and then developed into that which is devoted to false gods and then... . Oh well, didn't to get over into all that.


I don't think it's so much that children don't want to care for their parents it's that they can't. For two reasons. First, people are living longer. This means older folks are facing health issues not seen 40 or 50 years ago. Unless a person is skilled in providing such care, they are not competent to care for their parents. I realize that nursing homes are not happy places, and it may seem to many that we're just sticking the old into nursing homes to let them rot, but the reality is that a good nursing home will have a trained staff to watch patients 24-7. They'll also have rehab specialists that will work with the elderly to help them regain mobility and actually regain some independence. I've seen this happen myself.

The second reason is the age gap between the generations caused by people having kids later in life. This results in what's known as the "sandwich generation." I myself will be "sandwiched." In 10 years, my mother will be 84, I will be 52, and my daughter will be 21. If my mom would need care at that point (and as healthy as she is she might not), there is no way, no way in hell, that I could retire or even take time off of work to provide her with care. Impossible. Sure, I could help out on weekends, but even that would be limited given that I would be working 60 hours week, most likely. And I'm not going to tell my daughter to forget going to medical school and stay home and care for grandma. And you know what? My own mother would kill me if I did that to my daughter. So the world is not so black and white as Sloth sees it. The reality is that it is now impossible, both from an economic and knowledge standpoint, for children to care for their elderly parents. Having more kids will not solve this. I would argue that having more kids may even make this worse - unless none of your kids decide to go to college and spend the rest of their lives flipping burgers.

I probably wasted my time posting this since no one will bother to evaluate these facts.


Is this guy for real? Holy smokes.


so i wil try to explain

our capitalist economic system require economic growth.
no growth = recession

economic growth is extremely improbable without demographic growth, especially in our post-industrial countries.

therefore, without "more children per family", our 20st century welfare will probably not last very long in the 21st century.

how good will be your long-term care insurance in the midst of an euro-american recession ? how will you afford your specialized nurse when 35yo people will be outnumbered by 65yo people ?