With the looming disaster of the nation’s 401k experiment seeping into the national awareness, and the fact that half of those under the age of 30 have zero confidence that Social Security and Medicare will be around when they reach the ever rising age for stepping down, one may wonder what retirement is going to look like in the 21st century.
My feeling is that it is going to look a whole lot like it did in the 19th century.
The current convergence of diminished employment prospects and upward mobility for the Millenials, flat or negative income growth for the Gen-Xers, and evaporating retirement resources for the Boomers is driving a return to multigenerational living arrangements. And this is not necessarily a bad thing: given that our society is slowly evolving into one of resource scarcity where frugalness and adaptability will become key survival traits, it is most certainly in the mutual interest of these generations (and forthcoming) to combine resources to prepare and adapt for the future.
Perhaps part of this adaptability will continue to manifest itself in multigenerational family units sharing one roof. Perhaps it will mean some kind of home base for the grandparents and children, while the able-bodied “middle generation” is out looking for work. Even communal arrangements may make a comeback. Probably a mixture of all three. But definitely something radically different from the go-it-alone mentality of the last few decades.
My prediction is that we will be returning to our roots, so to speak, with the older generation playing a more prominent role in stabilizing the moral (and educational) fabric of the family unit, and with increased responsibility handed to the next generation(s) down for funding the operation. And this may well manifest itself, over time, in a more distinct handoff between generations, as each group moves up the ladder and passes responsibility to the next. Success may become defined in terms of how well the family is doing, and not the individual. Education and career goals may be guided by that, as well.
Does this mean we will all be living the life of the Waltons? Who knows? But, certainly, families will be forced in the coming decades to merge resources, if only for the sake of survival, and this will both bring them closer together, and surface the conflicts that originally drove them apart. The silver lining in all this is that it may lay the seeds for an increased spirit of community and true shared sacrifice – not to be confused with the bogus, artificial “shared” sacrifice currently being imposed by the wealthy on those below in the name of austerity. Maybe people will begin thinking more in terms of “us” and not “me,” with increased understanding and respect between the generations. In the end, maybe this will even result in a lot less trash being generated. Count me as one who does not think this is a bad outcome.