Teens & Retirement: two 20th century phenomena we didn’t get right.
The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw unprecedented economic growth and the improvement of life for many in the Western world. Out of this came two phenomena, teenagers and retirees. Although on opposite ends of life, they are intricately connected.
As life became more industrialised, education and work moved from the home to the factory and school. Child labour was reduced and education was encouraged, so that rather than girls starting motherhood in their teen years, and boys apprenticing during that time, teen years began to be a time of education and preparation. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries this time has increased to nearly 30, as education and career development set marriage and family aside. Sexual relations, however, for very many, begin in the teen years and continue with multiple partners until some sort of monogamous relationship is established. This is proved disastrous to the moral, emotional, spiritual, and economic health of children born to families only of “half” siblings, as many mothers bear children to different father s on each occasion. Teen bodies are ready for childbearing, but society has changed to the point that teen marriage and childbearing is scandalous and unsustainable. Given the educational requirements for even the simplest employment, teen marriage and childbearing is a sure ticket to permanent welfare.
At the other end of the age spectrum is retirement. Modern social security began in the United States during the Great Depression, and it was seen as a way to make way for younger, healthier workers and to free up families from the need to care for elders. Of course it was assumed that one wouldn’t live much past the 65 year retirement age. No one could see at that time the amazing improvement in health care from birth to old age, decreasing infant mortality and extending life well into the eighties as a matter of routine. The same scenario has been repeated in most Western countries, some predating the US model, some preceding it.
So education, work, and care of elders has been outsourced from the family to schools, factories, and nursing homes, paid for by social programs.
What this has meant practically is that families are smaller because they can be. Declining birthrates in Western nations attest to this. Mark Steyn has argued that of the developed European countries, Canada, US, Austrailia, Russia and Japan, only the US replicates itself by birthrate, and that only barely. The rest are dependent upon immigration. Large families, once seen as a guarantee against high infant mortality and as a means to support elders who cannot work, are now seen as unsustainable. This is largely because along with the outsourcing of education, work, and old-age care has come a massive transfer of wealth from the family to the state for education, daycare (for the majority who do work outside the home), and social programs for the aged. Add to this the expanding definition of disability, and it becomes easy to see why the family does not have the resources to have many children or to care for elders.
I wonder what the Christians thought of all this as it was developing? When work was removed from the home, and education was handed over to others, were there voices of dissent? I know that J. Gresham Machen objected to public education in his Christianity and Liberalism in the 1920’s. But as far as I know, only the Amish and Mennonite Christians resisted these trends on a practical level.
1 Timothy 5:8 strongly suggests that care of the aged is not to be left for others, either:
“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
I think it is time for Christians to mount a Biblical response to teenagers and retirees. It is hard to resist culture, especially when it seems to improve life. But with each economic downturn, it may show that the improvements that allegedly come from our prosperity were often simply a case of borrowing against the future, and that future has arrived.
Is it possible to remove the temptation to sexual promiscuity by encouraging our teens to marry earlier, rather than putting it off? Is it not possible for Christian families to work together to help the breadwinner to accomplish the education and training necessary for gainful employment while being a father, rather than putting off fatherhood with the help of birth control and abortion? Is it not possible for younger women to be married mothers without scandal? Has the church become so infected by the world’s standards that it shames a young couple who want to marry and start a family in their late teens?
Now I know that our world is more technologically complex, and a high school diploma makes one ready for college or university, but as far as jobs go, much more training is needed. That is a reality, but is delaying marriage (and failing at celibacy) the only way to live with this?
As far as caring for the aged, the Christian church’s response may be much more urgent. We are witnessing the end of retirement as it has been presented. Most people reading this have lived under the assumption that at age 65 (soon to be 67 in Canada), one can quit working and relax for the next 20 years. Is there a Biblical precedent for this? Is this what God intended for humanity, much less for His church? It sounds attractive, but so does all temptation. It also disappoints, as does all sin.
Again, we see that our resources are taxed to provide for retirement, but there aren’t enough taxes (nor can there be) paid to really afford it. Hence the case for large families, especially among believers. Those who are young parents now would do well to consider how many children it will take to support them when they cannot work. There will, for a while, be money flowing from governments to support the elderly, but this will be curtailed in some often cruel ways. Is it not better to plan now for the inevitable collapse of the social safety net?
In the past 100 years, as in no other time in human history, childbearing is delayed and lifespan extended. I believe we have failed to successfully plan for and manage our retirements, and to counteract the only apparent need to delay the creation of Christian families.
Both the teenager and retiree can vanish if they are products of a false and bankrupt economy.
©2012 Scott Jacobsen