What happens when people live to be very old and don't have a passel of kids to take care of them?
As it happens, I’m currently assisting my baby brother- 10 years younger - in navigating his release from a hospital, and in managing living at home with chronic disabilities.
It’s meant time staying at his place, planning the decluttering of his house, and ongoing assistance in monitoring a complicated medication regime.
Not easy, as I’ll be 72 in a few weeks. Technology does help, but we are nowhere near full on robotic helpers. Both my brothers were without wives or children. My sister is managing the care of a considerably older husband, while dealing with her own cancer issues, and recovery from a bad fall.
We all do worry.
My brother and I have been working together with an elder-care company to help our 96-year-old mom and I know she worries about what will happen to us with no children of our own (we're both childless 50-somethings) to do the same in turn. Unfortunately I have no answers beyond robots and hired help.
I suspect Virginia would still be a writer and professor even if she had children. That's the lie of feminism.. That you can be a mother or have a career... Not true. With our longer lifespan, we can do both, just not at the same time, though I have friends who have managed to have families and still write and teach at the same time.
One of the many benefits of having children is that it can help keep you grounded in reality and remind you of what is actually important in life, especially in weird times like these. Children really are a civilizational investment and it seems large segments of our society have forgotten this fact. Frankly, I worry about the growing number of childless adults who, especially in government, will be making policies that disproportionally affect families.
My mother died in 2021 at age 100. Fortunately she had five children who were able in different ways to ensure that she died at home in comfort with appropriate caregiving and much attention, since she was increasingly helpless. The elder of my two younger brothers, a CPA, took care of her finances and since he lived nearby, was the family stalwart in managing her affairs. Her body simply gave out on her after so many years, but her mind, although it was not what it once was, remained alert to the end.
I myself expect to be exterminated sometime within the next 20 years. Our culture now regards "medical assistance in dying" as the appropriate way for old people, whether they like it or not, to relieve their relatives and everyone else of the continued burden of their presence on earth. Those who don't go along with that program will be nudged, and those who resist nudging will be pushed. The methodology is morphine plus some sort of benzo plus starvation and dehydration. It's the "Liverpool Pathway" that was adopted enthusiastically by Britain's National Health Service a decade ago, then dropped after too many horror stories from relatives of the deceased emerged--but it now seems to have returned in a more subtle form, according to a recent parliamentary report. It is certainly being routinely practiced in U.S. hospices; the mother of one of my friends was dispatched in exactly that fashion just a few months ago.
I was already in my late 30s when I finally met a man I could stand to spend the rest of my life with, and by then it was too late for me for motherhood (although not for want of trying!). Demographics tell me that I will outlive my husband, and although I have nieces, nephews, great-nieces, and great-nephews of whom I am fond, they are not the same as one's own children, and I can't count on any of them. Although I have a good friend whom I've named as my medical representative in my living will, I may outlive her as well--and we are long past the day when religious charities were the primary institutional caretakers of the elderly and infused their care with their religious ethics. The vast majority of nursing homes and hospices are now in the for-profit sector, and for-profit means efficiency. So, when I am unable to take care of myself, I expect to be carted to a pastel-painted facility and attached to a morphine drip.
But I won't be much different from all those elderly nursing-home patients in 2020 who had to die alone by the thousands because of stupid and heartless covid-19 policies. Like them, and like so many, many others throughout history, I will be a witness to the horrors that human beings are willing to inflict on other human beings in the name of whatever policy or ideology or sheer malice drives them. Most of them will have suffered far worse than I'll ever suffer in the comfortable life I've lived so far. As Dylan Thomas wrote: "Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again; / Though lovers be lost love shall not."
It's a bit of a long shot, but we probably should be putting a lot more research effort into longevity/anti-aging stuff. Here's hoping at least robotics down the line helps.
I doubt Japan’s problems are the result of whatever laws the government passed after 1945. China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore all have rock bottom fertility, worse than Japan. And they don’t have many out of wedlock births either, despite this article attributing that to policy too! Something about East Asians and modernity, needs to be explored.
So if you had kids we wouldn’t be able to read yoir work? Interesting… I’m sure my mom would not agree, given that, well, I’m alive .
This problem is not new to the western world. European countries, for example, have had incentive per child payments to support their aging populations and social programs for decades. The current German Kindergelt payment is 250 euros per month per child. It is not enough as Germany's birthrate is below replacement at 1.53.
All of Europe is below 2.0. In a few generations the populations of Greece and Italy will be reduced by half, and a high percentage will be over 75.
The only countries with above 2.0 are in Africa and the middle east. Most Islamic countries are well over 2.0.
The only saving statistic for the US is in immigration, as long as the immigrants pay social security taxes. Otherwise, we will face the same problem of too few young people to cover the cost of our aging population.
BTW I notice some netsuke in the attached pictures. I tried to collect these, but they got too expensive. During a trip to Japan, I found very few and also noted that the younger generation didn't know what they were.
I seem to recall you positing caregiver robots awhile back - struck me (as a 53 y/o GenXer with an 86 y/o father with worsening cognitive loss) as a great idea/solution to the horrible dilemma of elder care now done by appallingly underpaid people doing very intimate and messy jobs...
There is this, also:
Seems like if any society should be able to figure this out, it would be the Japanese...
Peter Zeihan talks about demographics and politics
You're getting a preview of the future right now, which is sustained inflation. Old people have more wealth, because they've had a lifetime to accumulate savings. Young people have labor. When there is more savings and less labor, then necessarily the value of savings relative to labor decreases -- so, inflation in labor costs, especially labor performed by the young and unskilled, and low to zero (or even negative) real returns on savings.
There will of course be a variety of nostrums offered up by the usual crowd of hucksters and politicians, promising to make water flow uphill, reverse the Second Law, shovel the tide back, et cetera, and to the extent we waste time and effort pursuing them we will make the long-term trends a bit worse.