New Geography: The Rise of Post-Familialism: Humanity's Future?
This piece is the introduction to a new report on post-familialism from Civil Service College in Singapore, Chapman University, and Fieldstead and Company and authored by Joel Kotkin.
For most of human history, the family — defined by parents, children and extended kin — has stood as the central unit of society. In Europe, Asia, Africa and, later, the Americas and Oceania, people lived, and frequently worked, as family units.
Today, in the high-income world, and even in some developing countries, we are witnessing a shift to a new social model. Increasingly, family no longer serves as the central organizing feature of society. An unprecedented number of individuals — approaching upwards of 30% in some Asian countries — are choosing to eschew child bearing altogether and, often, marriage as well.
The post-familial phenomena has been most evident in the high income world, notably in Europe, North America and, most particularly, wealthier parts of East Asia. Yet it has bloomed as well in many key emerging countries, including Brazil, Iran and a host of other Islamic countries.
The reasons for this shift are complex, and vary significantly in different countries and cultures. In some countries, particularly in East Asia, the nature of modern competitive capitalism often forces individuals to choose between career advancement and family formation. As a result, these economies are unwittingly setting into motion forces destructive to their future workforce, consumer base and long-term prosperity.
The widespread movement away from traditional values — Hindu, Muslim, Judeo-Christian, Buddhist or Confucian — has also undermined familialism. Traditional values have almost without exception been rooted in kinship relations. The new emerging social ethos endorses more secular values that prioritise individual personal socioeconomic success as well as the personal quest for greater fulfilment. ...
... A society that is increasingly single and childless is likely to be more concerned with serving current needs than addressing the future oriented requirements of children. Since older people vote more than younger ones, and children have no say at all, political power could shift towards nonchildbearing people, at least in the short and medium term. We could tilt more into a ‘now’ society, geared towards consuming or recreating today, as opposed to nurturing and sacrificing for tomorrow.
The most obvious impact from post-familialism lies with demographic decline. It is already having a profound impact on fiscal stability in, for example, Japan and across southern Europe. With fewer workers contributing to cover pension costs,4 even successful places like Singapore will face this same crisis in the coming decade.5
A diminished labour force — and consumer base — also suggest slow economic growth and limit opportunities for business expansion. For one thing, younger people tend to drive technological change, and their absence from the workforce will slow innovation. And for many people, the basic motivation for hard work is underpinned by the need to support and nurture a family. Without a family to support, the very basis for the work ethos will have changed, perhaps irrevocably. ...
As I read this article, I kept thinking about the frequent question that is at the core of so many discussions I hear about the future of congregations: "How can we get more families?" As I recall, something like half of American adults do not live in a traditional family and the percentage is slowly rising.
Melissa and I have been married for twenty-five years (I think she feels like its been more) and we ended up without kids. What has been clear to us is how much, in our society, relationships for adults in the first half of adulthood emerge from interacting with the parents of your children's schoolmates and playmates. This is especially true within most congregations I've seen. It takes effort to stay included in such communities. The challenge is radically more profound if you are single without children. Single parents with children have a different struggle.
I think some of the strain we see on the institutions of the church is, at one level, parents in traditional families feeling agnst as they become the minority of households. They are looking for resources and support networks that were once ubiquitious. The church tries meet that need. At the same time, people in less traditional households are slipping out the back door of the church into an "unaffliated" status as the church, with it's family obsession, seems to have nothing meaningful to say to their life cirucmstances.
My take is that if the church is to have a meaningful witness in our time that theraputic Pietism and/or recruiting people into justice advocacy are not the answer. Somehow the church has to help people understand how the mission of God connects with the routines of their daily lives, regardless of what tradtional or nontraditional form those routines may take. Then, and only then, will legitimate expressions of pietism and pursing justice emerge.