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Changes in Society: The Erosion on the Family


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It has become almost an article of faith in our society that change is synonymous with progress. The present government has preached this message more than most, while it is a philosophy that most people seem to live by. It is nonsense, of course. Change has never always been good. And recent surveys indicating that we are less happy than we used to be suggest a profound malaise at the heart of western society and modern notions of progress.

The findings are not surprising. The very idea of what it means to be human - and the necessary conditions for human qualities to thrive - are being eroded. The reason we no longer feel as happy as we once did is that the intimacy on which our sense of well-being rests - a product of our closest, most intimate relationships, above all in the family - is in decline. In this context, three trends are profoundly changing the nature of our society. First, the rise of individualism, initially evident in the 1960s, has made self the dominant interest, the universal reference point and one's own needs as the ultimate justification of everything. We live in the age of selfishness.

Second, there has been the relentless spread of the market into every part of society. The marketisation of everything has made society, and each of us, more competitive. The logic of the market has now become universal, the ideology not just of neoliberals, but of us all, the criterion we use not just about our job or when shopping, but about our innermost selves, and our most intimate relationships. The prophets who announced the market revolution saw it in contestation with the state: in fact, it proved far more insidious than that, eroding the very notion of what it means to be human. The credo of self, inextricably entwined with the gospel of the market, has hijacked the fabric of our lives. We live in an ego-market society.

Third, there is the rise of communication technologies, notably mobile phones and the internet, which are contracting our private space, erasing our personal time and accelerating the pace of life. Of course, we remain deeply social animals. We enjoy many more relationships than we used to: cafe culture has become the symbol of our modern conviviality. But quantity does not mean quality. Our relationships may be more cosmopolitan but they are increasingly transient and ephemeral. Our social world has come to mirror and mimic the rhythms and characteristics of the market, contractual in nature. Meanwhile, the family - the site of virtually the only life-long relationships we enjoy - has become an ever-weaker institution: extended families are increasingly marginal, nuclear families are getting smaller and more short-lived, almost half of all marriages end in divorce, and most parents spend less time with their pre-school children.

The central site of intimacy is the family - as expressed in the relationship between partners, and between parents and children. Intimacy is a function of time and permanence. It rests on mutuality and unconditionality. It is rooted in trust. As such, it is the antithesis of the values engendered by the market.

Yet even our most intimate relationships are being corroded by the new dominant values. There is an increasingly powerful tendency to judge love and sex by the criteria of consumer society - in other words, novelty, variety and disposability. Serial monogamy is now our way of life. Sex has been accorded a status, as measured by the incidence of articles in newspapers, not to mention the avalanche of online porn, that elevates it above all other considerations. Unsurprisingly, love - which belongs in the realm of the soul and spirit rather than the body - becomes more elusive.

It is the deterioration in the parent-child relationship, though, that should detain us most. This, after all, is the cradle of all else, where we learn our sense of security, our identity and emotions, our ability to love and care, to speak and listen, to be human.

The parent-child, especially the mother-child, relationship stands in the sharpest contrast of all to the laws of the market. It is utterly unequal, and yet there is no expectation that the sacrifice entails or requires reciprocation. On the contrary, the only way a child can reciprocate is through the love they give, and the sacrifice they make, for their own children.

But this most precious of all human relationships is being amended and undermined. As women have been drawn into the labour market on the same scale as men, they are now subject to growing time-scarcity, with profound consequences for the family, and especially children. The birth rate has fallen to historic new lows. That most fundamental of human functions, reproduction, is beleaguered by the values of the ego-market society. Couples are increasingly reluctant to make the inevitable "sacrifices" - cut in income, loss of time, greater pressure - that parenthood involves.

Parents are now spending less time with their babies and toddlers. The effects are already evident in schools. In a study published by the government's Basic Skills Agency last year, teachers claim that half of all children now start school unable to speak audibly and be understood by others, to respond to simple instructions, recognise their own names or even count to five. In order to attend to our own needs, our children are neglected, our time substituted by paying for that of others, videos and computer games deployed as a means of distraction. And the problem applies across the class spectrum. So-called "money-rich, time-scarce" professionals are one of the most culpable groups. Time is the most important gift a parent can give a child, and time is what we are less and less prepared to forgo.

It is impossible to predict the precise consequences of this, but a growing loss of intimacy and a decline in emotional intelligence, not to mention a cornucopia of behavioural problems, are inevitable. Judging by this week's survey of the growing emotional problems of teenagers, they are already apparent. Such changes, moreover, are permanent and irrecoverable. A generation grows up knowing no different, bequeathing the same emotional assumptions to its offspring.

But it is not only in the context of the changing texture of human relationships that intimacy is in decline. We are also becoming less and less intimate with the human condition itself. The conventional wisdom is that the media has made us a more thoughtful and knowledgeable society. The problem is that what we learn from the media is less and less mediated by personal experience, by settled communities that provide us with the yardstick of reality, based on the accumulated knowledge of people whom we know and trust. Indeed, society has moved in precisely the opposite direction, towards an increasingly adolescent culture which denigrates age and experience. In the growing absence of real-life experience we have become prey to what can only be described as a voyeuristic relationship with the most fundamental experiences.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1307401,00.html

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I couldn't agree more. Why do we keep accepting this constant mantra about change. Every seminar, every meeting I attend, the same old rhetoric is trotted out: change is inevitable and desirable and there's nothing we can do except embrace it. It may be inevitable, in many cases unfortunately so, but is not always desirable and I do not wish to embrace very much of it.

Does anyone want to start a society for opposition to change? Not improvement, that's OK, just change for the sake of change!!

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I would have to agree with both Martin and Jean - not being certain of where you are located, I'll jump in with letting you know that I am in Seattle, WA USA.

I would have to question as to "where to begin" this new society which embraces a reinstitution of "intimacy and family relationship development."

When I was growing up, in the late '60's and early-mid '70's, my parents' mantra was: "I can hardly wait until you kids turn 18 and leave home" - did anyone else experience this phenomenon? And I have to ask myself "why" was this their mantra - we were well behaved, and being the oldest of four children, I took care of the younger kids; my parents took in foster children and they didn't say THAT to THEM (to MY knowledge)...they thought and felt that they were doing something "good" (in who's book?) by providing a home for these kids - when they couldn't adequately provide emotional support for their OWN children. We had the bare minimum of physical needs provided.

I can fully attest to the trend toward the selfishness of the parents - they had clothes, beer, all the little "fun things" that THEY wanted, but in order for ME to receive the fee for school pictures or any number of the hundreds of little things which SHOULD have been provided by my parents without reservation or hesitation, it was ALWAYS a fight!

Even I, as the eldest girl, had to wear hand-me-down's from my grandmother's friends' kids and grandkids! When I was 12, I began babysitting for a very nice couple and watching their two children - we played games (NOT video), I helped THEIR oldest son learn to read, and we would go for walks and hikes...science discovery at its finest...as I would point out to these kids some of the things I had learned in MY science classes! I saved half of the money earned by babysitting and began to buy my OWN clothing for school and church, since the hand-me-down clothing I was receiving through my grandmother was NOT of the then current fashion (not by a LONG shot)!

So I can attest to the "me" generation's "selfishness" from personal experience- I would like to be able to say that I didn't repeat the "mistakes" which I felt my parents made, however, I cannot.

I raised my daughter completely on my own - with NO financial support from her father, whatsoever. Thus, I ended up working long hours, to pay for childcare AND my post high-school education...I recall that I barely even saw my daughter the year that she was three. She was completely in the hands of the daycare providers and the two neighbor girls who picked her up and babysat her after the daycare closed for the day. This is my only regret...

In the 17 years which my daughter was with me, we established a very workable relationship - she was very responsible at an early age, simply because there was no other choice. I am letting this forum know these things, not as an emotional catharsis, but in order to clarify the points that Martin made here and that Jean has confirmed - that "that's the way it IS...."

But I highly desire change - not for change's sake itself, but rather a return to the nurturing of our children, to show them these traditional values and letting them choose to embrace the "old ways" by CHOICE and NOT by chance.

I personally do not watch commercial television, but am "hooked" on Netflix...in this way I can view movies on a wider (and more controversial) range of subjects -documentaries about things like "WACO: The Rules of Engagement" (about the ATF/FBI-Branch Davidian 51 day stand-off, which culminated in OUR GOVERNMENT killing innocent women, children and the elderly, along with David Koresh, on April 19, 1993) - OH, but "our government" doesn't "lie" about what it did in that situation...yeah, RIGHT!

It lies all the time about EVERYTHING in order to BOTH perpetuate itself AND to justify its "long-armed" incessant reach into our pockets, and I believe that this is simply because the average American is an "ostrich" - poking it's collective head in the sand - well, when your head is in the sand, folks, guess what is still exposed and vulnerable???

I seceded from this "union"...I will NOT play their games and I will not support a government which deliberately lies to its people and then begs for MORE money to "reward" those who do not produce. It the 17 years of raising my daughter, I received "AFDC" (our welfare program) for exactly 6 month's while attending a technical training school - AND, since I DID work, in addition to going to school, they TOOK OUT THE MONETARY equivalent of my "earnings" from my foodstamps and "monthly check" - HOW STUPID IS THAT????? It basically rewards those who -WHILE on Welfare - see fit to have another kid each year, in order to "get their raise" - burdening an already OVERBURDENED system even more. And it is the system which provides incentive to these mothers to not even try to get out of their situation. In America, we have third - and even FOURTH - generation "welfare families" - WHY???

In consideration of the current situation within "our" American system - the Government will pay incoming "refugees" a lump sum total payment (I've heard figures as high as $50,000.00 [uS]) and tell them to buy a business (...is that why so many "foreigners" own the local convenience store franchises?); YET this same government, into which I have paid taxes for over 30 years (!) would NOT lift a finger to provide ME with the same benefits or opportunities - in fact, if you'll re-read the above, you'll see that I was penalized (financially) for even attempting to better my situation!

So I have developed online classes, and am taking the earnings OFFSHORE - I can attest to the fact that "going Global" DOES have its advantages - and it is my own keen assessment of the "system" which has prompted and guided my business decisions, and led me to do so...I have no interest in perpetuating this system of lies and cover-ups nor in supporting a government which "HELPS" incoming outsiders to the detriment of the people (such as myself) who have worked their butts off their whole lives and are not one whit better off...no thank you! B)

It has become almost an article of faith in our society that change is synonymous with progress. The present government has preached this message more than most, while it is a philosophy that most people seem to live by. It is nonsense, of course. Change has never always been good. And recent surveys indicating that we are less happy than we used to be suggest a profound malaise at the heart of western society and modern notions of progress.

The findings are not surprising. The very idea of what it means to be human - and the necessary conditions for human qualities to thrive - are being eroded. The reason we no longer feel as happy as we once did is that the intimacy on which our sense of well-being rests - a product of our closest, most intimate relationships, above all in the family - is in decline. In this context, three trends are profoundly changing the nature of our society. First, the rise of individualism, initially evident in the 1960s, has made self the dominant interest, the universal reference point and one's own needs as the ultimate justification of everything. We live in the age of selfishness.

Second, there has been the relentless spread of the market into every part of society. The marketisation of everything has made society, and each of us, more competitive. The logic of the market has now become universal, the ideology not just of neoliberals, but of us all, the criterion we use not just about our job or when shopping, but about our innermost selves, and our most intimate relationships. The prophets who announced the market revolution saw it in contestation with the state: in fact, it proved far more insidious than that, eroding the very notion of what it means to be human. The credo of self, inextricably entwined with the gospel of the market, has hijacked the fabric of our lives. We live in an ego-market society.

Third, there is the rise of communication technologies, notably mobile phones and the internet, which are contracting our private space, erasing our personal time and accelerating the pace of life. Of course, we remain deeply social animals. We enjoy many more relationships than we used to: cafe culture has become the symbol of our modern conviviality. But quantity does not mean quality. Our relationships may be more cosmopolitan but they are increasingly transient and ephemeral. Our social world has come to mirror and mimic the rhythms and characteristics of the market, contractual in nature. Meanwhile, the family - the site of virtually the only life-long relationships we enjoy - has become an ever-weaker institution: extended families are increasingly marginal, nuclear families are getting smaller and more short-lived, almost half of all marriages end in divorce, and most parents spend less time with their pre-school children.

The central site of intimacy is the family - as expressed in the relationship between partners, and between parents and children. Intimacy is a function of time and permanence. It rests on mutuality and unconditionality. It is rooted in trust. As such, it is the antithesis of the values engendered by the market.

Yet even our most intimate relationships are being corroded by the new dominant values. There is an increasingly powerful tendency to judge love and sex by the criteria of consumer society - in other words, novelty, variety and disposability. Serial monogamy is now our way of life. Sex has been accorded a status, as measured by the incidence of articles in newspapers, not to mention the avalanche of online porn, that elevates it above all other considerations. Unsurprisingly, love - which belongs in the realm of the soul and spirit rather than the body - becomes more elusive.

It is the deterioration in the parent-child relationship, though, that should detain us most. This, after all, is the cradle of all else, where we learn our sense of security, our identity and emotions, our ability to love and care, to speak and listen, to be human.

The parent-child, especially the mother-child, relationship stands in the sharpest contrast of all to the laws of the market. It is utterly unequal, and yet there is no expectation that the sacrifice entails or requires reciprocation. On the contrary, the only way a child can reciprocate is through the love they give, and the sacrifice they make, for their own children.

But this most precious of all human relationships is being amended and undermined. As women have been drawn into the labour market on the same scale as men, they are now subject to growing time-scarcity, with profound consequences for the family, and especially children. The birth rate has fallen to historic new lows. That most fundamental of human functions, reproduction, is beleaguered by the values of the ego-market society. Couples are increasingly reluctant to make the inevitable "sacrifices" - cut in income, loss of time, greater pressure - that parenthood involves.

Parents are now spending less time with their babies and toddlers. The effects are already evident in schools. In a study published by the government's Basic Skills Agency last year, teachers claim that half of all children now start school unable to speak audibly and be understood by others, to respond to simple instructions, recognise their own names or even count to five. In order to attend to our own needs, our children are neglected, our time substituted by paying for that of others, videos and computer games deployed as a means of distraction. And the problem applies across the class spectrum. So-called "money-rich, time-scarce" professionals are one of the most culpable groups. Time is the most important gift a parent can give a child, and time is what we are less and less prepared to forgo.

It is impossible to predict the precise consequences of this, but a growing loss of intimacy and a decline in emotional intelligence, not to mention a cornucopia of behavioural problems, are inevitable. Judging by this week's survey of the growing emotional problems of teenagers, they are already apparent. Such changes, moreover, are permanent and irrecoverable. A generation grows up knowing no different, bequeathing the same emotional assumptions to its offspring.

But it is not only in the context of the changing texture of human relationships that intimacy is in decline. We are also becoming less and less intimate with the human condition itself. The conventional wisdom is that the media has made us a more thoughtful and knowledgeable society. The problem is that what we learn from the media is less and less mediated by personal experience, by settled communities that provide us with the yardstick of reality, based on the accumulated knowledge of people whom we know and trust. Indeed, society has moved in precisely the opposite direction, towards an increasingly adolescent culture which denigrates age and experience. In the growing absence of real-life experience we have become prey to what can only be described as a voyeuristic relationship with the most fundamental experiences.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1307401,00.html

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Martin

Can I quote you? I think your article is a brilliant summary of modern life.

Julie

You'll notice from the bit under my picture that I'm from the smallest state in Australia and Martin is from thr UK. We are about to have a federal election here and there isa growing split between many Australians - those who support our present PM who is a sycophant of Bush and who is taking us down the road of becoming a miniature US (eg wars against terrorists and free trade agreements with the US which will destroy many of our industries) and those who want us to follow a different path and become a nation with our own beliefs and attitudes. We are inundated with US news, TV and movies and I have to admit I am not at all pro-US and your posting confirms many of my beliefs about that.

However, the UK seems to be also going down the same path and I too don't know how you turn it round. Martin seems to be fairly pessimistic about the possibilities.

On another tack about modern families - because of the high rate of divorce, there appears to be a growing trend to compensate for the guilt caused by serial monogamy and multiple family structures, by overindulging and constant "rescuing" of the children of such relationships. I see so many divorced parents who seem unable to apply any rules, structure or consistency to their children, in case they lose their relationship with them, or because they appear to believe it will assuage their guilt, buy love, respect and appreciation (the market philosophy again?)

These children take and take everything offered to them with no qualms or conscience and grow up into selfish adults who have no respect whatever for the misguided parent who bought them off on every occasion. They are protected from every risk, rescued from every mistake they make, showered with whatever money can buy, competed for by the other parent, and develop the attitude that whatever they do, however they conduct their lives, someone will always be there to save and rescue them. This is another aspect of the "me" generation.

I have a great deal of repect for my partner for everything else, except this - he has four sons from a previous marriage which ended up very messily. Since they were young teenagers, when the marriage ended, he has allowed them to drain him of money for the last 25 years. They are now adult men and still suck money out of him with no guilt whatsoever. They seem incapable of sustaining relationships and every time they get into trouble which is often, their father rescues them over and over, with the result that now in his late 60s, on a very good salary all his life, he has no assets, no savings and little supperannuation. It is impossible to discuss it with him as he becomes intensely defensive and will not allow he has made any errors at all. I give him as an example, but I saw it all the time while I was teaching secondary school. Also, the same sort of "indulgent" childrearing methods often seem to apply to very well-off parents who have their children very late in life.

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Thank you, Jean, for your kind note...

I really didn't mean to go off on a tangent, but it seems that so many people here in the US are just grubbing for the "almighty dollar" without thought or care about the future..I was attempting to relate what Martin had said to actual real life experience here in the States for the past 40 years.

As I became "conscious" at a very early age - I have watched what's been going on (I tell people that I am an avowed "conspiracy theorist") and I don't believe 99.99% of ANYTHING that our "government" tells us - why? Because they've been BUSTED in so many lies, when we all know the evenutally the "truth will out!"

I came to the Education Forum, primarily to do research on the JFK assassination - that's the conspiracy theorist coming out in me...and I have found a LOT of useful information here, not merely about JFK - this site has been an entertaining and valuable source of infomation, as well as setting forth topics for consideration, such as this one.

Thank you for your note - I wish you all the best - my daughter has married a guy with a double BS - Electrical Engineering and Electronics Engineering - so they should not have money problems - I would still like to build up assets "other than in the USA" in order to leave them "something, ANYTHING!" that will be untouchable by the US government - that is my primary concern and my goal at the tender age of 46. In February 2004, I was "downsized" out of an Executive Assistant position with the 6th largest financial institution in the US, and I am extremely jaded about Corporate America. I have decided to step out on faith and put my skills and abilities to work for MYSELF - I've made two of my former small-business employers into millionaires...I believe that I can do that for myself!

Julie Ditolla

Martin

Can I quote you? I think your article is a brilliant summary of modern life.

Julie

You'll notice from the bit under my picture that I'm from the smallest state in Australia and Martin is from thr UK. We are about to have a federal election here and there isa growing split between many Australians - those who support our present PM who is a sycophant of Bush and who is taking us down the road of becoming a miniature US (eg wars against terrorists and free trade agreements with the US which will destroy many of our industries) and those who want us to follow a different path and become a nation with our own beliefs and attitudes. We are inundated with US news, TV and movies and I have to admit I am not at all pro-US and your posting confirms many of my beliefs about that.

However, the UK seems to be also going down the same path and I too don't know how you turn it round. Martin seems to be fairly pessimistic about the possibilities.

On another tack about modern families - because of the high rate of divorce, there appears to be a growing trend to compensate for the guilt caused by serial monogamy and multiple family structures, by overindulging and constant "rescuing"  of the children of such relationships. I see so many divorced parents who seem unable to apply any rules, structure or consistency to their children, in case they lose their relationship with them, or because they appear to believe it will assuage their guilt, buy love, respect and appreciation (the market philosophy again?)

These children take and take everything offered to them with no qualms or conscience and grow up into selfish adults who have no respect whatever for the misguided parent who bought them off on every occasion. They are protected from every risk, rescued from every mistake they make, showered with whatever money can buy, competed for by the other parent, and develop the attitude that whatever they do, however they conduct their lives, someone will always be there to save and rescue them. This is another aspect of the "me" generation.

I have a great deal of repect for my partner for everything else, except this - he has four sons from a previous marriage which ended up very messily. Since they were young teenagers, when the marriage ended, he has allowed them to drain him of money for the last 25 years. They are now adult men and still suck money out of him with no guilt whatsoever. They seem incapable of sustaining relationships and every time they get into trouble which is often, their father rescues them over and over, with the result that now in his late 60s, on a very good salary all his life, he has no assets, no savings and little supperannuation. It is impossible to discuss it with him as he becomes intensely defensive and will not allow he has made any errors at all. I give him as an example, but I saw it all the time while I was teaching secondary school. Also, the same sort of "indulgent" childrearing methods often seem to apply to very well-off parents who have their children very late in life.

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As Frederick Engels pointed out in his book, The Origins of the Family, the economic system has always had an important influence on family relations. It has also influenced family values. During the early 19th century working class parents had to convince themselves that it was morally acceptable to send their children aged as young as five to work in the textile mills. Testimony given by parents before the various parliamentary committees reveals they were fully aware of the long-term damage being done to the health of their children, however, they had no alternative, the children either worked or the family died of starvation.

After the introduction of universal suffrage, the working classes were able to apply pressure on governments to introduce legislation that helped to protect the family from the worst aspects of capitalism. This included health and welfare legislation, family allowances, progressive taxation, free medical help etc. Eventually this legislation came together to form the welfare state. In Britain this took place after the Second World War. In other European countries it came much earlier. As Julie Ditolla has pointed out, in some countries such as the United States, they have never enjoyed the benefits of a welfare state.

In recent years British governments have embraced the idea of global capitalism. This has involved the promotion of the value of more free-market economies of countries like the United States. One of the consequences of this has been to force people to spend more time at work. The economic consequences of 21st Britain life is that to obtain the basic needs of the family, the vast majority of mothers also have to go out to work. As Martin Jacques points out, the free market has had a detrimental impact on the family:

It is the deterioration in the parent-child relationship, though, that should detain us most. This, after all, is the cradle of all else, where we learn our sense of security, our identity and emotions, our ability to love and care, to speak and listen, to be human.

The parent-child, especially the mother-child, relationship stands in the sharpest contrast of all to the laws of the market. It is utterly unequal, and yet there is no expectation that the sacrifice entails or requires reciprocation. On the contrary, the only way a child can reciprocate is through the love they give, and the sacrifice they make, for their own children.

But this most precious of all human relationships is being amended and undermined. As women have been drawn into the labour market on the same scale as men, they are now subject to growing time-scarcity, with profound consequences for the family, and especially children. The birth rate has fallen to historic new lows. That most fundamental of human functions, reproduction, is beleaguered by the values of the ego-market society. Couples are increasingly reluctant to make the inevitable "sacrifices" - cut in income, loss of time, greater pressure - that parenthood involves.

Parents are now spending less time with their babies and toddlers. The effects are already evident in schools. In a study published by the government's Basic Skills Agency last year, teachers claim that half of all children now start school unable to speak audibly and be understood by others, to respond to simple instructions, recognise their own names or even count to five. In order to attend to our own needs, our children are neglected, our time substituted by paying for that of others, videos and computer games deployed as a means of distraction. And the problem applies across the class spectrum. So-called "money-rich, time-scarce" professionals are one of the most culpable groups. Time is the most important gift a parent can give a child, and time is what we are less and less prepared to forgo.

This is an example of why the free market has to be regulated. The free market in the early 19th century resulted in hundreds of thousands of children growing up with physical deformities and dying an early death. In the 21st century the problem is slightly different. Our children are suffering mentally rather than physically (although it could be shown that there is a link between these changes and childhood obesity). In the 19th century capitalists made fortunes out of the employment of children. It was only parliamentary legislation that stopped them from exploiting children in this way. In the 21st century the capitalists and their agents, continue to make fortunes from the labour of the masses. The solution now is the same as it was in the 19th century. However, before this can take place, the people have to be made aware of what the problem is. Martin Jacques article does this and that is why it is so important.

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What to say. I'm sorry that I'm one of the dreadfully selfish people who does not feel the need to have kids because of the detrimental effect that it would have on my lifestyle.

As a woman I have a number of choices.

a) have kids and effectively give up my career in order to try to raise them as well balanced human beings

b ) have kids and not give up my career resulting in feeling of intense guilt that I don't spend enough time with my children and that maybe they have a stronger bond with the nanny than with me (though you don't often come across men feeling the same guilt that they never see their kids).

c) don't bother to have kids. Don't screw up either their or my life.

I opted for option 'c' because I know of some many women who have chosen options a or b and have either suffered the guilt or only got thier lives back when they hit 50. Why on earth should I give up my freedom in order to raise girls who will in turn give up their freedom to raise more girls who will give up their freedom....when does it stop?!?

All mothers with daughters want for them to have the opportunities that they never had, but then their daughters go and opt to have kids and put the same pressure onto their kids to actually do something with their lives other than breeding.

I'm chosing to break the cycle.

The world is already over populated so I have no guilt about this. I went to university twice in order to have a career, something that men take for granted. Were I to find an occupation into which I could integrate child rearing (my mother succeeded in this one by becoming a kindergarten teacher) the maybe I would consider having kids, but until that day, yes, it is about me.

I make sacrifices in other ares of my life such as international charity work, which I would not be able to do if I had a gaggle of kids around my ankles.

If people want to have kids that is entirely up to them, but I refuse to feel guilty because of wanting to live 'as a man'.

Rowena

Edited by Rowena Hopkins
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Hello to all,

Rowena, way to go! I understand what you've said here and I appreciate your views, I applaud you for them. Who says that being "intelligent" and making a decision such as yours is "selfish?" - I, for one, do not.

(I am glad, however, that I "felt the need" to replicate - and that I did so - my daughter has brought much joy into my life; she's of the opinion which you hold, for some of the same reasons - the world is already overpopulated, her and her new husband do not wish to compromise their lifestyle, etc.). I've replaced my "self" - provided for the future - and feel no need to apologize, either.

My philosophy (when I was younger and more naive) was that "I" wasn't going to be a burden upon the system - particularly after I kicked her dad to the curb/kerb. I wasn't going to have a passel of brats, by however many different fathers, in order to obtain MORE money from the "state" (i.e: the welfare system). I used the system for what is was designed to do - it provided a short-term resource for long-term gains.

I was operating under the philosophy that you should never have more children than you can personally carry in a nuclear holocaust (!) - humorous, yes; extremist, yes; yet very effective. That's my soapbox....

John, I feel that you might have mis-read what I wrote - my whole point in my post (above) was that there IS a welfare state in America - in addition to the disintegration of the family and traditional values - by which the politicians justify increasing taxes, and by which it tends to perpetuate its "democratic" voting bloc by freely handing out all the monies that it takes from the average working American, to give to the "poor" via welfare, AFDC, and such programs.

Well, of course those recipients are more than happy to take the money if the only "price" they have to "pay" is to go to the polls and re-elect the same people which GAVE them the money.

That's why I stated that there ARE third and fourth generation "welfare families" - and don't you folks believe for one minute that there AREN'T...(I do believe that there's a "handbook" somewhere - or perhaps an inter-cultural oral history of "how to 'work the system' " - passed down through those same welfare families - "FREE MONEY??" - Oh, HECK yeah!)

Don't penalize those who DO attempt to use the system as a short-term resource -give them a three year plan, with the following list of "RULES:"

  • 1. NO MORE CHILDREN - you do NOT have any more kids while we're (i.e: the welfare program) paying you!
  • 2. Provide the financial resources AND the economic education to inspire these folks to get off (and STAY OFF) of the welfare programs.
  • 3. Pay for the training programs, living expenses, childcare, foodstamps, etc. - with the understanding that these "perpetual welfare mothers" will not receive another DIME of public monies after the three years: the "sink or swim" solution...!
  • 4. Provide financial penalities for irresponsibly having more children while on the government programs. Primarily this would mean that "we" would cut their monthly benefits in HALF, if they have ONE additional child, and in half again if they have still another.

If they think it is hard to live on x amount of dollars per month, and their benefits are cut in half, and then in half AGAIN, IF they continue to "breed," I do believe that they would think twice about doing so.

I do believe that some of the problems with the welfare system in the US would be solved in very few years, relatively speaking.

This would turn THEM into members of the "taxpayer base," and you can be sure that they then would support such a program as I've outlined here, since they would have come through this hypothetical program, and would have used it for what it SHOULD be used for: as a short term "resource" to provide a long-term solution to an increasing problem in this country.

"...You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.  I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will live as one."  John Lennon - IMAGINE

:D

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All that you have posted so far is very interesting. The situation here in Italy is a little different: the Italian families have 2.7 members on average. This means that we are below the size of a “normal” family (2 parents + 1 child). 23% of the “families” are made up of one person, mainly people over 60, students or young people who are putting off the moment for getting parents because of their careers (June 2004).

Most of the children 0 to 13 have got a brother or a sister (52.5%), but about 25% have no brothers or sisters. This means that many children do not have someone to play or stay with at home. Most of them suffer from it, as my students often tell me. I think their loneliness becomes apparent when they go school.

This alarmingly low birth rate may be due to a lot of factors: I don’t think it is a question of selfishness, there are many real problems related to the difficulty in getting a relatively secure job before the age of 25-30 (if not later), the inefficiency of some services, etc.

I remember going to school on foot when I was 6; now it would be impossible because of the traffic, or just because children are more absent-minded. Working parents may find it difficult to take more than two children of different ages to different schools by car every day. In a city like mine (about 100,000 inhabitants) no school transport service is usually organized. Quite strangely, this type of service is assured in small towns.

As a consequence, we are suffering from being in a constant rush and also in Italy parents are spending less time with their babies and children.

I think families tend to spend less time together in general: many children have also music or language classes after school; most of them practise more than one sport and go training nearly every day, etc. Family life has changed in general and most people tend to stay at home for a shorter time than in the past.

However, divorces are still less numerous than in other European countries, 0.7 every 1,000 people, while the European average is 1.9. This may be due to the influence of the Catholic faith or to the fact that a divorce must be preceded by a three years’ time separation. Besides, not all separations lead to a real divorce.

It is difficult to say how these changes will influence our future: in general our society is getting older and older, and this is rather sad. However, most grandparents and grandchildren have more time to stay together, and this is something positive if the old manage to pass some of their life experience on to the young.

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There was an interesting phenomenon in Sweden in the early 1990s. In the 10 years or so up to 1991, the birth rate had gone up and up (there were even articles in Newsweek about it). Our daughter who was born in 1991 has always been in relatively large classes (her middle school had 3 classes of about 24 in her year).

Then, in 1991, a conservative government got in, which preached a Thatcherite message. Their slogan was even "there is only one way to follow" (echoes of "there is no alternative"). That government only lasted 3 years, but managed to saddle Sweden with an enormous public debt, and also did its best to privatise everything in sight, starting with health and childcare.

There was an immediate drop in the birth rate. In the year below my first daughter's, there are only two classes of 24, and in the year below that, even fewer.

The middle-90s in Sweden were a time of cutting back, clawing back and trying to get public finances into some sort of balance again. Things are turning round now, and the daughter we've just had is part of an explosion in the birth rate. When she was born, there was even a queue to get from the delivery room to the maternity ward!

The interesting thing is that the rhetoric of that conservative government was far harder than its actual actions, but that rhetoric seemed to be enough to cause a decline in the birthrate! Or at least you could say that the rhetoric antedated the decline - which might have been caused by all sorts of factors …

However, nowadays, with readily-available contraception, it does seem like Swedish women will only have enough babies to renew the population if they feel secure and cared for, especially emotionally. You can imagine what chaos this is causing the school and university system, though. Next year, we're faced with drastic cutbacks and sackings … when we know that in the year after we'll need all those teachers and buildings back again! Careless talk by that conservative government might not have cost lives - but it's certainly wasted a lot of money!

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Hello John,

I came across this article written by Charles Whelan for USA Today, September 1996. It pretty much summarizes what I've been complaining about since 1996, when my position at Brotman was eliminated, and I was offered the option of working per diem, sans benefits.

That fall, in October, Cedars-Sinai also laid off 2500 of their work force. This was only the beginning of the largest down-sizing to hit the medical field since the mid to late 1980's. Supply-side economics, indeed!

There were other changes I began noticing in 2000, such as the out-sourcing of help to India, by General Electric, one of our Gamma Camera manufacturers. If I needed to contact G.E. for service and repair, I would call the 800 number and be greeted by a distinctly English-accented person, who would ferry my request for service back to the U.S., and to the engineer servicing my area. Upon inquiring as to where my call was being received, I came to find out that it was somewhere in India. I wondered to myself, how many American positions G.E. had eliminated in order to maintain their "bottom line" by paying cheaper wages to their new employees in India. I also wondered how this impacted the American families

of those laid off, and how many positions those laid-off U.S. individuals would have to maintain in order to make a living wage, or one equivalent to what they were making with G.E. at the time their jobs were terminated. This, of course, did not include the loss of medical benefits to themselves and their families.

How many American families were being forced into marginalization due to this, not so new, concept of laissez faire being perpetrated upon us under this new euphemistic expression known as the "global economy"? Laissez faire, from what I'd gathered from my social studies classes, was something that existed for a period of time in U.S. history, but had never really taken hold as a permanent fixture of U.S. economic policy. My father also abhorred the concept as being un-American. Therefore, when these murmurings of global "this", and global "that", started entering the American lexicon, I began to question the intentions of these so-called Wall Street economists, and exactly whose general well-being they actually had in mind. It certainly wasn't the American employee, as they were being urged to become "entrepeneurs", and to "re-invent' themselves in this new "free market" atmosphere. I've often wondered how a production-line

worker, or steel-worker, or one of the labor force was going to accomplish this feat when their employers were offering little to none, in the way of re-training skills or transitional employment opportunities for their displaced workers. All one has to do is look at Detroit and Pittsburgh, or any one of those factory towns in the East and Midwest to see what resulted from the "new global economic" system. This is what I believe contributed, in a large measure, to the erosion of the American family, with it's necessity for both parents having to hold down two to three jobs in order to live marginally, and/or just above, or at the poverty level, not to mention lack of affordable healthcare. When a family is forced to leave kids to fend for themselves while they go off to work, sometimes in swing shifts, but most likely from dawn to midnight, it leaves little room for tending to the basic nurturing needs of their children, let alone any quality time for teaching or helping them with their schoolwork. Kids become accustomed to being on their own and making up their own rules, as they go along. This doesn't always make for a productive environment in which to raise responsible and law-abiding citizens, with the parents' only role model being that of a working stiff, with little or no time for quality interaction due to their hectic work schedules. This along with school funding cuts, and the loss of after-school services as well as the Out Reach programs, have left little in the area of guidance for these "latch-key" kids,

leading to the risk of them forming "gang" associations, and/or other negative dependencies.

What is needed to correct this erosion of American families and the accompanying alienation of their children is as complex as the dynamics that have set the existing condition in motion. I have little to offer in the way of ideas because in the present political atmosphere I'd be derided as un-American, and socialistic as far as my values are concerned. All I can offer are these questions that I feel are pertinent to the problem, and regret that my knowledge base of economics, or any creative suggestions is limited to what I merely equate with as a New Deal, or a new Bretton Woods economic policy, of which I'd more than likely be castigated, by conservatives and neocons, for having antiquated, idealistic, and unrealistic yearnings of a better time and place. But I ask, how do you convince corporate

America of the long term, detrimental effects their out-sourcing of jobs to third world nations has on the very fabric of life in America as we had come to know it during more prosperous times? How do you convince future parents of the problems they will face if their aspirations to the American Dream of the nuclear family can no longer be realized except at the expense of proper benefits or healthcare for their potential progeny, and of their own obligation to provide for them at an exhorbitant cost should they choose to pursue a dream that is becoming increasingly non-existent, and cost prohibitive?

This is unfortunate because the Americans I'm referring to happen to make up the majority in this country, and are the ones most at risk in not realizing their true expectations for themselves or their children.

Remember, this article was written in 1996, and the situation has exacerbated

since that time, directly in proportion to the lack of articles addressing this subject matter, today.

I hope this helps somewhat, John.

The Age of Anxiety: Erosion of the American Dream - Cover Story

USA Today (Magazine), Sept, 1996 by Charles J. Whalen

IN HIS 1996 State of the Union address, Pres. Clinton remarked that we live in an Age of Possibility. For most Americans, however, today is the Age of Anxiety American Dream is in crisis. The 25-year Age of Prosperity that followed World War II has been replaced by an equally long period of rising economic insecurity for middle-class Americans. Conventional measures indicate the U.S. economy is strong. Unemployment and inflation are low, while profits and output have been growing steadily for the past three years. Nevertheless, the middle class is not optimistic. According to a survey conducted in the winter of 1994-95 for U.S. News and World Report, 57% of those asked said the American Dream is out of reach for most families, and more than two-thirds were worried that their children will not live as well as they do.

The middle class has good reason to feel uneasy. In today's economy, most working families can not distinguish recession from recovery. Beneath the misleading surface prosperity are numerous alarming trends: Relentless downsizing. Since 1978, America's largest 100 companies have reduced employment by 22%. More than 1,000,000 workers have been laid off each year during the 1990s--about half from large private-sector firms. In January, 1996, alone, nearly 100,000 job cuts were announced. Today, one in three American families fears job loss in the near future.

Permanent job separation. Unemployment in earlier decades often was cyclical and temporary. Jobs lost to downsizing and restructuring, though, are permanent and frequently come despite strong corporate earning, as is the case at both AT&T and Mobil. Moreover, professional and managerial workers no longer are immune--these categories accounted for about one-quarter of all layoffs in the 1991-93 period, approximately doubel their share from the early 1980s. Of the 2,000 AT&T employees dismissed in January, 1996, 60% were managers.

Longer jobs searches and sluggish job creation. The average duration for a job search in 1995 was 2.5 months. A decade agol, it took 1.5 months; in 1967, 2.5 weeks. Pres. Clinton often talks about the 8,000,000 new jobs created since he entered the White House, but the pace of job creation has been approximately 40% below the level of America's two previous expansions.

Declining fortunes. According to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau, workers losing jobs recently have seen their wages drop an average of more than 20% upon regaining full-time work. A 1994 Department of Labor study found that less than one of three displaced workers returns to full-time employment with equal or higher pay. Research by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, meanwhile, indicates that many affected workers never will see a return to their previous income levels.

Explosive growth in contingent work. Part-time and temporary employment--"contingent" work--have been increasing much faster than the over-all rate of job growth since 1970. In the period 1970-90, total U.S. employment grew by less than 54%, but the number of persons working part time, yet preferring a full-time job, rose 121%, and the number of temporary workers increased 210%. Jobs provided through temporary employment agencies such as Manpower, Inc.--now the nation's second-largest employer--account for about 15% of all employment today. In contrast, during the period 1982-90, temporary agencies accounted for less than five percent of all jobs created.

Wage stagnation. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the economic scene is the trend in the average. American's purchasing power. After adjusting for inflation, today's hourly wages give the average American less purchasing power than the average U.S. worker had in 1965. Although families have responded by sending more members to work and having them work longer hours, real median family income has fallen more than five percent since 1989. In 1995, total worker compensation--wages plus benefits--grew at its lower rate since this information was first collected in 1982, just barely keeping pace with inflation.

Rising inequality. In the early post-World War II era, real annual income for most American families rose at about 2.5% a year; since 1973, though, income has been distributed more and more unequally. When U.S. families are ranked according to their incomes, the bottom 40% have seen their incomes fall since the mid 1970s; the middle 40% have seen their income stagnate; and the richest 20% have seen a substantial increase--with the most spectacular gains accruing to the weathiest families. The average corporate chief executive received 41 times the salary of the average U.S. worker in the mid 1970s; CEOs today receive incomes 225 times greater than the average worker.

Increased moonlighting. In 1985, 5,700,000 Americans held two or more jobs; today, the number is over 7,700,000. Research by Richard Freeman of Harvard University indicates that no other industrial nation approaches the U.S. when it comes to multiple job holdings. Pres. Clinton learned about this firsthand when a worker responded to his boast about job creation by stating: "Don't tell me about the millions of new jobs created--I've got three of them and I'm not all that impressed."

One easily can find scapegoats for today's middle-class anxiety. Ultimately, however, we all are responsible. At the root of the problem of economic insecurity is America's failure to adjust its public institutions and policies adequately to the emergence of a competitive, global economy.

In the wake of World War II, U.S. prosperity was generated by a set of economic structures, strategies, and practices that were both complementary and mutually reinforcing. The economy was dominated by large and powerful enterprises that used mass-production techniques to manufacture American goods primarily for domestic consumption. As these companies experienced productivity gains, workers were rewarded with rising incomes and steady employment. Strong consumer demand, combined with timely jolts of fiscal and monetary assistance from the Federal government, kept firms profitable.

The early postwar economic system was organized for stability, not adaptation. Like generals fighting the last war, economists and policy makers avoided another Great Depression, but missed the fact that the economy was transforming all around them due to increased international competition and rapid technological change. An early sign of the emergence of a new economy was that foreign firms made significant inroads into the markets of U.S. manufacturers during the 1970s--especially in steel, automobiles, consumer electronics, and apparel. Today, fierce international competition exists not just in well-established manufacturing industries, but in microelectronics and other high-tech fields, as well as services such as banking.

Another aspect of the new economy is the globalization of production. For instance, software manufacturer Novell, Inc., is just one of the many firms flocking to Bangalore, India, where a skilled engineer or computer scientist costs 10% of what an American worker does. Other destinations now attractive to multinational enterprises seeking new production facilities include China and South America. Thanks to innovations in communications, production, and transportation, worldwide operations never have been easier to maintain.

An added source of competitive pressure in the current economic environment can be traced to the evolution of a financial system dominated by money managers--those who oversee the assets of trusts, insurance companies, pensions, and mutual funds. The sole criterion by which these managers are judged is the maximization of the value of the investments entrusted into their care. Money managers have caused business leaders to become increasingly sensitive to the stock market valuation of their firms in recent years.

The early postwar period was an era in which there was much truth to the expression "a rising tide lifts all boats." Policymakers interested in the well-being of the middle class needed only to focus on three over-all measures of economic performance: national output, employment, and inflation. The American Dream seemed secure as long as the Gross National Product was growing and unemployment and inflation were low. Much more is required though, in an era of international competition, worldwide production, swift technological change, and mutual fund managers. Today, no single statistic of overall national performance adequately can reflect economic reality--and no individual policy initiative can restore middle-class faith in the American Dream.

Continued from page 1.

The U.S. is capable of establishing an institutional framework that provides hard working citizens with economic opportunity, a rising standard of living, and the prospect of an even better life for their children. Moving society toward this objective requires a new look at a broad policy landscape. Among the issues that must receive fresh attention are jobs, welfare, and public investment.

Jobs. Economists talk of two routes to industrial competitiveness: a "high-performance" path and a "low-wage" one. The former involves competition on the basis of innovation, product quality, and the development of new markets; the latter emphasizes a search for the least expensive inputs. Public policies used widely in Europe and the Pacific Rim encourage firms to follow the first of these approaches. In the U.S., though, a policy vacuum has caused most firms to follow the low-wage path. The middle class can not survive--and social harmony is threatened--unless America changes its competitiveness course.

In Germany and Japan, taxes and subsidies encourage corporations to compete in ways that involve worker retention, retraining, and the upgrading of skills. A fresh approach to jobs in the U.S. requires similar initiatives, along with an end to subsidies for plant closings and relocations abroad. Washington also should make tax breaks and certain types of regulatory relief available to firms that foster employee participation in business decisions and allow workers to share in productivity and profitability gains.

Public policy must address the fact that the U.S. has one of the worst labor-market adjustment systems in the industrialized world. Free markets alone are highly inefficient when it comes to managing a nation's transition from school to work, and can be even worse at managing worker adjustment to economic change. Moreover, many state and Federal programs in this area have been of very limited value.

The apprenticeship and skill-certification programs used in Germany represent one set of worthwhile initiatives consistent with a high-performance path. Another successful approach to training can be found in Australia and France, where worker-education centers provide services funded by an employer training tax. There are effective job search and relocation-assistance programs in nations such as Sweden and Japan. America's approach to jobs in the late 1990s and early 21st century requires government, school, and industry collaboration that builds on creative efforts such as these. Also needed are complementary reforms that make pensions portable and ensure the accessibility of health care.

Welfare. A new approach to welfare requires a basic minimum income for those unable to work, a consolidation of programs that provide assistance to those who can, and an acknowledgment that the public sector must serve as employer of last resort for those seeking, but unable to find, jobs. A single system of synchronized welfare and earned income tax-credit benefits--instead of the current "alphabet soup" of programs such as AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) and SSI (Supplemental Security Income)--would provide society with comprehensive public assistance and a safety net that does not penalize people who find work. A public commitment to serve as employer of last resort, meanwhile, reflects the fact that there are too many unmet social needs for the nation to accept long-term joblessness.

Right or responsibility?

The notion of treating employment as a "right" has been favored by many Democrats throughout the 20th century. More recently, Republicans have talked about work as a "responsibility" of the able-bodied. A middle-class perspective would look at it as both. Using the Depression era's Works Progress Administration as a model, Federal, state, and local officials easily could design programs that would enable unemployed citizens to support themselves by making a useful contribution to their communities.

Elements of this approach to welfare are emerging within individual states. Programs that tie income assistance to community service work have been established or currently are under consideration in states including Massachusetts, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Virginia. In addition, Michigan and other states recognize that job-search, transportation, and child-care issues must be addressed as part of welfare reform.

Public investment. No nation can prosper without making investments in its future. Public investments are vital not merely for their own sake, but as complements to private investment. Yet, Federal non-defense investments, when measured as a share of budget outlays or as a fraction of national output, have been in decline since the mid 1960s.

A role for the public sector always has existed in the realm of science and technology. This role is more important now than ever due to the rise of what Lester Thurow of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology calls "brain-power" industries--such as microelectronics and biotechnology--that can be located wherever the necessary talents are coordinated. As in Europe, America's consortiums for advanced-technology projects should be established not by government alone, but through public-private alliances that require matching funds from participating firms.

Numerous industrial nations combine clearly defined technology policies with national business-assistance networks. Although these networks often are modeled after America's agricultural extension service, U.S. budget pressures are causing many state and Federal legislators to call for cuts in what already are meager domestic investment activities. AMTRAK's recent purchase of high-speed trains from a French-British-Canadian consortium at a price of $611,000,000 should be recognized as evidence that the long-term cost of such belt-tightening can be substantial; AMTRAK received no bids from American manufacturers, and the other bidders were publicly supported European partnerships.

Another crucial investment area is public infrastructure--not only public buildings, but communications, water, power, and transportation systems. According to Wallace Peterson of the University of Nebraska, decades of neglecting America's infrastructure have left us with more than a trillion dollars in necessary construction, repairs, and renovations. A 1996 study by the Manhattan-based Regional Plan Association indicates that the New York metropolitan region alone requires $75,000,000,000 in transportation and other improvements over 25 years to save it from outright decline.

Perhaps the most significant Federal obstacle to greater public investment is an approach to budgeting that can not distinguish investment from consumption, one that treats biotechnology research no differently than a White House dinner party. To enable U.S. policymakers and the public to make sound judgments on budget matters, Washington needs more useful accounting techniques. A full balance-sheet approach--listing, as do private organizations, both assets and liabilities--is worth exploring. At the very least, Federal officials should follow the lead of our global competitors and establish a separate capital budget for tangible public investments.

Revitalizing the American Dream will not be easy. The policy changes needed are many, and require public officials committed to addressing the problems faced by the nation's working families. Nevertheless, there is no other choice. The current economic situation is unstable, and anxiety can not be the defining characteristic of any society for very long.

Middle-class insecurity is real and pervasive. The American Dream is indeed in crisis. Only sensible public action can put the U.S. on a new course.

Dr. Whalen is resident scholar, The Jerome Levy Economics Institute, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, N. Y.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Society for the Advancement of Education

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

Edited by Terry Mauro
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I'm sorry that I'm one of the dreadfully selfish people who does not feel the need to have kids because of the detrimental effect that it would have on my lifestyle. 

Everyone makes decisions based on selfish motives. That includes people who devote their time to good works. They have discovered that this life-style increases their sense of well-being.

When I got married I had no desire to have children. In fact, for several years, I rejected the idea. This was based on purely selfish motives. My life was very good and I was afraid it would be spoilt. My wife’s view was very different. Eventually we got to the stage where here desire for a child was greater than my desire not to have one. As a result I changed my mind on the issue. I was still being selfish in my decision (our marriage would not have survived if it remained childless). I now realise that I was completely wrong in my original view that the birth of a child would have a detrimental impact on my life. The existence of my daughter has only resulted in joy and happiness.

This does not mean that you are wrong not to want children. But it does raise the issue of our responsibilities to other people. Does your husband share your views on the matter? Should we take into consideration the opinions of our parents? Or is it a decision only to me made by the woman?

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John, I feel that you might have mis-read what I wrote - my whole point in my post (above) was that there IS a welfare state in America - in addition to the disintegration of the family and traditional values - by which the politicians justify increasing taxes, and by which it tends to perpetuate its "democratic" voting bloc by freely handing out all the monies that it takes from the average working American, to give to the "poor" via welfare, AFDC, and such programs.

I would question the idea that America has a Welfare State. It has a system where individuals are given money, food, etc. in certain circumstances. The Welfare State that exists in many European countries is very different from this. In these cases the government creates a system with a level of life that no one should fall below. This is a very expensive system. This is especially true of a National Health Service where all treatment is free at the source of delivery. The Americans tend to call this “socialized medicine” (it is indeed a very important aspect of socialist thinking).

This system is very expensive and involves the implementation of progressive taxation. This results in the redistribution of wealth. The introduction of the Welfare State in Britain (1945-51) had a major impact on narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor. Some countries like Sweden, France and Germany have more comprehensive welfare state that Britain. The gap between rich and poor is even narrower in these countries.

In recent years British government have been undermining the welfare state by introducing charges in some areas. It is difficult to describe some areas, such as dentistry, as being part of a welfare state. For example, in some towns like my own, it is impossible to get a National Health dentist.

In recent years the government has been bringing in charges for post 16 education. The poorest are able to get grants, exemptions, etc., but these are means tested (a similar system existed in Britain in the 1930s).

At the same time the government has been slowly abandoning the idea of progressive taxation. For example, the poorest 20% in the UK now pay a higher percentage of tax on their income than the richest 20%. The UK has indeed been adopting the economic model of the United States. As a result, the gap between rich and poor is moving closer to the record of the United States than our European partners.

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There was an interesting phenomenon in Sweden in the early 1990s. In the 10 years or so up to 1991, the birth rate had gone up and up (there were even articles in Newsweek about it). Our daughter who was born in 1991 has always been in relatively large classes (her middle school had 3 classes of about 24 in her year).

Then, in 1991, a conservative government got in, which preached a Thatcherite message. Their slogan was even "there is only one way to follow" (echoes of "there is no alternative"). That government only lasted 3 years, but managed to saddle Sweden with an enormous public debt, and also did its best to privatise everything in sight, starting with health and childcare.

There was an immediate drop in the birth rate. In the year below my first daughter's, there are only two classes of 24, and in the year below that, even fewer.

The middle-90s in Sweden were a time of cutting back, clawing back and trying to get public finances into some sort of balance again. Things are turning round now, and the daughter we've just had is part of an explosion in the birth rate. When she was born, there was even a queue to get from the delivery room to the maternity ward!

In the UK people often use the example of Sweden as being what a Welfare State should be like. However, members of the forum such as David and Anders have pointed out that in recent years the Welfare State in Sweden has been undermined.

A book has just been published in Britain called Key Issues in Women’s Work. In the book the author, Catherine Hakim, argues that: “For decades we’ve been told Sweden is a great place to be a working parent. But we’ve been duped.” She controversially argues that: “The glass ceiling problem is larger in family-friendley Sweden than it is in the hire-and-fire-at-will US, and it has grown as family-friendly policies have expanded. In Sweden 1.5% of senior management are women, compared with 11% in the US.” Hakin goes on to argue that Swedish women are paid around 20% less than Swedish men. Other European countries have a better record: Italy has a 15% pay gap, Spain a 12% gap and Belgium and Portugal an 8% gap. One of the major reasons for this is that 75% of Swedish women are working in the public sector – traditionally the lower-paid end of the employment market.

Hakim puts forward an argument similar to the one expressed by Rowena. Hakim has eschewed motherhood to concentrate on her career: “The major investment required (to be a mother) is one of time and effort: if you are seriously interested in a career, you don’t have time for children.” Over the past eight years, Hakim has written six books and she says, “There’s no way I could have done that if I had had children.”

Hakim argues that the government should spend more money on career women that those who choose to have children. It is a common complaint by men without children that too much of their tax goes on paying for those with children. It is the first time I have heard a woman arguing this.

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All that you have posted so far is very interesting. The situation here in Italy is a little different: the Italian families have 2.7 members on average. This means that we are below the size of a “normal” family (2 parents + 1 child). 23% of the “families” are made up of one person, mainly people over 60, students or young people who are putting off the moment for getting parents because of their careers (June 2004).

Most of the children 0 to 13 have got a brother or a sister (52.5%), but about 25% have no brothers or sisters. This means that many children do not have someone to play or stay with at home. Most of them suffer from it, as my students often tell me. I think their loneliness becomes apparent when they go school.

This alarmingly low birth rate may be due to a lot of factors: I don’t think it is a question of selfishness, there are many real problems related to the difficulty in getting a relatively secure job before the age of 25-30 (if not later), the inefficiency of some services, etc....

I think families tend to spend less time together in general: many children have also music or language classes after school; most of them practise more than one sport and go training nearly every day, etc. Family life has changed in general and most people tend to stay at home for a shorter time than in the past.

However, divorces are still less numerous than in other European countries, 0.7 every 1,000 people, while the European average is 1.9. This may be due to the influence of the Catholic faith or to the fact that a divorce must be preceded by a three years’ time separation. Besides, not all separations lead to a real divorce.

It is difficult to say how these changes will influence our future: in general our society is getting older and older, and this is rather sad. However, most grandparents and grandchildren have more time to stay together, and this is something positive if the old manage to pass some of their life experience on to the young.

This is an interesting set of figures. On the surface, religion might appear to be the major factor in the divorce rate. If however the Roman Catholic Church still retains enough power over the Italian people to influence the divorce rate, why does it appear to be unable to enforce its teachings about birth control?

What about marriage? Are young people in Italy less likely to live with their partners before marriage? It was always thought that the divorce rate would go down in the UK if couples lived together and only married when they were convinced that the marriage would work. However, this has not proved to be the case. In fact, the evidence seems to suggest the opposite.

I am sure you are right that the family spends less time together than it used to. However, whenever I have been in Italy I have noticed that the people seem to have a much more family-based culture. The same is true of Spain and to a lesser extent, France. In the UK, from their teenage years, young people are much more likely to spend their free time in the company of their peer group. This partly explains the anti-social behaviour of so many of our young people. The consumption of large amounts on alcohol in the company of fellow young people is a terrible mixture and late at night, people over the age of 40 have virtually abandoned the streets of our inner cities.

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