1.V: Demographics and Lifestyle


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For the first time in history, adults face a lengthy gap between adolescence and planned parenthood. There still are no standard models for relationships during that time of life. The result of this confusion is a baby boom of unplanned children into relationships that don’t last.

A.  Single Parenthood and Cohabitation

B.  Work, Home, & Body

C.  Citations


A.  Single Parenthood and Cohabitation

Once the mold of universal, lifelong marriage-with-kids was broken in the 20th century, it seemed to open the floodgates to a variety of alternative lifestyles.  Premarital sex and cohabitation, or the sharing of a home by unmarried sex partners, has become strikingly normal just in the last few decades.  In a nutshell, these trends constitute a continued separation of the many characteristics that were formerly bundled together in the institution of marriage:  love, monogamy, children, permanence, and economic necessity.  Today’s men and women alike are more empowered to pick and choose the qualities they value in a relationship.  That’s great, but unfortunately, all too many relationships bring children into unsettled or broken homes.

The transition has seemed abrupt.  As recently as 1963, fewer than 20% of Americans believed that sex was acceptable even for engaged couples. 1 Just one decade later, values had been completely inverted:  only 13% of Americans under age 30 believed that it is “always wrong for a man and woman to have sex relations before marriage.” 2 By the 1980’s, 83% of never-married American adolescents had engaged in sex by age 20.    While marriage declined and pre-marital cohabitation rose to take its place, a whopping 80% of the cohabitating women’s mothers expressed disapproval. 3

This vanguard of concerned middle-aged mothers should take some solace.  They are judging 21st century reality with 20th-century standards.  Young adults have not simply abandoned all concepts of monogamy and commitment, as their parents may believe.  Stable relationships and parenthood are still predominant goals for both genders.  Most sex still occurs in relationships, especially marriages.  After all, it is simply the constraints that are changing, not human nature.  Women are still mostly averse to casual sex outside of a relationship. 4  About 40% of women are still indifferent to sex altogether. 5

There are compelling reasons for unmarried couplehood or cohabitation.  The cost of housing is often cited.  Foremost, though, is the deferment of parenthood to ever-increasing ages.  This can be explained by factors such as increasing lifespans, better family-planning technology, and women’s pursuit of college and careers through their 20s and 30s.  It is very difficult to begin a career and a family at the same time.  As a consequence, more women stay unattached through young adulthood, and couples spend more time childless and in a legally unmarried state.  In this way, a good number of cohabitations are trial marriages.

The roots of the cohabitation movement stretch back surprisingly far back in time.  The decision to cohabit rather than to marry is statistically correlated with particular family structures, going back to the parents and even the grandparents of the couple.  Notably, disruption of the parents’ marriage is strongly correlated with the decision to cohabitate. 6  The wave of divorces in the 1960s – ‘80s created a new sense of reality for a generation of children growing up with unmarried parents.

Ironically, while cohabitation is a “new” trend, it is also a return to the very old!  The concept that marriage begins with a religious ceremony dates back fewer than 1,000 years.  Prior to that time, marriage began with the couple’s own declaration that they were together, especially once consummated by sexual relations.  7 Cohabitations of today are much like marriages of pre-Catholic times.

The downside of the current lifestyle trend, single parenthood, deserves equal discussion.  Despite the birth control revolution, nearly 40% of today’s pregnancies are still unplanned! 8 Worse yet, unplanned birth rates are highest among teenagers and uneducated, unmarried women not living with their boyfriends. 9 Divorce, though on the decline, is still very common.  More than half of all divorces involve children under the age of 18. 10 Only 60 – 70% of American children live with both parents, and that figure is much lower for poor families. 11 How are these children faring?

The state of current research has been summed up well by Mary Parke of the Center for Law and Social Policy.  In a 2003 paper, Parke concluded, “compared to children who are raised by their married parents, children in other family types are more likely to achieve lower levels of education, to become teen parents, and to experience health, behavior, and mental health problems.  And children in single-and cohabiting-parent families are more likely to be poor.  This being said, most children not living with married, biological parents grow up without serious problems.”  1 (Emphasis added).  Child and family therapist Jennifer Kolari has found that “what all children need is a loving, consistent and predictable caregiver.  It really doesn’t matter what shape or form that takes. If whoever is bringing that child into the world is prepared to do those things and knows what it takes to be a parent, they’ll be a good parent.” 12

The debate over who is legally married in the courthouse or church is misplaced.  The true concern should be prevention of unplanned conceptions and parental break-ups.  “Early marriage, early pregnancy, early divorce is a cycle of broken families that contributes significantly to maintaining poverty. The cost to our society is enormous,” agrees Dr. Kalman Heller, psychologist and columnist. 13 Unplanned pregnancy has all the hallmarks of what should be a top social priority:  It is extremely widespread, it contributes greatly to social problems, and it is cheaply and easily preventable.  The most common reason for unplanned pregnancies in the First World is simply, “I didn’t think I could get pregnant.” 14 For a species that has mastered cryogenics and genetic engineering, it’s not too much to ask us to plan our own families wisely.

A secondary concern is STDs, Sexually Transmitted Diseases.  STD rates are undeniably on the rise concurrently with delayed marriage.  However, a worldwide study by the Lancet busted some alarmist myths about 21st century relationships.  “Monogamy is the pattern everywhere,” including pre-marital relationships. 15 The Lancet study found that education, poverty, and especially condom availability affect STD rates more than promiscuity.  Again, the real issue is not who is married, but who is infected and passing on diseases.  Public policy needs to be aimed at prevention.

Parenting itself is going through some revolutionary changes.  Grandparents, aunts, and nannies are filling in for busy mothers, especially in single-parent households.  Websites now make it easy to match children to adoptive parents.  Biotechnological advances of the last few decades have made surrogate parenthood much easier and more common, even for middle-aged women, singles, or infertile / gay couples.  Co-parenting is a nascent, controversial, intriguing trend to watch.  Most co-parents are simply sperm donors and surrogate mothers.  Many are same-sex couples.  However, they can also be a man and woman devoted to raising a child together simply for the love of parenthood, without the complications and challenges of a sexual relationship. 16 At least such a relationship is immune to a sexual falling-out, the most common contributing factor toward divorce. 17 Co-parenting is not a mainstream choice, just another example of the growing options.  Frankly, with radically new realities, couples need alternatives alongside more traditional lifestyles.  As lifelong marriage becomes just one choice among many, there is hope that parenthood will become increasingly planned, stable, and successful for those who choose it.

B.  Work, Home, & Body

1.  Gigonomics

2.  Population, Migration, and Urbanization

3.  We’re Getting Older and Fatter

1.  Gigonomics

The decades after World War II were the “Golden Age of Full Employment” in the industrial world. 18 By 2009, magazine editor and blogger Tina Brown was writing, “No one I know has a job anymore.  They’ve got gigs.” 19 Coining the term gigonomics, Brown elaborated, “Now that everyone has a project-to-project freelance career, everyone is a hustler.”  According to a 2009 survey, one out of three employed Americans were working freelance or at two part-time jobs.  Examples of such freelancers include web designers, consultants, graphic artists, home health care providers, accountants, and lawyers.

It is hard to pinpoint such a trend in time, but it appears to have become prevalent only within the 21st century.  The job market thrived in the hot economy of the 1990s.  The 2001 recession and then the 2007 – ’08 financial crisis created extended periods of high unemployment.  People without jobs had no choice but to capitalize on their own talents.  Meanwhile, the cost of health care ballooned, 20 encouraging many employers to cut back permanently on full-time employees.  The cost of retirement plans has also been shifting from employer to worker.

“The market” is usually honest, even if it’s poorly understood.  The truth seems to be that entrepreneurship adds more value to the economy than labor, so employees are being forced out of expensive jobs to create their own wealth.  The gigonomic paradigm fits well with the age of mobility and the internet.  Job-search and freelance websites make it easy to match an employer’s needs to available workers only as such needs arise.  For the employer, this is more efficient than having an employee permanently on call for when his or her services may be needed.  Today’s worker can find many opportunities that were not available decades ago, but must accept much less predictability as a trade-off.

2.  Population, Migration, and Urbanization

The largest mass migration in the history of the world 21 is taking place right now.  It is a migration from farms to cities.  The world population became majority-urban in 2007.  To put this in perspective, just 200 years ago only 3% of the world’s population was urban!  China’s economic growth is characterized by massively large-scale urbanization, and this has global impact. 22

Many of the fastest-growing cities are not equipped to handle the human tidal wave.  Cairo, Manila, Mumbai, and Bogota are just a few prime examples.  Traffic jams and accidents, pollution, and management of basic human needs such as water, housing, law enforcement, and hospitals are straining the limits of their localities.  It is no big surprise that Cairo was a flashpoint of the Arab Spring.  This is a city overwhelmed by poverty and unemployment.  At the same time, it has a critical mass density of social network users who can organize themselves rapidly and powerfully.

In order to slow down the growth of China’s population, the government has enforced a controversial family planning policy since 1979.  This policy limits most couples to one child in the cities, or two children in rural areas.  Though China’s population has continued to grow, the policy has probably prevented hundreds of millions of births.  Many pregnancies are aborted, sometimes even by order of the government.  This policy has had the unintended consequence of sex imbalance.  With a preference for baby boys, many couples abort female fetuses until a boy is conceived.  A state report predicts that, by 2020, men will outnumber women by 30 million in China alone. 23

India is another leading example.  As of the 2011 census, India had only 914 girls for every 1,000 boys.  These huge gender imbalances result in millions of men who are unable to find girlfriends or wives:  in short, a sexually frustrated population.  The Indian gender imbalance is often cited as a factor contributing to rape and sex trafficking, including a wave of violent gang rapes in the 2010s.  In fact, in a nation with a surplus of men, it is the men at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder who will have the most trouble attracting women.  These are the very same men who are likeliest to engage in violent crime.  In China, such men are described as the “bare branches” of the family tree, because it is well understood that they are unlikely to bear fruit. 24

3.  We’re Getting Older and Fatter

One of the strongest evolutionary pressures responsible for the design of the human body was chronic scarcity of food.  Foods high in sugar, salt, and fat are very pleasant to eat because our ancestors needed to eat these foods whenever they could find them.  When refrigeration was not an option, food needed to be eaten quickly.  In times of surplus, the body needed to store fat for an energy store later in the year.  In the industrial age, food became plentiful for the first time in history.  There was simply more food available than was needed.  Programmed by genes and culture to eat whatever is available, people of moderate means kept doing what was natural – stuffing themselves.

For the most part, weight gains have been steady and gradual through the last century.  The obesity epidemic is often traced to the 1980s, which is simply the decade during which the problem got bad enough to merit widespread attention and became a societal talking point.  By 2000, obesity was recognized as a global epidemic, 25 and humanity crossed a threshold with overweight 2 becoming a bigger problem than malnutrition. 26 By today, we have lost sense of what normal and healthy adults even look like.  The ideal weight for an average 5’3” woman is 125 pounds, and for an average 5’9” man it’s 150 pounds. Most modern adults would find these goals unattainable.

The gap between ideals and reality is not merely a downsizing of what it means to be attractive.  It is a very serious public health concern.  Obesity is an aggravating factor in five of the top ten causes of death in the industrialized world. 27 The epidemic is a growing strain on health care systems and the whole economy.  It cuts lives short.

Many reasons can be cited for this problem.  Food is cheaper than ever, and junk food is even cheaper.  High-calorie crops are high-profit crops.  Restaurants compete to indulge us.  Synthetic ingredients such as trans-fat and high fructose corn syrup are particularly fattening.  Divorce and broken homes are associated with poverty, while double-income households often eat restaurant meals and fast food.  Diets learned in childhood are carried into adulthood.

Obesity will be a very difficult problem to reverse, because it will require wholesale changes in lifestyle, behavior, industry, and environment.  Local governments are taking small but important steps like adding parks and gardens in cities and grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods.  National governments are regulating ingredients as well as packaging and labels with a mind toward health consciousness.  Customer awareness is starting to reflect itself in healthier options on the shelves.  These are promising steps, but we have a long way to go!

Another inescapable demographic trend is an aging population, especially in the First World.  Despite the obesity epidemic, life expectancy is up.  The last major baby boom was in the middle of the last century.  Couples are having fewer children.  Population aging is already reflected in the job market, where demand for nurses and caretakers is ever upward.  The anticipation of a swelling retirement class has governments everywhere rethinking their social security structure.  Healthcare accounts for a major portion of the economy, and healthcare costs and systems are greatly affected by an aging population.  Geopolitically, the labor force is gradually shifting from the industrialized nations to the Third World, where population is still growing rapidly.

Return to Chapter 1

Continue to Section 1.VI:  Modern Conspiracist Religion

C.  Citations

  1. Reiss, Ira L.  1967.  The social context of premarital sexual permissiveness.  New York:  Holt, Reinhart and Winston.  22, 29. 
  2. Thornton, Axinn, Yie:  Marriage and Cohabitation 67, citing Thornton 1989.
  3. Thornton et al p. 84
  4. See e.g. Clark and Hatfield, “Gender Differences in Receptivity in Sexual Offers,” Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, Vol. 2 (1), 1989, http://www.elainehatfield.com/79.pdf (accessed 8/11/13).  This result is also reflected on dating websites; see http://www.pof.com/interests/casual_sex.aspx as an example.
  5. Masters, William H.Johnson, Virginia E.Kolodny, Robert C. (1992). “Chapter 10”. Human Sexuality (4 ed.). HarperCollins Publishers. p. 161 indicates that 40% of women report lack of sexual interest.   See also http://www.azcentral.com/health/news/articles/2010/09/14/20100914women-not-interested-in-sex-study.html (quoting a survey showing 38.7% “low libido”) and  Hook, Debra-Lynn, “What is Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder?” EveryDayHealth.com, 4/27/10, http://www.everydayhealth.com/sexual-health/hypoactive-sexual-desire-disorder.aspx (estimating that 30 – 40% of women report little to no interest in sex).
  6. Statistics in this paragraph from Thornton, Axinn, Yie Chapter 5.
  7. Thornton, Axinn, Xie, Chapter Two
  8. http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/archive/Sharing-Responsibility.pdf , p. 42.  (accessed 8/09/13)
  9. Gann Carrie, “After 30 years, unintended birth rate still almost 40 percent,” ABC News, 7/24/12, http://abcnews.go.com/Health/cdc-40-percent-us-births-unintended/story?id=16840288
  10. Amato, P.R. (2000).  “The Consequences of divorce for adults and children.”  Journal of Marriage and Family 62, 1269 – 1287.
  11. Heller, Kalman, Ph.D., “The Myth of the High Rate of Divorce,” PsychCentral.com, http://psychcentral.com/lib/2012/the-myth-of-the-high-rate-of-divorce/all/1/
  12. Hunter, Paul, “Co-parenting:  hoping to become a dad without a romantic relationship,” The Star, 2/22/13,   http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2013/02/22/coparenting_hoping_to_become_a_dad_without_a_romantic_relationship.html
  13. Heller, K. (2012). The Myth of the High Rate of Divorce. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 7, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/2012/the-myth-of-the-high-rate-of-divorce/
  14. Mosher, Jones, and Abma, “Intended and Unintended Births in the United States: 1982 – 2010,” National Health Statistics Reports # 55, 7/24/12.
  15. The Lancet, <http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/issue/vol368no9548/PIIS0140-6736(06)X6219-0>Volume 368, Issue 9548, Pages 1706 – 1728, 11 November 2006
  16. Hunter, Paul, “Co-parenting:  hoping to become a dad without a romantic relationship,” The Star, 2/22/13,   http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2013/02/22/coparenting_hoping_to_become_a_dad_without_a_romantic_relationship.html
  17. “Sex Most Common Cause of Divorce,” http://www.inmalagatoday.com/content/sex-most-common-cause-divorce
  18. Singh, Ajt (2008): Historical Examination of the Golden Age of Full Employment in Western Europe. Published in: Missing Links in the Unemployment Relationship, Arestis, P and McCombie, J (eds) (2009): pp. 51-71.
  19. Brown, Tina, “The Gig Economy,” The Daily Beast, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2009/01/12/the-gig-economy.html, 1/12/09.
  20. http://www.businessinsurance.com/article/20130411/NEWS03/130419970/employment-based-health-insurance-coverage-in-decline-analysis?tags=%7C62%7C74%7C305%7C307%7C329%7C339
  21. BBC News, “The Second Industrial Revolution,” 5/11/04, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/3701581.stm
  22. Dobbs et al, “Urban World:  Cities and the Rise of the Consuming Class,” June, 2012, http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/mgi/research/urbanization/urban_world_cities_and_the_rise_of_the_consuming_class
  23. BBC News, “China Facing Shortage of Wives,” 1/12/07, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6254763.stm
  24. Hudson and Boer:  “A Surplus of Men, a Deficit of Peace,” International Security, Vol. 26, No. 4, Spring 2002, 5 – 38, p. 11, https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B7NsBPUxnA4Mb1lGRmFUamNoenM/edit?pli=1
  25. Caballero B (2007). “The global epidemic of obesity: An overview”. Epidemiol Rev 29: 1–5. doi:10.1093/epirev/mxm012PMID 17569676.
  26.  Gardner G, Halweil B. Underfed and overfed: the global epidemic of malnutrition. Washington, DC: Worldwatch Institute, 2000. (Worldwatch paper no. 150).
  27. Weight of the Nation, HBO, 2013, Episode 4
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