One of the great joys in life, the great sources of stability in life, is a loving family. A family you can perhaps disagree with, get into fights with, get frustrated with, but at the end of all things, a family that you know that you can rely on. A family that, say you were suddenly rendered homeless would take you in. Or if your child was sick, would bring you meals or look after your other children. A family that would help you out if you lost your job. In short a family that is there for you and cares for you, not because you are worthy of love or because they like you, but because you are family.
Of course, unfortunately many have families that are not loving. Or have grown apart. Or have wounds that keep them from loving each other as they should. And tragically, for many people, close family connections are non-existent. In the United States, a recent study has demonstrated that the decline of the family is gathering pace and that it is black Americans who are hardest hit. Those aged over 50 who have no living partner or children is expected to grow to 21.1 million people in 2060 in the USA. About 9.4% of all white men, 7.9% of white women, 12.8% of black men and 15.3% of all black women are projected to have no partner or children in 42 years’ time.
Although the increase of those without partners and children will largely match the country’s broader population growth, when one takes into account parents and siblings, the number of close-kinless in the USA is growing rapidly. Thus, by 2060, the number of white (non-Hispanic) Americans aged over 50 without parents, siblings, partners or children will double. The same number of black Americans will triple. Altogether, over 6 million Americans will be living without close kin in 2060. These figures reflect the growing numbers of people who do not have children, never marry or who lose loved ones early in life.
Aside from the obvious emotional, social and psychological problems that this brings for those living the last third of their live with no close family members, there is also an immense (and more quantifiable for these technocratic times) health and financial cost. This is due to the fact that we rely on our close family members to look after us as we age. Currently about 34.2 million Americans provide unpaid care to an adult aged 50 or older. 42% of these care for a parent. In other words, a pillar of health care in an ageing American society is family. If you don’t have family, then you don’t have that pillar. One wonders if we are going to start reintroducing family focussed policies in as the importance of families for societal and individual health is remembered. Or will we need further dislocation and atomisation of people in the years ahead; before we came to realise (again) that a civilisation and culture is based upon and builds on a solid family life.