Never in the history of mankind humans lived as long as today.
The family time shrank from about a third of a mother’s lifespan to nearly a fifth in western societies. (Family time measured by the time to the fifteenth birthday of the youngest child).
Some typical facts, similar in all western societies:
In 1900 in Germany a mother survived her fifteen-year-old child for 15 years, today she will have another 35 years ahead of her. The difference is not only due to the life expectancy which is 12 years higher now than a hundred years ago, it is due to the fact that the last child today is born by women in their early thirties and a century ago in the second half of their thirties.
The timespan when children are born is smaller than it was a hundred years ago: plausible as today in average one to two children are born to a family, hundred years ago it were twice as much if not more.
Live expectancy is roughly above eighty for woman and below eighty for man. That are in average one and a half decade more to live than a hundred years ago.
The family phase from the birth of the first child to the age of 15 of the last child shrank from 25 years and more to about 15 years or less.
That is: 15 years in family with underaged children, 35 years further to go.
And everything occur to mothers in the family phase when the children are born and raised: finalizing education, getting a job, making a career, caring for the household, caring for children, moving to a new settlement – all together in a few years.
While we would have so much time in life for all these tasks.
Hardly anyone wants to draw the wheel back to the situation in the sixties of the twentieth century where the income of the father was sufficient to raise a family – and brought financial dependency to the mother.
Today father and mother are usually working and cradles and kindergarten provide support. But as many as there are, they can never fully meet the needs. Family support networks are still necessary. Grandparents to care for the children on school-free days, when they are sick or the parents have late working hours.
To put everything into few years of an eighty-year long life course seems irrational. Nevertheless, still it is practiced. It would make more sense to find a solution of the problem not only in trying to ease the overburden in the few years of child raising, we need a solution taking into account the whole life span, we need life course oriented policy.
What if we leave the focus on the family phase and overlook the whole life course? Why should it not be possible to let phases of education, work and family alternate each other rather than falling together? Why should you not return to college in your late thirties, and starting a new career for another twenty to thirty years? Models of sabbaticals, providing educational leave and ensuring an entrance to a working career in older age are necessary.
Though in some countries measures were set partially for that we would need an overall strategy to disentangle the family phase, to provide a follow up rather than having all together. We should develop models where education, working career and family alternate in succession in a life course. This needs a significant change especially in the economic system.
Family Policy measures are based on the foregone industrial society with breadwinner system and 9 to 5 working hours. Work situation aims now at 24 hours availability and women with higher education get breadwinners in the families.
We need a confirmative action of civil society, state and economy to work to for adequate family and work balance – over the whole life course.
Source: Hans Bertram, Carolin Deuflhard, Die überforderte Generation. Verlag Barbara Budrich, Opladen 2015.