Capitalism has encouraged a faux individualistic society where people are more isolated and purchase unnecessary goods and services in an effort to adhere to social norms. We’re told our loneliness is what it takes to be a part of society and taking on more debt is how we contribute to the economy. This illusion of independence has made us increasingly dependent on government and corporations, resentful of our fellow citizens all the while having less and less agency in our own lives.
This phenomenon (at least in a modern sense) first came to a head in the 1950s with the rise of the nuclear family and mass suburbanization, where families were encouraged to buy prefab homes in cookie-cutter neighborhoods and purchase unnecessary goods to keep up with the Joneses. Multigenerational households were no longer the norm, and people aspired to be more self-sufficient.
Strangely, this push for self-sufficiency didn’t include things like growing their own food. In fact it became discouraged as trashy behavior and largely outlawed in residential areas. After all, a bunch of grass is sooo much more vital to a family than the ability to feed itself. Suburbs also tend to be food deserts which require driving across town for food or being price gouged at the few local stores. This resulted in more reliance on frozen food to prevent constant grocery trips. These foods tend to be unhealthier which compounded people’s already increasingly sedentary lifestyle resulting in declining physical and mental well being.
Moving away from the multigenerational model has had negative impacts on families and society as a whole. Living with extended family members can provide emotional and practical support, especially for families with young children or elderly relatives. Grandparents can help care for grandchildren, and adult couples can provide assistance to their aging parents. This type of living arrangement can also lead to stronger family bonds and a sense of belonging, which is crucial for mental health and wellbeing.
Additionally, multigenerational households can be more economically efficient, as expenses such as rent, utilities, and groceries can be shared. This can help to alleviate financial strain and provide more stability for the entire family. Unfortunately, the trend towards independence has only accelerated in recent years, with more and more people living alone and prioritizing their own interests over those of their family and community.
The consequences of this can be seen in the increasing rates of loneliness, depression, and anxiety, particularly among younger generations. Children who grow up in multigenerational households tend to have better mental health outcomes, perform better academically, and have stronger relationships with their family members and community. Furthermore, the decline of multigenerational households and cohabitation in general has contributed to the housing crisis and rising cost of living, making it difficult for families to afford adequate housing.
In modern times, this trend has continued, with single individuals being encouraged to live alone and pay for even more goods, which has driven up demand for things like appliances and furniture per capita, while also inefficiently utilizing real estate and resources.
Ownership is being replaced by leasing, and people are paying increasingly higher rents for smaller homes. Both home owners and renters ultimately are beholden to the whims of HOA’s, property managers, city officials, banks and to some extent even their neighbors. The idea that you can own your home and live how you want to live comes with an ever growing list of caveats.
Meanwhile, only the rich and powerful can truly enjoy the benefits of the American Dream that we espouse. Living in private compounds (even islands in some cases), with large support staffs to handle most things for them and unfettered by laws that the rest of us must live by. Strangely, even they don’t seem to be happy having fulfilled that dream. Otherwise why do they tend to turn to drugs and levels of depravity we can’t fathom? Why do they also seem so intent on telling others how to live? If vast wealth, private property and freedom don’t make those people happy, why do we chase those dreams ourselves?
How is it environmentally or economically responsible to encourage single people to occupy their own homes stocked with a constantly rotating array of the latest and greatest gadgets? Or to have their own car that they primarily just use to commute to work or to places to spend more money on goods and services to temporarily distract them from their own loneliness and frustrations? How much money, fossil fuels and rare earth metals must be spent on a home whose sole tenant is either gone, sleeping, or consuming media for most of the day?
The idealized nuclear family of the 1950s had 1.5 kids, which was already below the replacement rate of 2.1. Now, many people are forgoing cohabitation and having kids altogether. Millennials are often criticized for having trouble “adulting,” yet the environment we grew up in and now live in is vastly different from the past. People are encouraged to spend less time with the people they care about and more money on things they don’t need.
The same was true for couples raising children alone in the 1950s. This sudden lack of multigenerational households and rise in cost of living resulted in many parents neglecting or abusing their children and spouses out of their own sense of inadequacy. The scars of this abuse are increasingly visible today as each subsequent generation repeats the same mistakes. So we’re having fewer children than we need as a society and not providing the families that do have children with the conditions needed to properly nurture and educate them.
In recent years, there has been an increasing array of government programs aimed at easing the burdens of small families.
Welfare programs were designed to provide a safety net for those who need it most, but they have become a crutch for many who choose to abuse the system. Instead of using welfare as a temporary measure to get back on their feet, many people have become dependent on government assistance for years, if not generations. This has led to a larger burden on taxpayers, as more and more people rely on the government for their basic needs.
Similarly, subsidized home loans have allowed many families to purchase homes they would otherwise not be able to afford. This has led to an increase in personal debt, as people take on mortgages they cannot pay for in the long run. This has resulted in more evictions and home foreclosures, leaving families without a place to live and a real estate market that is constantly in flux.
Childcare services have also been implemented to help working parents, but they have led to an emotional disconnect between children and their families. Children are being raised by strangers, rather than their own parents, which can lead to attachment issues and emotional difficulties later in life.
All of these programs have resulted in a larger and more bloated government exerting more control over families at the cost of more taxes. Instead of encouraging self-sufficiency, these programs have encouraged dependency, resulting in a cycle of poverty and government reliance. As families become more dependent on government programs, they lose their sense of independence and control over their own lives.
In contrast, multigenerational households provide a natural safety net and support system for families. Rather than relying on government programs, families can turn to their own family members for help and support. This fosters a sense of true independence and self-sufficiency, while also promoting emotional connection and familial bonds.
The answer to today’s challenges is not a return to rampant suburbanization nor is it a dystopian collectivist hyper-commodified nightmare of wage slave subscribers. I’m not saying you have to live with your family. Families often kind of suck. I’m not saying you can’t go it alone. Some people simply prefer solitude. I’m not saying we can’t enjoy a few of the conveniences of modern goods and services. What I’m saying is we need to accept that neither the old nor current social systems & sensibilities are norms that need to be blindly pushed onto each new generation.
We need to adapt to our changing world, efficiently utilize resources & technology while also prioritizing the wellbeing of humanity from the individual up to the global scale. We need to have intellectual flexibility to objectively analyze ideas without pretending one is a panacea for all of society’s ailments while another is the cause of all of them. We need to accept that we’re not in this alone and that our greatest asset is each other.