The Gen-X Midlife Crisis

Because it’s relevent to our recent discussion about unhappy UMC-ers and stress, I’m linking to an article that it is being widely disseminated on my Facebook page. I know a lot of stressed out UMC-ers, I guess. From Oprah magazine:

The complaints of well-educated, middle- and upper-middle class women are easy to dismiss as temporary, or not really a crisis, or #FirstWorldProblems. America, in the grand scheme of things, is still a rich, relatively safe country. (Syrian refugees do not have the luxury of waking up in the middle of the night worried about credit card bills.) Although many women are trying to make it on minimum-wage, split-shift jobs (and arguably don’t have so much a midlife crisis as an ongoing crisis), women overall are closing the wage gap. Men do more at home. We deal with less sexism than our mothers and grandmothers, and have far more opportunities. Insert your Reason Why We Don’t Deserve to Feel Lousy here.

Fine. Let’s agree that this particular slice of Generation X women shouldn’t feel bad. And yet, many do: Nearly 60 percent of Gen Xers describe themselves as stressed out. A 2009 analysis of General Social Survey data showed that women’s happiness “declined both absolutely and relative to men” from the early ’70s to the mid-2000s. More than one in five women are on antidepressants. An awful lot of middle-aged women are furious and overwhelmed. What we don’t talk about enough is how the deck is stacked against them feeling any other way.

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72 thoughts on “The Gen-X Midlife Crisis

  1. Are Gen X women getting enough alcohol? I see lots and lots of men my age drinking in bars, but very few women over 30 or so. I’m sure they could be drinking at home, but solitary drinking at home leads to alcoholism where as going out to drink is 100% proven not to.

  2. “An awful lot of middle-aged women are furious and overwhelmed. What we don’t talk about enough is how the deck is stacked against them feeling any other way.”

    I don’t understand that at all. Someone expand for me?

    I see some angst among the women I hear from, who are well educated, financially well off or stable, still married to their first husbands, but not working. Some have had long enough careers that they consider themselves retired. Others have stepped off the career track. They’ve all focused on their children, investing in them and their schools and activities (been support parents). They are feeling angst because they can see the end of their day-to-day parenting, which has been a significant part of their purpose.

    But they’re neither furious nor overwhelmed. They are wondering what they’ll do for the next 20 years, after their kids are out of the home. Maybe go on cruises.

    1. Same here. Most of the women I know are a little older, that is, late boomers, like me (b. 1955-63), from the UMC. Most of them are still married (married couples don’t hang out with divorcees much). Some of them are wondering what they will do now that the children are leaving home. Some of them are mildly worried about retirement (or, if they haven’t been working, whether their husband can retire and the family still live in the manner to which they are accustomed). None of them is furious or stressed out.

      (Well, I know one woman whose husband decided at age 58 that he was gay and left her. She might be a little stressed out, but that’s unusual.)

      1. “..husband decided at age 58 that he was gay and left her..” Boy, is that ever dreadful strategy! He went from a situation where he was still half-way plausible as a romantic partner, silver fox, lots of women showing interest, to one where the old guys are totally over the hill and the male gaze goes, as usual, to the hot young things. How has it been working out for him? Has he beaten the odds?

  3. Based on the Greenspun article, there seem to be a lot of furious Gen X men who feel that the deck is stacked against them.

    1. And millennial men.

      Interestingly, they often hate prosperous, happily married middle aged men just as much as they hate women.

      In fact, they’ve got a huge vocabulary of invective for describing prosperous, happily married middle aged men (cuck, mangina, beta, white knight, churchian, etc.).

      1. Yes, I’ve read that stuff occasionally. I wonder how Ada Calhoun and her friends refer to their prosperous, happily married sisters.

    1. I’d say that to some extent, worrying is a sign of intelligence. It can go too far, but worry does imply future-orientation and understanding of cause and effect.

  4. Perimenopause is kind of a bear, too, and a lot of Gen-X women are heading through it right now.

    I was talking to sis some years ago, and we thought that given the fact that so many women do crazy, selfish, terrible things under the influence of perimenopause (see Sandra Tsing Loh), perhaps it should be possible to go off somewhere and just sleep through it or at least be isolated, far from innocent bystanders?

    http://members.authorsguild.net/sandratloh/

    “DURING MENOPAUSE, a woman can feel like the only way she can continue to exist for 10 more seconds inside her crawling, burning skin is to walk screaming into the sea—grandly, epically, and terrifyingly, like a 15-foot-tall Greek tragic figure wearing a giant, pop-eyed wooden mask. Or she may remain in the kitchen and begin hurling objects at her family: telephones, coffee cups, plates. Or, as my mother did in the 1970s, she may just eerily disappear into her bedroom, like a tide washing out—curtains drawn, door locked, dead to the world, for days, weeks, months (some moms went silent for years).”

    I can’t find the clip, but there’s a PMS camp in a 30 Rock episode. The idea is to just go and howl at the moon until it’s over.

    1. Meh. YMMV.

      My mother in law had a hideously difficult menopause. I dreaded reaching that age, as she predicted I would have the same terrible experience: physical symptoms, rages, insomnia, etc.

      Happily, it doesn’t work that way. Many women don’t notice menopause much at all. I think it might be like other experiences, where expectations may shape perceptions.

      1. Cranberry said:

        ” I think it might be like other experiences, where expectations may shape perceptions.”

        I suspect that in the case of rage and irrationality, it may help to realize that it may be coming, rather than assuming that everybody else has suddenly made it their full time job to annoy you.

        (I have to confess to being frequently rage-y when pregnant.)

      2. Yes, I kind of missed mine. Went on a Fulbright to Bangladesh. Apparently it wasn’t only the water that was bothering me.

      3. Kris said:

        “Yes, I kind of missed mine. Went on a Fulbright to Bangladesh. Apparently it wasn’t only the water that was bothering me.”

        That sounds fantastic.

        I’d like to miss out on the whole Dr.-Jekyll-and-Mr.-Hyde stuff.

      4. MH said:

        “The president’s campaign was very big on promises about rust belt blue collar jobs that pay well.”

        The president says a lot of things.

      5. Yes. And 35,000 Pennsylvanians changing their mind about Trump because he hasn’t tried to do what he said is the goal.

  5. Like BJ and y81, I don’t see the “crisis” of the article in the Gen X women I know. Then again, I’m on the older side of GenX. Some of my friends have passed through periods of crisis, usually culminating in divorce. I’m glad to report that most of the divorcees seem happier after the divorce than before.

    I do believe happiness increases after 50. We’ve started doing “empty nest” activities on weekends, and I must say the Empty Nest community at large is friendly.

      1. When I was 38, we were just realizing that Ian couldn’t talk like other kids. That’s when I started sneaking cigarettes in the garage.

      2. Also, what makes the Rust Belt so special, where they deserve union manufacturing jobs as a sort of Divine Right…

        The president’s campaign was very big on promises about rust belt blue collar jobs that pay well.

    1. Cranberry said:

      “I do believe happiness increases after 50.”

      Yeah, there is some research on that.

      MH said:

      “38 is peak unhappiness. That’s just science.”

      This is interesting:

      http://www.businessinsider.com/age-people-are-happiest-2016-5

      There’s a chart there that shows self-reported well-being crashing from 18 on, bouncing up slightly from the late 20s-late 30s (?), then crashing some more, with a strong rebound starting in the early 50s.

      “The most striking thing from the chart is that people report the lowest levels of well-being in their early 50s. This is the age at which most people are starting to seriously think about their retirement plans, might be figuring how to pay for their kid’s college tuition, and may even be thinking about taking care of their aging parents.

      “Also interestingly, however, people report increasing levels of well-being after their early 50s. And, according to this chart, people report the highest levels of well-being in their 80s.”

      “Of course, patterns like this can change over time; 30 years from now, today’s 50-year-olds could end up less happy than today’s 80-year-old, and today’s 20-year-olds may be happier than today’s 50-year-olds. But at least for now, middle age appears to be the low point for self-reported well-being.”

      And again, the low-point for happiness does seem to track pretty closely with perimenopause.

      1. I think The Dream is the enemy of The Reality. In other words, for women, the dream of the fantastic career, marriage, family, free time, and retirement account That Should Have Been can make it hard to appreciate the Good Things That Are.

        Any time I feel like complaining, it seems life shows me that there are worse things. Cancer. Divorce. The death of a child/spouse.

        Social media may increase unhappiness, as people brag about their successes, but don’t admit their failures on social media.

      2. Cranberry said:

        “I think The Dream is the enemy of The Reality. In other words, for women, the dream of the fantastic career, marriage, family, free time, and retirement account That Should Have Been can make it hard to appreciate the Good Things That Are.”

        You forgot being size 8, looking good in shorts, and having a dewy complexion and lustrous hair that looks great when you wake up.

  6. My reaction to parts of the article was WTF? Is perimenopause actually worse now than in previous generations or are they deciding it’s worse because we’re talking about it more? This sucks enormously for women, but is it really that much better for men?

    But mostly, I was nodding and agreeing.

    There is no questions that my boomer friends are less stressed – maybe it’s that they are in an easier stage of life, but especially when it comes to financial security and careers, I see all those same trends up close.

    -In my metropolitan area, the cohort born between say, 1955 and 1960 were the last to be able to buy a decent house in a good school district in our urban area for under $250k. Most of my own cohort (born 1960-1970) bought in at $500k or more – and bought less house, often in weaker districts,, so there’s less room for appreciation. Those same houses are now worth $800k to $2 million, so boomers have a tidy nest egg, plus a mortgage on $250k instead of twice that or more, means 25+ years of saving for retirement and college at a much higher rate.

    – (Also, compare what someone born in 1960 paid for college vs someone born in 1970 vs someone born in 1980….those college loans are no small factor.)

    – My slightly- older friends tend to have benefited from the traditional corporate promotions and raises and profit sharing and companies willing to develop them early in their careers. My former boss retired at 65 with a pension from her days at (I forget what insurance agency) as well as a hefty 401(k) bulked up by years of matching contributions and great supplemental healthcare.

    – We GenXers often earn much less in the same jobs – and it’s much harder for us to save with higher costs of real estate and larger student loans. Meanwhile, we are the employees that corporations have found they could pay less and invest in less, as they outsource like hell. I’ve worked professional jobs for 25 years post college and only five of those have included benefits packages with any sort of match for retirement. Pensions? I’ve read about them but never seen one up close….

    Most of my local same-age friends are okay because their husbands (including mine, I guess) are outliers with high salaries (couldn’t live here otherwise.)

    Still, when I look at my wider group of friends, former classmates, former colleagues, there are too many that are not doing well at all – most spent years in professions that have been automated, offshored to India or the gig economy, or have been eliminated altogether, because who needs full-time benefitted copy editors, HR benefits specialists, art directors or college professors? I have so many ex-professional friends who have plowed through their savings, have moved in with elderly parents, work at Trader Joe’s or Marshall’s. One of my former colleagues (used to earn the same as me) is now a handyman earning $25 an hour. Unless they have family money, or a high earning spouse, they are SOL.

    I am acutely aware that if anything goes wrong with my husband’s business and when my company is acquired and if my job is eliminated or outsourced, I am SOL with the rest of them.. SO even in a year when we are doing well – I’m feeling the stress and fear.

    1. I’ve worked professional jobs for 25 years post college and only five of those have included benefits packages with any sort of match for retirement.

      If it has or can lead to benefits that include a pension or realistic 401k match, it is under attack by Republicans (e.g. unions, the public sector, universities). It really does seem like the Baby Boom is deliberately using conservative politics as a way to shit in the well on their way out.

      1. you seem generally obsessed with the Eeevil Reeps. That’s okay, whatever gets you through the night, but I don’t see the unfavorable retirement changes as a particularly partisan thing. Far more important than political party, here, is that families have been having fewer children and there are container ships which have cut the costs for international shipment of manufactured goods. This means going forward fewer workers to support each retiree, and continued pressure against the ability of employers to compensate through pension arrangements. When there were three car makers and they all faced the same union, and their market share was unchallenged, the union could get a nice pension added on to the costs new cars had to carry. Now, the price of a Chevvie goes up, we go out and buy Hyundais.
        These phenomena dwarf the effects of the Eeevil Reeps, in my view.

      2. dave s. said:

        “Far more important than political party, here, is that families have been having fewer children and there are container ships which have cut the costs for international shipment of manufactured goods. This means going forward fewer workers to support each retiree, and continued pressure against the ability of employers to compensate through pension arrangements. When there were three car makers and they all faced the same union, and their market share was unchallenged, the union could get a nice pension added on to the costs new cars had to carry. Now, the price of a Chevvie goes up, we go out and buy Hyundais. These phenomena dwarf the effects of the Eeevil Reeps, in my view.”

        Right.

        And, as you’ve mentioned more than once, even within the US, there’s the issue of automation. Here’s a video from How It’s Made showing the manufacture of construction lumber from log to board:

        It’s a 5-minute video, and no human being touches the boards (although there’s a guy at controls and a guy hand-straightening saw teeth)–99% of the work is done automatically by machines.

        Here’s a second (more cinematic) 5-minute video from a WA lumber company.

        Again, for the first several minutes, there are virtually no people visible (although you do see more at the end of the process), but enormous amounts of machinery and vast quantities of lumber being produced.

        My grandpa worked 40 years in a saw mill–there were way, way more live people working in the mill when he was there, but that mill is now closed, and the ones that currently operate in the area probably look a lot like the ones in the videos–lots of machines, few workers.

        But, on the other hand, there are a lot fewer gruesome mill injuries happening.

      3. Have you heard of automated warehouses?

        I recommend this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_bBbYA6tts

        Notice that this warehouse is designed for robots, not humans. (low oxygen level, no corridors, no floors, very cold.) Also, not even the humans in the video are lifting objects by hand.

        A very serious question for me is what will we do when more than half the population is not employed, because there is no need for manual labor? https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/digital-mckinsey/our-insights/where-machines-could-replace-humans-and-where-they-cant-yet

      4. Cranberry said:

        “Notice that this warehouse is designed for robots, not humans. (low oxygen level, no corridors, no floors, very cold.) Also, not even the humans in the video are lifting objects by hand.”

        WOW.

      5. Literally none of that has anything to do with continued attacked on public sector employees such as teachers.

      6. MH said:

        “Literally none of that has anything to do with continued attacked on public sector employees such as teachers.”

        You don’t think that overall employment and economic trends have anything to do with taxpayers’ ability to sustain public spending?

      7. you seem generally obsessed with the Eeevil Reeps…When there were three car makers and they all faced the same union, and their market share was unchallenged, the union could get a nice pension added on to the costs new cars had to carry.

        Who was it, exactly, who busted the unions? Case closed.

        Repeal Taft-Hartley and see what happens. Wage earners would suddenly be in a much more powerful negotiating position and jobs would return to higher educated and higher productivity states rather than low skill and low productivity but union busting right to work states.

        This means going forward fewer workers to support each retiree, and continued pressure against the ability of employers to compensate through pension arrangements.

        Blah, blah, blah. With increased productivity since the 1970s, the amount each worker is producing more than outstrips the decrease in the worker per retiree ratio. Do the math. We are a much wealthier and more productive country than we were in the 1970s and could easily afford equally generous retirement benefits, not to mention equal levels of subsidies of public secondary and tertiary education. The only thing stopping it is that all this economic growth has gone directly to the investor class rather than the wage earners. We could decide that we wanted this to be different, but we haven’t. We’ve apparently decided that nice homes for investment bankers are more important than solid jobs for the middle class. A poor trade, IMO, but it is apparently the one you want.

      8. Jay, Nissan busted the unions, and Honda and Panasonic and Bridgestone.

        Yeah, whatever. Nissan and Bridgestone didn’t build their non-union factories in Japan. In fact, Japan has higher labor costs than the US does. They moved their production to union busting right-to-work states like Tennessee. But go on with your historical revisionism if it soothes you…

      9. Jay, Nissan busted the unions, and Honda and Panasonic and Bridgestone.

        And when I was living in Ohio in the 90s, the Toyota that I drove that sent the dispossessed union workers around me into a frenzy was built in Kentucky…

      10. Um, Jay, do you actually not see that you are buttressing my argument? That these companies outcompeted unionized American workers by operating in right-to-work states is NOT an argument that these companies weren’t a huge factor in the decline of union power and influence, including in pension provision.
        Also, improved supply chains made it much easier to do ‘real’ industrial manufacturing in states outside the Rust Belt, also driving down the oligopoly aspects of Big Three (and other similar) manufacturers’ ability to extract enough money from consumers to pay big pensions.

      11. dave s. said,

        “Also, improved supply chains made it much easier to do ‘real’ industrial manufacturing in states outside the Rust Belt, also driving down the oligopoly aspects of Big Three (and other similar) manufacturers’ ability to extract enough money from consumers to pay big pensions.”

        Also, what makes the Rust Belt so special, where they deserve union manufacturing jobs as a sort of Divine Right, but everybody south of the Mason-Dixon line needs to live out their lives barefoot and toothless as God intended? To hear Jay talk, it’s somehow cosmically unfair if there’s a Nissan plant in Kentucky, a BMW plant in South Carolina, or Toyota truck manufacturing in TX.

        (Also, come to think of it, did Republican union-busting make the Germans put that BMW plant in the US?)

        It’s not just cars, either. I was just at a local TX STEM fair (both kid stuff, schools, and employers) this past week. There are amazing opportunities available in our area.

      12. Also, what makes the Rust Belt so special, where they deserve union manufacturing jobs as a sort of Divine Right, but everybody south of the Mason-Dixon line needs to live out their lives barefoot and toothless as God intended? To hear Jay talk, it’s somehow cosmically unfair if there’s a Nissan plant in Kentucky, a BMW plant in South Carolina, or Toyota truck manufacturing in TX.

        It’s not problematic that there are factories in the South. It *is* problematic that the only reason they are built there is that these states promise a legal structure where their workforce doesn’t have much power to negotiate with corporations and consequently can have their pensions and safety protections stripped away.

        Absent right to work and all the other Taft-Hartley atrocities, they couldn’t do that and these states would have to compete for these jobs based on the efficiency and productivity of their workforce. It’s true that they had a hard time with this competition in the past but that doesn’t mean that they should be able to compete by offering a workforce of psuedo-serfs.

        It’s not just idle speculation that this is the only way they can compete. If you look at this recent article this recent article speculating on where a new auto factory might locate, the pros of the southern states are their anti-labor environment and the cons are the lower productivity workforce and the real fear that all the workers who are actually capable of doing industrial work and passing a meth screening are already working for someone else. Whereas the pros and cons of the rust belt states are just the opposite: an educated and productive workforce who nonetheless have the power to negotiate a greater than serf-like status for themselves.

        I, for one, am not interested in a country where we race to the bottom by having states compete with successively more anti-labor environments, especially when the opposite solution is so easy. Repeal Taft-Hartley and suddenly such regulatory arbitrage would be much more difficult.

      1. Wow, that’s a weird chart toward the end.

        Timing has been really important the last 20 years.

  7. I recommend turning to online inflation calculators for a good check on “appreciation” of house prices. House prices have increased ~40% in the last 20 years in our area. So houses that sold for $800,000 around 1997 are now selling for ~1,200,000.

    Which means the purchasing power of the purchase price has not increased. Add on the high property taxes in the good school districts. People in our age range have not come out ahead. They may not have lost ground, considering that you must live somewhere, but they aren’t leaping ahead.

    $800,000 invested for 20 years at 3% would have returned $600,000. Figure taxes would take at least a third of the income, and you arrive at… 1,200,000. Property taxes in a good school district would come close to income taxes on investment income.

    I think it would be easier not to see the appreciation on the house as “free money” if people would compare it to investing the same amount of money.

    The only way this works is the mortgage interest rate deduction. If you were to add in mortgage payments to the expense side, rather than deducting them, well…

    Housing prices would collapse. Which would be good for young people starting out, because salaries have not increased by 40% in the last 20 years.( https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MEFAINUSA672N )

    All this explains why couples our age are selling and moving to different states, where the cost of living is significantly lower, or at the very least, to a smaller house in a different school district.

    1. Not to mention maintenance costs.

      “Home prices look remarkably stable when corrected for inflation. Over the 100 years ending in 1990 — before the recent housing boom — real home prices rose only 0.2 percent a year, on average. The smallness of that increase seems best explained by rising productivity in construction, which offset increasing costs of land and labor.”

      (That’s Shiller himself.)

      Zillow says, “While home prices have appreciated nationally at an average annual rate between 3 and 5 percent, depending on the index used for the calculation, home value appreciation in different metro areas can appreciate at markedly different rates than the national average.”

      https://www.zillow.com/research/zillow-home-value-appreciation-5235/

      The fact that prices tend to lurch forward and backward can make it hard to realize that the averages are actually rather moderate.

      In TX we have approximately 2% property taxes. Throw in the 1% of home value rule of thumb for yearly maintenance costs, and a 4% rate of home appreciation doesn’t really move the needle forward much.

      Of course, you have to live somewhere.

      1. One of #1’s jobs in the weeks after he graduated was to help the family of friends of his move out of our expensive school district into a cheaper one where they got a lot more apartment for their money.

  8. $800,000 invested at 3% would have returned….Ahh, yes, but, unless you paid cash, you do not have $800,000 invested. You only have your down payment invested, and you have to plug into the equation what your down payment would have returned, and compare it against what the full $800,000 on the house returned. Still pretty easy to do, and maybe it’s still a wash in your case, but with the leveraged nature of the house, you do not need to beat the market to match the market.

    1. But you have to repay the loan to the bank. https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=NUh

      In 1997-9, the average rate for a 30 year fixed rate mortgage was around 7%. In 1990, it was 10%. If you borrowed 600 k for your 800 K house, after 20 years you’d have paid more than a million in interest, and still owe 400 K to the bank. So you’d have lost money.

      People do refinance, but then you pay points. Some of the low real estate prices of the past reflect the high mortgage rates of their day—@17% interest, anyone?

      1. Yes absolutely, the interest you pay will kill you. You also have to figure in housing services, though. And the option value of being able to paint your vestibule purple if you take a mind to.

  9. Related:

    Kilgore Trout tweets:

    In case it didn’t come through:

    “National populism is the vapid belief that you have the right to both modern standards of living & your grandfather’s job and culture.”

    You can tweak that tweet according to taste. Here’s my first try: “Modern liberalism is the vapid belief that you have the right to your grandfather’s job in 1957, 1957 levels of unionization, all contemporary technology, consumer goods at 2017 prices, 2017 quality cars, 2017 medical care at 1957 prices, and 2017 upper middle class attitudes toward gender, race, sexuality, and individual expression, and never have to choose between any of these nice things.

    Not quite as elegant as Kilgore Trout’s version, but it is certainly true that a lot of people (on left and right and in the middle) are trying to have their 1957 cake and eat it, too. It’s a virtually universal temptation. The question for everybody is something like–are you actually willing to go full 1957, or are you just trying to take random bits you like, rather than the whole functioning mechanism?

    Hint to time travellers: Griswold v. Connecticut happens in 1965, Roe v. Wade is 1973, and no-fault divorce only comes in in California in 1970, with only 9 states having no-fault divorce by 1977 (or so Wikipedia says in the no-fault divorce article).

    As somebody said some years ago, liberals want to work in the 1950s and conservatives want to live there.

    1. “Modern liberalism is the vapid belief that you have the right to your grandfather’s job in 1957, 1957 levels of unionization, all contemporary technology, consumer goods at 2017 prices, 2017 quality cars, 2017 medical care at 1957 prices, and 2017 upper middle class attitudes toward gender, race, sexuality, and individual expression, and never have to choose between any of these nice things.”

      Why is it vapid or problematic? (I’m not sure “vapid” is the right word.) I think it’s a good thing to hope for a society where we can have nice things. I’d rather be an optimist.

      I will grant you that medical care is better now than 1957, but have you driven 1957 cars? Sure, they need more air bags and seat belts, but those things were built solid. When I bought my first car in 88 or so, my dad insisted on me buying a 72 Pontiac because it was made well. Yes, 72 is not 57, but my dad had feelings that he made known my whole life. 🙂

      Greg Palast had an interesting piece that seems somewhat relevant about going to the same high school as and knowing Stephen Paddock. http://www.gregpalast.com/went-school-vegas-shooter/

      1. Pollyanna-ish? Better than vapid. Intheskypieby? My neighborhood is full of pop tops, bump outs, teardowns. As these changes happen, there is often a story of the family which lived in the 2-bedroom one bath house and raised four kids there, or six, or something, and waiting in line for the bathroom with sibling yelling about needing to pee. Some of the complaint ‘housing has become too expensive’ is explained by ‘nobody buys housing as minimal as was the standard in the forties’.
        The 1957 Grampa job did not pay for a luxe life, and the 1963 Grampa who worked for Studebaker lost his whole pension when the place went under. The oligopoly of the Big Three after Studebaker-Packard and American Motors went away enabled those unions to do pattern bargaining and to put the costs of a decent pension onto your new Chevvie, and then when drivers in California and New York noticed that they could buy a new VW for, I think it was $1600, the long decline in Big Three and union power began.
        “…and 2017 upper middle class attitudes toward gender, race, sexuality, and individual expression, and never have to choose between any of these nice…” well, okay, but the kid who is left behind because his unmarried parents have split up is bereft. The line about, the way not to be poor is to graduate from high school and not have kids outside of marriage and not marry til early twenties, nose to the grindstone… the further people get from the Calvinism of my grandparents, the less they succeed in making safe and supportive families for their children. Poors have far less resources to paper over these problems than do UMCs.
        We have made legal safeguards: minimum wages, requiring that Social Security be extended to domestic servants. Some (erratic) crackdowns on hiring illegals. To the extent that they are levelling, these safeguards have done a great deal to lift up the expectations and material quality of life for poorer people. For the UMC itself, well, a fairly common result is a shift from a live in maid/child care person to someone coming in once a week to clean for a much better daily wage and a day care center whose employees make a better wage and are not exposed to the vagaries of one household. I think these are good results, but they don’t enable everyone now to live as UMCs did then.

      2. the further people get from the Calvinism of my grandparents, the less they succeed in making safe and supportive families for their children.

        Parents of boomers, the greatest generation, were mostly terrible at parenting: the beat their children, verbally abused them, turned a blind eye to sexual abuse by family members. Their children behaved out of fear. Boomers were also by and large crappy parents: most of the horrible parenting practices from above, plus an extra dose of selfishness and neglect. Today’s upper middle class parents are the best parents that have ever existed. There’s a reflexive aversion by some to their parenting practices, which seem indulgent compared to the outright violence that was used in past generations. However, our growing understanding of early brain and child development show the these parents practices are superior for supporting children. The problem isn’t with the parenting practices, it is that low-income people don’t have access to the resources to make this type of parenting possible.

      3. This version of Greatest Gen parenting and boomer parenting is so far removed from my reality I’m wondering if we live on the same planet.

      4. I’m currently reading the Jonathan Haidt book Righteous Mind Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. I recommend! And it has a lot about the frames from which we generate instant reactions, then look to justify them.

      5. This version of Greatest Gen parenting and boomer parenting is so far removed from my reality I’m wondering if we live on the same planet.

        My opinion is that nostalgia is main driver for thinking greatest gen and boomers were overall good parents (as compared to the typical parent today, of course there were some good parents in these generations).

        One example: the Catholic church abuse scandal. Poor parenting, in the form of insistence on the value of respect for authority/elders, was a facilitator that allowed the scandal to be so serious and to go on for as long as it did. When children are taught that respecting authority is unquestionably good, those with power are allowed to foment a culture where secrecy and abuse can thrive. This culture forced children to bear the burden of their assault because speaking out meant disrespecting authority. When these children did speak up, many were shamed into silence by their own family members because the possible embarrassment that would come to the family was considered more serious than the assault itself.

        It’s hard to imagine this scandal would play out like this, or be as extensive, were it to happen today. Most children today are not taught not to accept this kind of treatment from those in positions of power and, if they are abused, they’re taught to speak up about it. Far fewer modern parents would try to hush up instances of abuse, they would instead go to great lengths to address the situation, an action which spares other children from abuse. We also now have much greater respect for children’s bodily autonomy, such that children are taught that they are allowed to say no to people, even adults, who are treating them poorly.

        This is just one example, of many, of how the shift to new parenting practices has represented a huge step forward for children’s healthy development. Yay modern parents!

    2. To continue my advice to time travellers:

      Loving v. Virginia is in 1967 and Lawrence v. Texas was in 2003.

      A casual observer might wonder whether there wasn’t some sort of relationship between the collapse in union power and the blossoming of various progressive individual freedoms over the last 50 odd years.

      Unions, after all, are not big on individualism and individual rights–that’s kind of the point.

      1. “A casual observer might wonder whether there wasn’t some sort of relationship between the collapse in union power and the blossoming of various progressive individual freedoms over the last 50 odd years.”

        You’re defining things in really weird ways.

        (First, 1967 wasn’t an era of collapse of union power.)

        Second, I wouldn’t describe civil rights as “progressive individual freedoms.” Huh? It’s about identifying our common humanity. It could well be that civil rights for blacks and gays has been marketed as individual freedom in some way, but that’s basically trying to make progress while living with people incapable of seeing the Other as Us.

        Third, unions weren’t/aren’t perfect by any means, as most institutions are imperfect, and the Wobblies sure had their problems, but you do know how the Wobblies got their name, don’t you? (I’m teaching the Wobblies next week, as a matter of fact.)

      2. A casual observer might wonder whether there wasn’t some sort of relationship between the collapse in union power and the blossoming of various progressive individual freedoms over the last 50 odd years.

        I think the causal relationship is that once black people were able to use the public sector and public institutions like unions equally, the short-sighted and practicing evil among the wealthy were able to use racism to attack and gradually destroy support the public institutions among a significant portion of the white population that directly depended on those institutions.

    3. I agree about the parental complicity in the catholic priest abuse scandals. When you read the personal stories it’s clear that many children were simply ignored or disbelieved when they tried to raise what had happened to them. Parents listen to their children these days in a way that only the outliers did in the “olden days”.

  10. I feel like believing abuse survivors is an issue somewhat orthagonal to parenting. We’re at a watershed moment with sexual abuse, and it’s the tip of the iceberg. We also don’t know what future abuse scandals will come out because, well, they’re being covered up right now. Things appear fine fine until they aren’t. I’m not willing to say that Greatest Gen and Boomers were less likely to believe their children until I see actual evidence. Parents across the board cover up abuse or don’t, but I’m not sure an issue getting more mainstream publicity means one thing or another. As a counter point, , the satanic ritual in daycare stuff was peak boomer parent hysteria over child abuse.

    But anyways, the Catholic church abuse scandal doesn’t even remotely give you Parents of boomers, the greatest generation, were mostly terrible at parenting: the beat their children, verbally abused them, turned a blind eye to sexual abuse by family members. Their children behaved out of fear.

    1. Well, they certainly used to beat the kids in schools. That stopped not long before I was in school (and after, in a couple of cases).

    2. I have a number of other examples, if sexual abuse one in particular in bothers you.

      Up until the 70’s it was common for parents to ship their pregnant teenage daughters away and to force them to place their baby for adoption, often against their wishes and will.

      Gay and lesbian children were often shunned or completely rejected from their families.

      Corporal punishment was common and was frequently used injudiciously.

      Verbally berating your children was considered, if not great, totally acceptable. Judging and shaming your children into living the life you expected was commonplace.

      Children were taught to be quiet and never question their elders, even when they were engaged in immoral or unethical behavior.

      Yes, many of these poor parenting practices were reflections of accepted norms in society at large. But society at large was also bad! Things really are better now. Not perfect of course, far from it, but a big improvement over what was, just as parenting and society 50 and 70 years from will be much better than today.

      1. Up until the 70’s it was common for parents to ship their pregnant teenage daughters away and to force them to place their baby for adoption, often against their wishes and will.

        I saw that happen in about ’84. By ’89 or ’90, they weren’t trying to hide it anymore, possibly because it was happening too often.

  11. I’m a big believer in Foucault’s repressive hypothesis, that we make older generations out to be so much more backwards than we are or than is actually possible so that we can pat ourselves on the back about how advanced we’ve become. We cherry pick cultural and social anomalies as somehow representative of unchanging mores of the past so that what’s actually fluctuation or simple variation can appear as progress.

  12. I doubt that today’s parents are the best parents who ever lived.

    They’re the most protective parents who’ve ever lived, enabled in large part by technology.

    If we’re so wonderful, then to quote a recent NYT headline, “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?”

    Parents don’t set the bar for what are considered inappropriate topics to mention or even think about.

    Catholic priest scandals continue in other countries, to this day. The scandals seem to hit when people start talking about abuse, rather than hiding it. http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/29/world/timeline-catholic-church-sexual-abuse-scandals/index.html

    However, there is a downside. Fear of abusers lurking behind every bush has driven adult supervision of children to unprecedented heights. Child obesity is at unprecedented levels. Parents were arrested for allowing their children to walk home from a playground.

    https://www.fastcompany.com/3058156/children-spend-less-time-outdoors-than-prisoners-according-to-new-persil-ad

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