Tuesday, January 03, 2006

After Divorce and Abortion Permeate a Culture, Who Will Care for the Elderly?

Some very important points to ponder (provided by the World Congress of Families)...

1) Eduardo Porter: "Next year, the federal government expects to provide about $130 billion for Americans to buy health insurance. The amount is substantial: it is equivalent to about 11 percent of all federal income tax revenue and more than a fifth of federal spending on Medicare and Medicaid. And it is growing fast: the bill is expected to surpass $180 billion in 2010."

2) Kevin Kinsella and David R. Phillips in "Global Aging: The Challenge of Success," published in Population Bulletin 60.1 [2005]: 3-39: Thanks to advances in medical science, men and women are living longer throughout the industrialized world. But after decades of epidemic divorce and depressed fertility, some social scientists are now growing worried about prospects of caring for the swelling ranks of the elderly.

"The precariousness of old-age security" greatly concerns an international team of scholars writing in a recent issue of Population Bulletin. "The global trend toward fewer children," these scholars remark, "means fewer potential caregivers for older parents." Looking at population trends in the United States, the authors of this commentary note that "the likelihood of being childless among women ages 40 to 44 nearly doubled between 1980 and 2000 (from 10 percent to 19 percent)." Similar trends may be seen in other industrialized countries, raising serious questions about "future elder-care arrangements."

But it is not just the birth dearth that makes it difficult to see how modern societies will care for their elderly. The decades-long retreat from wedlock also complicates the picture.

The authors of the new PB analysis acknowledge that providing care for older married people typically proves less of a problem for society than does providing care for older singles. In the first place, "married people, particularly married men, enjoy healthier and longer lives than their unmarried counterparts." Indeed, recent research indicates that "married adults [are] healthier than unmarried adults within every population group (including age, sex, race, or ethnic groups) and within groups with similar health indicators (whether they [are] smokers, disabled, or physically inactive, for example)." Furthermore, the analysts point out that even when they do suffer from poor health, "married older people are less likely to enter a nursing home [than are unmarried peers] because their spouses are often available to care for them."

Unfortunately, the PB analysts anticipate a future in which fewer and fewer older people enjoy the benefits of wedlock and in which more and more consequently require care in nursing homes or other non-familial institutions. To illustrate the global trend, the analysts cite statistics for the United States, where only 9 percent of men and women ages 65 and older were divorced or separated in 2003 compared with 17 percent of those 55 to 64 and 19 percent of those 45 to 54. The consequences of this upsurge in divorce are not hard to imagine: "The changing marital composition of the older population as these younger cohorts reach age 65 will affect the nature and types of support services that both families and governments will need to provide."

It appears that the global trend away from family life is fast turning the golden years of millions of older men and women into nothing but lead.