If you’re at all interested in society, generational differences, and social change over time, you will find Paul Taylor’s The Next America fascinating. The book examines both changes in thought and attitudes across generations, and also how demographic changes pose economic and structural changes for our society in the future. While the data focuses on America, the Pew Research Center conducts international research so the findings reflect that, especially in the demographic and economic issues.
I find generational definitions interesting and frustrating, probably because I’m on the edge between Generation X and Millennials. In some ways I fall into the GenX camp but in most ways I think of that generation as people who are older than I am. Probably because of fast-paced technological change, I feel like I have a lot more in common with someone who is 28 than someone who is 48. In the book, Taylor does point out that a key characteristic of Millennials is that they are digital natives, and that transition was happening when I was in late high school through college, which were formative years for me. Anyway, the differences in opinions and attitudes are quite interesting.
Taylor’s conclusions are strongly evidence-driven and data-based, rather than being partisan or prescriptive, which made the book far stronger and more helpful. Although the findings are really pretty grim, Taylor maintains an upbeat and hopeful tone.
At root, the data point to the fact that we are in big trouble because of falling birthrates and rising ranks of seniors. This does not bode well at all for people my age and younger. However, I did finish the book feeling very confirmed in my choice to have four children. When the population finishes inverting as the last Baby Boomers reach retirement, I will have at least contributed a few people to the tiny tip of the upside-down pyramid responsible for paying for everyone else. Also, I’ll have a better chance that at least one of them will support me in my old age, given that there will be no Social Security or Medicare as we know it. It will be interesting to see how things shift with the new realities forecasted for the future. In the 1970s, everyone thought that population growth was a problem, but they didn’t think about rising life expectancy and the Boomers retiring (I guess? I’m not sure why this didn’t occur to them…). Now it’s clear to people–both liberal and conservative–that shrinking birth rate is a much bigger problem. As societies age and workers are more and more heavily taxed to pay for it, I can’t imagine your average person wanting to take on more dependents by having a large family. And yet, if birth rates continue to fall still further, things will get worse. What should or could be the role of government intervention and policy here? These are very interesting questions examined in The Next America.
I really enjoyed this book, found it easily readable and yet thought-provoking, and would recommend it.
Out of curiosity, which generation do you self-identify with? What do you see as the distinguishing factor between your generation and others?
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