What if there was an added dimension to the current crisis, and it being one of the greatest generational divides there ever was, namely between the Babyboomers and the Generation X?
The Babyboomers term refers to people born between 1946 and 1964, is namely the generation that was born at the end of a devastating war, and yet through hard work managed to not only pull Europe out of the crises, but to build the social and economic welfare region we are still enjoying today. Their children, the Generation X, born between the 60s and the 80s are now the segment of society which constitutes the bulk of the young graduates and people in jobs, seeking employment and at the same time becoming parents themselves.
Not only are the living conditions very different for the two generations, but also their parenting attitudes as well as what they expect from life. While Babyboomers soldiered on with long working hours during the eighties and the nineties, the Gen X people are attracted by lifestyles that offer them a better work-life balance than what they experienced as children themselves. I am referring the latchkey children, who with the keys around their necks went home to an empty home after school, and who also experienced the breakups of the marriages of their parents. According to Eurostat, between 1970 and 2009, there was an overall reduction of 34 % in the number of marriages. Over the same period, marriages became less stable, as reflected by the increase in the crude divorce rate, which doubled from 1.0 divorce per 1 000 inhabitants in 1970 to 2.0 divorces by 2008.
In parallel, there has been an unequivocal emotional awakening during the past 30 years. Our generation (I was born in 1976, I am a Gen X kid), has access and benefits from a much better awareness and understanding of our psyche, our emotional wellbeing, we understand what stress is, and what prolonged stress can do to us. Compared to previous decades, where people with mental health problems were labelled plain crazy, we now can differentiate between depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc. Nothing shows this better, than tested searching for “postpartum depression” on Google returns more than 11 million hits. Thousands of self-help books and courses help us find happiness, success and overall wellbeing, and also teaches us how to avoid or minimize stress.
Our generation also wants to be good parents. We are sometimes also referred to as “helicopter parents”, as we hover over our children, trying to keep them safe, and smoothing out any difficulties or problems that would come their way, as well as offering them the best possible education, leisure time activities, toys and whatever they have to have.
And we also feel guilty. We feel guilty about not spending enough time with our children, even though statistics show, that we are spending a lot more time with them, than our parents with us. Dr Sullivan of Oxford University, who analyzed tens of thousands of nationally representative time diaries kept by parents from 1975 to 2000, found fathers spent between 32 and 36 minutes a day on their children in 2000 compared with just three to eight minutes on average in 1975. Mothers spent between eight and 21 minutes a day on average on childcare in 1975 and this rose to between 51 and 86 minutes in 2000. What is also interesting, that there is a correlation between the levels of education of the parents and the time spent with their children. The higher the education level of the parent, the more time they spend with their children.
So, what does this tell us? Will the next generation of grown-us be the most indulged people to ever walk this earth? And currently people with or without families want a better work-life balance than the previous generations, that is for sure. The latest Eurofound study on the Quality of work shows that people in full-time employment want to work less, presumably to enjoy life and their families. One of the panellists at the launch of the bespoke study concluded, that there is a mismatch of skills between job seekers and job openings, but what if there was also a mismatch between what employees are willing to invest into a job, and what employers demand of their employees. Perhaps one of the lessons of the crises and mass redundancy was, that you can work day and night, and you can still be fired, so why not have a balance from the get-go. I believe there is not only a quantitative, but qualitative unemployment happening.
Therefore I believe the jobs and growth question not only relates to how can we get people to work more, but how can we make people more productive, while working less.