Perhaps most people live in traditional societies, where agriculture is the main occupation and your retirement plan is your kids. You take care of them when you’re young and then when you’re old, they take care of you. And so it goes from generation to generation.
That’s why these societies don’t have a social security system, and typically, they don’t have retirement. They don’t have pension funds. But in our modern society, in this country, the United States, and elsewhere in the developed, industrialized world, it’s not like that any more.
A parent will have children and each one of them is very expensive because they’re not going to be working on the family farm. They might not even be taking out the garbage every week. They’re going to be preparing for their careers.
So you’re not going to get much of a return from them when they’re young—looking at it from the point of view of the parents. And there’s a good chance that when they finish college and they’re prepared to earn a lot in the future, they move away.
And so they are not your insurance policy. Now, I keep telling my children, “Remember, you’re going to have to take care of me when I’m old and can’t take care of myself anymore,” and they laugh. I mean, they don’t say, “Forget it.” But I don’t want to depend on that. And so, a lot of it is my attitude.
I think most people in my generation want to be independent of their children. And if that is the general culture and attitude, no wonder we only have a couple of kids, rather than 10 or 12.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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