Rethinking Retirement and Considering Multi-Generational Households

multi-generational familyThe statistics are pretty grim. We don’t save enough. Here’s what a Wall Street Journal article has to say about the situation for many American workers:

Fifty-seven percent of U.S. workers surveyed reported less than $25,000 in total household savings and investments excluding their homes, according to a report to be released Tuesday by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Only 49% reported having so little money saved in 2008.

Stop for just a moment and think about the numbers in the above quote. Granted, it does not include the value of a home but it is more than a little scary to consider that nearly 60% of American workers have less than twenty-five grand squirreled away when the net worth of all their savings and investments is totaled.

Social Security, that wonderful government program which was supposed to guarantee retirees some, uh, “security” is broken beyond repair. It will either have to be radically reformed or it WILL be unsustainable. To rely on the government to take care of you from first breath until final death is naive on the level of thinking Kim Jong Un is a nice guy and really just misunderstood. Unfortunately, many Americans have lived their lives under just such an assumption and may very well suffer because of it.

But it is not just those who have gone out and lived outside their means and failed to save anything that will be hurting. Longer lifespans mean more years out of the work force however you cut it. Someone will have to pick up the slack. This truth might hurt like being slapped with a frozen Alaskan salmon but we need to start realizing that the systems we currently have in place for taking care of our elderly family members will not last and many of them will not be able to sustain a descent standard of living until they die because we are living so much longer. The plan they set up in the 70s to retire at 60 and live another 10-15 years is being usurped by the reality that many will live another 20-25 years.

Perhaps the solution is to look to the past and even at other cultures not quite as sold on the absolute value of “rugged individualism” (which, incidentally, is nowhere to be found in Scripture). Perhaps it is time for us (especially Christians) to consider that to “honor your mother and father” might mean supporting them during their twilight years because the economy and the government (and yes, sometimes bad personal decisions) will have made it nigh near impossible for an average senior (especially at today’s saving rates) to support themselves.

It might make us cringe a bit. We’d have to give up some freedom. We’d have to sacrifice. But would it really be such a bad thing? We are quick to dismiss the elderly as irrelevant and old fashioned in our youth obsessed day. But they have a lifetime worth of wisdom to share with kids and grandkids and great grandkids. From a Christian perspective, the call to “make disciples” does not have an age limit. What better disciple maker for a teenager whom Jesus just saved than their grandparent who already has a decade’s long habit of reading God’s Word and faithfully serving the church?

So I guess that in the negative news about Americans not saving enough for retirement I see a potential bright spot for those willing to embrace it. Really, it is nothing radical. It is just the practical extension of the Scriptural command to honor our parents. Maybe putting aside some of our rugged individualism and embracing our families could lead not just to a healthier country but to healthier Christians too.

We could also talk about how this raises the important point that we need to have enough children to support us in our later years (i.e. more than zero or one) but that is a topic for another post.

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2 thoughts on “Rethinking Retirement and Considering Multi-Generational Households

  1. Good article, Caleb. It’s truly counter-cultural to think about living with—or within three states of—your parents these days. The situation you described envolves Christian, and seemingly mature grandparents. What would you say in instances where the grandparents are either not believers (and could have a negative impact on the children) or not mature? Does that change anything?

    1. That is a very good question Eric. I think that is a situation that calls for prayerful discernment. The command to honor our parents applies whether they are good or bad parents. We are still to treat them respectfully and hopefully that respect will help open doors for conversations related to the Gospel.

      I am pretty blessed that the parents and grandparents in my life (both my side and my wife’s) are believers and I believe would have a positive impact on our little boy. That said, I think that a Christian parent would need to proceed very cautiously if living with a grandparent might exert a negative influence on the kids in the household. At that point, wisdom might dictate pursuing other means of honoring the parents that did not involve them living under the same roof (e.g. maybe a nearby apartment).

      Thanks for the great question!

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