The 21st century is witnessing a changing of the guard as the Depression generation hands power to progeny, the baby boomers—those born in the years 1946-64. Affected by the Cold War, the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam, baby boomers arrived in the 1960s with scruffy necks, refusing to conform to the rigid family structures of their parents.
Against the hollowness they felt, came feminism, free education and escapist leisure and consumerism. And influenced by academic research and endemic social problems affecting traditional family, baby boomers challenged and redefined family structures. Alternative liberalised subcultures that promoted toleration and challenged prejudices and narrowness of culture were idealised.
Generation X was born in the midst of baby boomer idealism. Raised during the 1970s and 80s, Gen-Xers came to feel the effect of baby-boomer idealism and subsequent collapse of hip social experiments. For Gen-Xers it was two working parents and more often than not, divorce. If baby boomers preached doing-your-own-thing fuelled with some kind of spirituality, Gen-Xers have opened themselves to nihilism and atheism as serious philosophical alternatives. Coupled with this hostility to the Christian religion, Gen-Xers have nevertheless adopted conservative, reactionary political values.
The so-called Millennium Generation (EmGen)—born 1980-94—has been affected by other social trends: multiculturalism and postmodernism. A new openness to family lifestyles, practices and structures has accompanied dissolution of every established thought-structure that was paradigmatic to both baby boomer and the Depression generations. Almost no industry, ideology or discovery from the 19th century stands sacred today.
In social terms, Millennium-ites have experienced non-traditional families and grown up in single-parent households. Theirs is the age of computers and Internet. And where Gen-Xers reject the idealism of the 1960s, the EmGen has salvaged or rediscovered at least one dimension of it, altruism. And where baby boomers took to experimentation and revaluation of sexual mores, the EmGeners have also maintained sexual conservatism, perhaps a response to the HIV/AIDS threat.
A recent study by sociologist David de Vaus (Diversity and Change in Australian Families) accentuates this continuing pattern of stability and change in Australian families among Boomers, Xers and Geners. From the rise of Millennium-ites in the early 1980s, the number of couple families and childless couple families has risen to account for about one-in-three of all families. Child-dependent couple families are now a minority in Australia. Same-sex couples are about one-in-twenty of all couples. Lone-parent families (mostly a result of relationship breakdown) are an increasing phenomenon: up from 7 per cent of child-dependent families in 1969, to 22 per cent of the same in 2003. In short, more than one-in-five of our children will experience some of their growing up in a lone-parent situation. As the report baldly notes, “almost one million children have a natural parent living elsewhere” and of children born into an intact family, more than a quarter will “have experienced their parents’ separation by 18.”
The picture painted by these generational trends and statistics caution against making sweeping summations. Statistics cannot tell us how people feel and experience the shifting trends. They don’t indicate the emotional quality-of-life issues that act upon social upheavals of the kind we are going through. They also advise against using anecdotal evidence as the basis for policy and theology.
God has directed us to find Him and experience Him in every circumstance of life in which we find ourselves. Whether we are part of an admirable model of marital stability such as we see in the older Depression generation, or whether we are sculpted out of the chops and changes of partner relationships over the past four decades, He wants us to know this: no matter what our generational pigeonhole or family status, He loves us and counts us as members of His universal family.