If you feel more stressed out as the holidays roll around, you’re not alone and the data supports the way you feel. It turns out we’re working more, taking less time off and enjoying less leisure activities. Parents in working families are having an increasingly difficult time trying to manage work, taking care of a home and raising a family. The stress of trying to have it all is leaving many feeling worn down and inadequate.
The strange shift in the current numbers is that older Americans are typically happier than younger generations but that trend has reversed in recent polls. Now younger Americans are feeling good and the older demographic is feeling stressed out and left out of life’s simple joys.
A Different World
In the 1970s, families with two parents working full-time represented only 31% of households. Today that figure is 46%, which reflects flat wage growth during a time everything else got more expensive. Oddly, the more educated families were, the more they reported being stressed out from trying to have it all.
Everything in our lives was designed for a different time and a working world that doesn’t exist anymore. Roads were designed and built to carry people from suburbs to factory jobs that have been shipped overseas. In the world of Ozzie and Harriet and My Three Sons, it was the city that was in decline and suburbs were booming; today that trend is shifting. It’s the suburbs that are becoming the blight as a younger generation seeks to be closer to jobs in the city. In the 70s young people dreamed about getting a car; today younger people dream about not owning one and prefer to live places they don’t need them. Between mass transit and rideshare apps getting along without a car in urban areas is getting easier all the time.
Society Not Adapting
With our economy changing faster than our infrastructure or social structures are adapting, a mismatch that is leaving parents holding the bag. A full 56% now say that the balancing act is difficult and parenting is stressful. Nearly 60% of couples claim to not have enough leisure time or time with their kids. Couples raising kids that report parenting is rewarding has shrunk to a tiny minority and that’s a bad sign for the next generation. When 80% of parents feel rushed some of the time and four in ten working moms saying they feel rushed all the time who is going to want to take on those roles in the future?
Due to flat wages and escalating student loan debt, younger people have a layer of financial stress over their lives that is pushing them to delay starting a family. Once they put it off a few years, a higher percentage may just decide to skip parenthood. Having it all is one thing, paying for it all is something else entirely.
Young People Are Happier
Usually happiness goes up with age but not anymore. Young people, in the 18-24 demographic are, overall, happier than generations ahead of them. Perhaps the improving economy today is brightening their view of the future; that demographic was at soccer and volleyball practice during the Great Recession. Or perhaps they’re just more comfortable living in a world that favors mobility and urban living.
Also something to consider is that the stress may come from trying to obtain a life that wasn’t practical or satisfying in the first place. That’s a life pitched to us by the real estate industry, homebuilders and PR firms. Those visions of an unrealistic life are normalized on television where sets are staged by professionals. Maybe the best life is the one you fashion for yourself and fits the way you want to live and focuses on experiences rather than things. What’s certain is that what we’re doing now isn’t working.