In this discussion, Deanna Laufer, VP of Research at FCAT, speaks with Mauro Guillén, author and professor of management at the Wharton School, about the themes in his new book, The Perennials: The Megatrends Creating a Postgenerational Society.
1. In one chapter of your book, The Rise and Fall of the Nuclear Family, you say that married households with children only make up 18% of all U.S. households. Yet, it seems to me, this type of household is still the cultural reference point when it comes to home building, zoning, consumer products, and financial planning. At what point do you think this will change?
When things change very fast it takes a lot of time for individuals to adjust, and it takes even longer for companies or the government to adjust. We’re completely out of whack right now. What needs to happen is that we all change our mindset. Maybe education should play a role in that. The other big thing is the role of women, which is related to households. About 39% of American women who are married make more money than their husbands, now women have more money, they have more power. So we’re in a completely different world. And some people haven’t realized it.
2. You said we’ve gone from “raising children successfully” to “raising successful children.” How do we stop treating children as investment projects?
Part of the problem is because there is a linear path through life. You go to school. You have to study really hard. You have to pick your major really early so that you can graduate, get the good job, and make your way up the career ladder. So if we move away from this linear mindset, that is going to relieve some of the pressure that we’re putting on children. You can tell a 14-year-old that they don’t have to make up their mind as to what they want to be in life by age 18, because they’re going to have several shots at this. You can make mistakes.
Technology is changing so fast that maybe when you turn 29 or 35 or 40, you’re going to have to go back to school anyway, because things are so different. You know what the labor market is going to look like in the next 5 years. But how about over the next 30 years? Who knows? Most of the jobs that we have today maybe won’t exist in 30 years; there’s going to be other jobs. The problem is that we’re trying to educate people for the jobs that are going to be out there in 20 years or 30 years from now. And that’s an impossible task. So unless you move into lifelong learning, it’s going to be really difficult.
3. Do you think the shift away from a sequential model of life and could reduce educational inequality, income inequality, or retirement inequalities in the U.S.?
The current model, the sequential model of life, forces a lot of people out of the system or to the margins of the system. I list a number of groups: teenage mothers, people who drop out of high school, people who lose their jobs at age 45, or 50. And they find it very difficult to find something else that is comparable. If we manage it correctly, any change in the direction that I outlined in the book should reduce inequality, especially for women.
And I think we can be happier also. I think most people really love to learn. And so if you give people more opportunities to learn, just imagine the productivity increases that we’re going to see. But we’re not setting up things in a way that helps that lifelong learning model. For example: most fellowships say they are for people who have graduated within the last 5 years. Why? Another example would be that if you withdraw money from your retirement savings when you’re 45, because you want to take a couple of years off to go to school, the IRS penalizes you. A lot of things have been designed in such a way that we study, then we work, then we retire with zero flexibility. And the economy doesn’t like that.