In my post “The Boon of Young Motherhood” I proposed a kind of generational division of labor: sex and babies for the young, career work for the old. After all, fundamentally you can work a job far later in life than you can have a baby, so it makes sense for society to be set up so people can have a family first (starting in the teens) and then a career (starting in the thirties or forties), which is the exact opposite of our current approach.
The primary expedient I suggested was a norm of the grandparents and even great-grandparents (with just 16-year spacing between generations both could be near peak earning years simultaneously!) being the financial providers for children, the risks of this setup mitigated by enabling teenagers to be breadwinners again (compressing the education curriculum and dropping credentialism in hiring would work wonders for this) should the need arise.
In the standard case, though, youths’ only concern is making love and raising children, with elders providing financial upkeep, as well as the maturity and experience that we’re told is such an advantage of delayed motherhood but are really more grandmotherly qualities anyway. All that’s really needed from them on a constant basis is money, so there shouldn’t be any serious problem with the child’s grandparents globe-trotting for their career or some such, but it might be ideal that the grandparents live very close by to the nuclear family (or vice versa).
In this case the ideal dominant economic unit would be the small family business. We associate such entities with the bygone days of agrarianism, but in fact family-owned and family-run businesses outperform their non-family counterparts in the 21st century too, including at the commanding heights of high-tech industry. Famously, Germany’s “Mittelstand” constitute a socioeconomic stratum unto themselves, accounting for a great deal of the nation’s exports. All this suggests that it’s at least possible for a modern economy to be structured with small family firms as the dominant players in mass employment.
In a freed market we might actually see this, or at least something closer to this than the current economy, considering how government regulation structurally encourages gigantism among businesses. Interestingly, it’s my understanding that 19th century Britain (and to a lesser extent America) was dominated by high finance coupled with small family firms, with very little of the massive bureaucratic corporations that led later industrialization in the United States and Germany. There’s no particular reason to think that same economic structure couldn’t have kept serving us well far into the future. Just a thought…
Countering a Geriatric Working Class
Another thought: substituting older for younger laborers would leave the workforce relatively depleted of youthful energy and new ideas, though the vast majority of jobs are very mundane and are not startup-founder-type gigs, so it’s possible in such a world high-tech entrepreneurs might just be an exception to the general rule of people fully leaning in to the workplace only around the age of 40.
Alternatively, smart able youths who do follow the standard life script might still contribute before midlife; think some sort of part-time PhD-style work. Once again, the example of 19th century Britain is instructive; all those vicars (a job that gave a stipend and some guaranteed social status for very part-time duties) who contributed to science and technology in their spare time might be a good analogue.
We should also consider that when these youths do hit middle age they might not be fresh to life in general but they will be fresh to the workplace, so in the career realm they might be much less set in their ways than their real-world counterparts are. Like many issues with the alternative life script I’m exploring here, the problem isn’t as serious as it might seem at first glance.
The relative lack of energy might still be a problem with a more geriatric workforce, but — and this is a wild thought — what if drugs could help close the gap? After all, it’s thought that many top executives at this stage of life are already taking testosterone in high enough quantities to replicate a twentysomething man’s hormonal profile; i.e. hormonally speaking, they are in their twenties, giving them a physique and personality more like a young man. Extending such an approach to the broader workforce en masse honestly is kinda crazy, but it should work. Stimulants like amphetamines might also be employed to enhance performance, but we’re straying into territory that wouldn’t look out of place as a plan on Dr. Strangelove’s shelf…
Easier Performance and Beauty Enhancement: is there anything this alternative Social Structure can’t do?
I find it really interesting, though, how well performance-enhancing drugs and hormones play with an older workforce. Testosterone replacement greatly suppresses fertility, but at this age, especially in this sort of society, the men have all already had their kids long ago, so that’s not relevant. Arguably the long-term elevated risk of heart attacks, from both testosterone and stimulant use, is less relevant too, since their remaining lifespan is only a few decades, and they might have less than one decade remaining of life at peak performance without it. For what it’s worth, I get the impression that the consensus in the bodybuilding scene is much more supportive of going on a constant full blast dose of steroids when you’re older than when you’re younger, no doubt based on the logic that if you’re older you have less to lose. Would such attitudes be more widespread? Might be possible for all I know.
Or would men tend to go on testosterone much earlier? After all, by the age of 20 they’d be about the right age to start using it for bodybuilding purposes, and even by then most men will have already had their kids. Hmm. Men could quickly enhance themselves to great natural-looking physiques when they still have over a decade of youth left in them to enjoy with the women (and with sports, athletics, and the like). Alternatively, the long runway in terms of time and the lack of a need to work a job frees up men to put in the work to build up their physiques naturally; as I pointed out in my post “The Dark Path to Masculine Beauty”, men can get to their optimal physique naturally if they train like it’s their religion, but if they want to have any kind of social or love life that commitment is not compatible with working at a career full-time.
The women, meanwhile, in their late teens and their twenties would still be in the prime age to get cosmetic surgeries and other procedures done to reach peak youthful feminine attractiveness even long after they’ve had their children, no doubt enhancing the appeal of the “sex” part of the “sex and babies”-dominated lifestyle of the youth in such a universe. Sure, you don’t have to embrace the power of the dark side, so to speak, in order to embrace this general setup of society, but it’s striking how many desirable options either open up or become considerably easier than they are in real life.
Personally I’m starting to suspect that such a universe’s social, economic, and family structure would actually be better suited to a modern post-industrial economy than our own is; certainly it would function well enough. Like the matrilineal avunculate, it puts the “alternate” into alternate history: a path not taken, but for want of a twist of fate might have been ours. For all we know it still might in our future. There’s a thought…