As the United States is about to go over its own fiscal cliff, EU nations are facing up to the realities of big government and bad policies. Carolyn Moynihan, deputy editor of MercatorNet, wrote recently about how Italians are turning to home for support in an increasingly inhospitable public culture. In fact, two Italian market research organizations — Coldiretti and Censis — report that one-third of adult Italians (more than 60% of young adults — up from only 48% in 1990) live back home with their parents. This sad development is especially affecting the 18- to 29-year-olds who haven’t been able to find work or can’t afford their own place on the low salaries of available jobs.
The Italians refer to the generation that had moved in with mom and dad as “big babies” or “mama’s boys” because they are not leaving the nest. The young adults, though, explain that they wish they could have their own places and be independent, but the unemployment rate for 20-somethings in Italy hovers at over 30 percent, and many of those with jobs are settling for part-time or low-pay jobs they wouldn’t have even considered in better economic times. Even well-trained, well-educated young adults are struggling to find good-paying jobs. One survey reported that fully a quarter of 30 to 40-year-olds in Italy still live with their parents. Sadly, such are the realities during a financial crisis where unemployment is rising and prices for basic commodities like food and fuel are too high.
Of course, Italy is not alone in facing the consequences of the fiscal crisis and bureaucratic expansion. A harsh reality is that “re-distributing the wealth” doesn’t stretch money very far.
The silver lining to the fiscal crisis is that hard financial times strengthen the family as a place of solace and succor to provide balance to the difficult times and financial crises. As the public aspects of people’s lives become unbearable, they retreat to their private and personal space — home and family — where they find relief from the stress. In fact, the Coldiretti and Censis report was titled: “The economic crisis – living together, living better,” a title that recognizes the benefits of a family haven when there is no place else to turn, a place of solidarity and support, and a place of refuge where family members can repair and renew their spirits before they return to the demanding challenges they face in their professional and/or public lives.
Researchers are learning that the concepts of “home and family” have grown musty from misuse and lack of appreciation in the fast-track marketplace. In New Zealand, the University of Waikato is sponsoring an upcoming conference to explore the “public-private nexus” of “home and identity.” They are working with foundations to explore ways to bring academics and public policy experts into the discussion about the importance of home.
Other researchers are acknowledging the lack of understanding about the pivotal role of home. Others decry the attention to “home” without a corresponding acknowledgement of the role of “family” in strengthening nations. Still others want researchers and policymakers to appreciate the role and contribution of men to home and family.
As I’ve written in my latest book, Marriage Matters, the married mom-and-dad family — in addition to being important for the well-being of men and women and, especially, children — is the foundation of societies and nations. Marriage has been recognized as a special institution across cultures and throughout history. Perhaps these desperate economic times will remind us of the importance of marriage and family.