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Standard of living in a vice

I recently found myself conflicted by a number of conversations that seemed to all converge on a common theme. 

How does an economy support three generations of one family at the same time?

It began with conversations with my young adult children.  They’re thinking, naturally, of their future opportunities, but everywhere they look, they see full employment or disappearing jobs. They see average housing prices across the country of over $300,000, with many large urban areas being significantly more expensive, and they know that not only will they need to work, but so too will their partner when they begin their own family life. 

What are the chances that two young people will be able to find stable employment in a shrinking job market?

I had other conversations with colleagues my own age after I saw a program on television that talked about the fact that many Baby Boomers were planning to work for as long as they could.  Sure enough, many of my colleagues felt the same way. 

While I understand the need to feel productive, that can be done through volunteer activities. 

The television program implied that money was not the main factor for a generation hesitating to leave the work force, but that was not the consensus of discussions I had. 

The cost of living was scaring people and the savings they’d hoped to accumulate seemed fragile after the last couple of years of financial uncertainty.

My final set of conversations came from my parents and their friends.  They are in their late 70s and 80s and worried that if something happened to them, they would not be able to afford care, would not want to burden their own children with care costs or with direct care and would not want their grandchildren burdened with the taxes necessary to fund the government’s role in providing care for the elderly.

It appealed to me, as I mulled over these intersecting themes, that the standard of living we have driven ourselves to, or perhaps more accurately, the cost of living necessary to maintain that standard, has put us in a collective vice. 

All three generations need a lot of money yet the ability to generate enough income to support those three generations is becoming a major challenge.  As we watch economies around the world collapse under the pressure of excessive expectations we may be a bit too smug for our own good here in Canada.

It’s my hope I can support my parents when they most need it.  It’s my plan to retire at a reasonable age to allow a young person to take my place in the workplace and I intend to get my personal satisfaction from volunteer work.  It’s my hope that my children will be able to find gainful and steady employment, afford to buy a house and have a family of their own without feeling oppressed by financial stress.

It’s all a lot to hope for but a hope that I imagine every family shares.


Graham Hookey is an educator and writer. Email him at