Alisha Bhagat, futurist at Forum for the Future, wants to shift the perspective around working women. Right now, she explains, the word “sacrifice” is all too often associated with women who have to trade in their careers to take care of their families. By 2040, Bhagat envisions working women distancing themselves from this so-called “sacrifice,” and moving towards a more egalitarian future where traditional roles take on new meanings. According to Bhagat, the traditional family model will transform into a fluid concept that is shaped by community values and in the future, groups of people will help raise children. She also imagines a future where technological advancements drastically change what childcare looks like, increasing surveillance but also helping parents steer their children in the right direction.
How do you imagine public policies and the systems around childcare and motherhood will change by 2040?
I hope that, by 2040, it will be possible to integrate motherhood, and caregiving in general, into the rest of our lives.
Becoming a mother should not mean sacrificing career development, intellectual stimulation, autonomy, or individuality.
When things like lactation rooms, universal childcare, and flexible working hours become more commonplace, the situation for caregivers will improve.
In our current culture, a word that is often associated with motherhood is “sacrifice.” This was not always the case. I hope that, by changing ideas about things like work and gender, we can move away from this model of sacrifice and see parenthood as a part (although an optional one) of a rich, full life. Parenting is necessary, but it should also be pleasurable.
I would also love to see universal childcare much sooner than 2040. In the short-term future, this could vary depending on area. Communities that don’t provide this will continue to fall behind and see negative impacts on their economies and their children’s development.
How will the role of fathers evolve in the next 15 years?
If the economic slowdown continues and millennials continue to be delay the formation of the household, we could have a generation of men who are less likely to be fathers. Financial insecurity will cause families to focus on a single wage earner, be they male or female.
Furthermore, the traditional role of father as patriarch and breadwinner is being challenged. There are increasing numbers of multigenerational families, LGBT families, blended families, and other non-nuclear family types. Communities of people will be raising children. The fluidity of relationships will challenge traditional definitions of mother and father and what their prescribed roles ought to be.
How might the role of the parents change in the future? What kinds of tools do you think will emerge to assist parents?
The average age of parents at first birth continues to creep up. With people delaying childbirth until they reach financial stability, people will become parents at a much later age than they have in the past. Additionally, people will live much longer, so grandparents are likely to be very present. We are already seeing this – that economic circumstances are encouraging multigenerational households. This will continue into the future, and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Older parents would mean more resources for fewer children, as well as more care and attention from other family members, like grandparents.
In terms of technological tools, communication technology makes surveillance easier. Constant surveillance may lead kids to lead much more sheltered lives, as their every move could be watched. This could also mean that parents are being watched and their parenting can be criticized. For example, I could see if you gave your kid a soda at the playground and judge you for it.
How do we better prepare our kids for the future, especially in terms of their relationships or online behavior?
This is a really hard question. Internet etiquette is not well understood and changes every generation. What embarrassed people in the past is not a big deal today, for example. I think it’s important for parents to teach their kids to respect themselves and others with the hope that it plays out in their interactions online and in real life.
It is not the parents’ job to stop bad behavior, but to instill good values so that it doesn’t happen in the first place. I don’t think it is possible for parents to stop kids from doing things online if they really, truly want to.
The year is 2035. Describe the family dinner.
People have been gathering together to eat dinner pretty much since the beginning of time, so, in many regards, things will look similar. However, with the rise of multigenerational families and community living, there will likely be more people at the table than just kids and their parents. The current trend is toward greater efficiency in meal preparation, so it’s likely that a smaller portion of the meal will be home cooked; an adult (not necessarily the mother) will lightly prep and heat the meal. People also might be more distracted with their devices, so headsets will have to come off and other wearables will have to be removed. Finally, because people will continue to be super busy, they may consume more meal replacements during the day, so getting together to eat with family at the end of the day might be seen as a real treat.