Megatrends and How to Survive Them: #4 Social Structures

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Megatrends and How to Survive Them is the title of our book published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing this month.

This is one of a series of blogs based on the work we have done for the book.

We chose Social Structures as a megatrend as we believe the changes in society are deep and long lasting – a new paradigm will emerge:

  • Until relatively recently family structures were typically wide and extended, with a number of children and few surviving grandparents and perhaps aunts and uncles. Now, globally, as marriage becomes less the norm, as women have fewer children, as people live longer, family units may well consist of one child, one parent, grandparents, and several great grandparents.
  • As migration and urbanisation become the norm, new social structures replace those that have been in place for centuries – family members may be geographically remote, employment and work may be more transient, as may neighbours and community.

In addition to the trends of reduction in the number of children per woman, and the decrease in marriage, the increase in longevity is starting to cause stresses in society. This could cause shifts in attitudes to work in later life and the definition of social contribution to society.

Some implications of the new family structures are:

  • Single parent families will need more flexible working arrangements such as job shares and allowance for absence due to lack of backup.
  • More work for those “of pensionable age”.
  • As is found in China, one child families can result in people who find it difficult to be part of a group.
  • Flexible working arrangements, and adapting to new family structures, may cause re-assignment of work and work locations.
  • More allowance will need to be made for absence and presenteeism (present physically, but not mentally) due to illnesses both physical and mental.

The effect of these and other changes is reflected in the GINI index. The GINI index for a society is 100 if one person has all the wealth and the rest none, and it is 0 if everyone has equal wealth, so it is a measure of the gap between the rich and the poor.

GINI slide

What this shows is that since 1820, which was roughly the start of the industrial revolution, inequality between countries has shot up. This is because the industrialised countries got rich and other countries didn’t. This gap has started to reduce as more countries industrialise.

Historically within many countries there was high inequality. Industrialisation reduced this, with the post World War II period being one of relative equality in most countries. But inequality within countries is increasing again. All the trends that we can see suggest that the directions of travel of both these graphs will continue: inequality between countries is reducing, and within countries increasing.

Inequality within countries – both real and perceived – is likely to continue and lead to civic unrest and increasing regional conflicts. This sense of inequality is fed by a number of factors:

  • Increasing technological change (A.I., robots, etc.) alongside continued globalisation,
  • Decline in labour market protection,
  • Tax policies that benefit the wealthy.

Popular attention is likely to focus on unfair practices such as tax evasion and corruption.

Since health and social problems are worse in more unequal countries, the self-interest of organisations in improving low pay and working conditions would seem obvious. Not only would this benefit those less well-off but also those with more wealth.

Some questions you might like to consider, looking forward:

  • Thinking about the new social structures, how might your strategy and business model need to change in order to continue to be successful?
  • Who do you think you will be selling to, and what are networks and social structures?
  • How might your product/service offering need to change?

We live in interesting times!

Authors: Patricia Lustig, MD LASA Insight and Gill Ringland, SAMI Emeritus Fellow and Director, Ethical Reading.




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