A while back I’d written a short post wondering about how long adolescence lasts and the other day I came across this incredibly long article regarding prolonged youth, as if people are creating a whole new post-adolescence thing, putting off the actual moment where adulthood (and all the responsibilities implied) sets in. I’m just quoting page 1 of this but feel free to read the other 9.
We’re in the thick of what one sociologist calls “the changing timetable for adulthood.” Sociologists traditionally define the “transition to adulthood” as marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had, by the time they reached 30, passed all five milestones. Among 30-year-olds in 2000, according to data from the United States Census Bureau, fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so. A Canadian study reported that a typical 30-year-old in 2001 had completed the same number of milestones as a 25-year-old in the early ’70s.
Of course, the “nuclear family” concept is way past its prime and it’s laughable to claim that it’s something everyone should still aspire to achieve. Frankly, I’d want to argue that more households would be in better financial shape if three or more working adults were a unit instead of limiting “marriage” to two people. But maybe that’s just me (and some Mormons).
It’s been suggested that the push for industrialization is what pushed families into the so-called nuclear arrangement in the first place. (Breaks added)
The removal of productive work from the home into the factories had, of course, important consequences for all family members. It was no longer necessary for any of them to develop strong roots in any particular community or to become attached to a particular house. Instead, they became free to move about, to follow industrial development into new settlements, to “go after the jobs” wherever they might be.
Moreover, family connections became less important, as factory work became ever more rationalized and efficient. Nepotism gave way to hiring and promotion on merit alone. By the same token, the new worker, business man, or bureaucrat no longer had to take care of distant relatives. He now worked exclusively for his own small family and this made him more industrious. He could advance faster, since his income had to support only very few people.
Thus, the individual husband and father was no longer weighed down by traditions or extensive social obligations. In addition, the education of his children and the care of his aged or sick parents began to be taken over by the state.
Now that education doesn’t lead immediately to well paid careers and the definition of “elderly” has shifted a bit, since many people over 65 are capable of working far past that age should they want to, small wonder there’s an influx of late-bloomers. There’s little alternative, if you get right down to it. (Can’t open up jobs to new blood if those old buggers don’t retire, for one thing…)
Slate has an article mocking the pittance wages some companies were advertising as incentive to work for them and the overall problems with unemployment levels and productivity levels of those who do have jobs. Forbes is predicting technology will wipe out more jobs by 2020. Even something as simple as running a till at Wal-mart might get to be a hard job to find as more and more self-serve checkout machines come in. And it’s not like that was a well paying job to begin with. And technology is revolutionizing the fast food industry, too. Computers can assemble better burgers and faster. They never get the amount of mustard wrong, for one thing, or mistime how long a patty has been on the grill. And they can anticipate orders based on probability and have stuff ready before someone’s even asked for it.
Am I off topic? I don’t think so. The point I’m trying to make is that I can see why young people are delaying the grow-up part of their lives as much as they do — the joys of adulthood seem to be lacking a little these days.
Maybe their parents should be a little firmer with the boot to the ass in some cases, but I suspect they’ve rationalized that it’s better their kids be at home and earning a little than in a dump on welfare, or on the street with nothing at all. In some cases I think it’s great that parents are in a position to let their kids come home. Maybe it isn’t ideal, but the alternatives could be a hell of a lot worse.
What the Times article is ultimately about, though, is whether this is just a trend, or evidence of a mental shift in the brains of the youth, that it’s really becoming another stage of development like adolescence (an unheard of word prior to 1904) wound up being. From page 9:
if the delay in achieving adulthood is just a temporary aberration caused by passing social mores and economic gloom, it’s something to struggle through for now, maybe feeling a little sorry for the young people who had the misfortune to come of age in a recession. But if it’s a true life stage, we need to start rethinking our definition of normal development and to create systems of education, health care and social supports that take the new stage into account.
The Network on Transitions to Adulthood has been issuing reports about young people since it was formed in 1999 and often ends up recommending more support for 20-somethings. But more of what, exactly? There aren’t institutions set up to serve people in this specific age range; social services from a developmental perspective tend to disappear after adolescence.
As an aside, my cousin managed to declare bankruptcy when his student loan got unmanageable but new laws in Canada have made it a bit harder for others to do the same now. I wonder how many kids go into their loans aware of just how hard the bloody thing will be to pay back if they can’t get a job in the field they “trained” (har) for…assuming they even finish the damn course.
I don’t know what it is. Nobody really does. I suppose if people want to treat it like a stage of life, then I think people need to consider the fact that some enabling is going to go on, letting kids prolong their childhoods far past sense. At some point a person does have to throw caution to the wind and take a risk, after all. Next thing we’ll hear is that it’s totally fine if kids never get around to leaving home at all. Helicopter parents, rejoice.
I think I can see rebellion happening for many of these kids at some point, though. After university, I’d wound up home with the folks for a few years and hopped at the chance to move away when the opportunity became available. While hopping into a relationship with an internet fling wound up not being the best idea I ever had, that year with Mr. Switzerland still set me up with enough of a desire to remain independent so I never moved back again even when the thing with him flopped.
I remember being appalled at the idea of remaining with parents (and bringing the significant other into the house to live under the same roof — I had cousins who did that) but times have changed enough that what was once an aberration has become a norm. Just like single parenting, gay couples, and pretend I thought of a third example because three things always sound better than two.
Times change and attitudes will change to match them eventually. We’re born to rationalize and justify everything we do. Of course we’ll figure out a way to explain why kids still want to be kids.