Friday, March 31, 2006

The Rise of the Man-Child

In an editorial for tThe Washington Post physician and author Leonard Sax brings to light an interesting and disturbing cultural phenomenon: the increasing listlessness of young men.

According to the Census Bureau, fully one-third of young men ages 22 to 34 are still living at home with their parents -- a roughly 100 percent increase in the past 20 years. No such change has occurred with regard to young women. Why?

Sax has no answers, but he has a few threories.

Maybe the problem has to do with the way the school curriculum has changed. Maybe it has to do with environmental toxins that affect boys differently than girls (not as crazy an idea as it sounds). Maybe it has to do with changes in the workforce, with fewer blue-collar jobs and more emphasis on the service industry. Maybe it's some combination of all of the above, or other factors we haven't yet identified.

Sax notes that this trend cuts across all socio-economic lines and all races. To me that says this is almost certainly a cultural shift born more of changing customs and expectations than of any easily identifiable catalyst like our educations system or environmental toxins.

My theory is this has to do with the decline of marriage. Within the last 30 years, marriage rates have been sinking and those getting married are doing so later in life. So, whereas young men in their 20s used to get married and then need a good job to support their family, now they don’t get married and thus don’t need a good job. Young men today simply do not have the responsibilities young men used to have.

But why hasn’t the decline in marriage also led to many more woman living at home? I think this has to do with the continuing effects of the feminist movement. Men who are not married are permitted by our culture to be boyish and directionless. But unmarried women are expected to rise above and claim their independence.

This cultural incongruity is readily seen within our modern movies. Actors like Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughan, Owen and Luke Wilson, Steve Carell and others make movie-after-movie that portray grown men as nothing more than overgrown children who find happiness in their boyishness. But actresses like Sarah Jessica Parker, Chalize Theron, Reese Witherspoon and most other popular Hollywood actresses are not playing roles that celebrate girlishness. Instead, they take on roles that demonstrate the virtuousness of independent women who either don’t need a man to be complete or are the rock in a directionless man’s life.

So, suddenly, we have a culture that seems to be shifting towards recognizing women as the stronger sex, the responsible ones, the earners. But how long before women in their 20s realize they’re getting a raw deal here? The current disparity between lazy young men and eager young women may only be a stopping point on the slide to a final cultural resting point. Twenty years from now we may observe young people of both sexes acting directionless and unmotivated.

Whether our economy and culture can support such a change in unknown. But unless marriage suddenly becomes popular again, or responsibility becomes hip, I foresee more and more young people waiting longer before plunging into the real world.

2 Comments:

Blogger Kevin said...

I really would have like to see the figure for how many females age 22 to 34 live at home. It makes a big difference in how I read that article.

If the percentage of men is in fact greater than that of women then yes, this is something wierd that might be worth looking into. If the percentage rose and is now equal to that of females then it means something else entirely.

I'm 30 and I left home after 2 years of college and never looked back. However, I know quite a few people who did move back in with their parents, male and female. In most cases it wasn't getting a job that was a problem. It was the other hassles of adult life, rent, mortgage, bills, etc. that seemed to hold them back. It may just be more of a pain in the ass to move out than it was 20 years ago.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Justin Gardner said...

Whether our economy and culture can support such a change in unknown. But unless marriage suddenly becomes popular again, or responsibility becomes hip, I foresee more and more young people waiting longer before plunging into the real world.

Hence polygamy!

Heh...ah...this will never get old...

4:18 PM  

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