“The Wild Man doesn’t come to full life through being “natural,” going with the flow, smoking weed, reading nothing, and being generally groovy. Ecstasy amounts to living within reach of the high voltage of the golden gifts. The ecstasy comes after thought, after discipline imposed on ourselves, after grief.”
― Robert Bly, Iron John: A Book About Men
Article after article can be found showing a fact that is readily observable in today’s culture. It is taking much longer for young people to grow up, and particularly men. This phenomenon is currently coined, “extended adolescence,” and it marks a unique societal conundrum. The United States is seeing this in a number of ways, including men waiting longer to move out of their parent’s houses, spending more time single and at entry level jobs, failing or foregoing college education, and waiting until much later in life to get married and have children than the generations that came before them.
There are so many variables in this equation, so many possible causes, that it 's hard to rule out which ones are contributing, and whether or not this poses a real problem for society. Part of the reasoning for this issue in the United States has to do with economics. There are less well paying, entry-level jobs available than there were during the major manufacturing booms of the previous decades. Being able to do something with your hands doesn’t necessarily get you to the level of being able to support a family anymore.
The cost of living has skyrocketed while college tuition rates have exploded with inflation rates rising nearly 500% since the 1980’s. That means that people are taking out way more than they can afford to go to school, and taking longer to buy houses, start businesses, and start families. Men may still live with their parents because they are trying to get a degree without going into more debt than they have to.
It’s easy to understand the practical reasons that are causing some of the external changes in the steps that lead into adulthood. But are there deeper, more troubling reasons behind the wait and the extension of adolescence? More importantly, does this pose serious problems for society and future generations?
First, it’s important to understand what adolescence is classified by and how it is understood psychologically. The adolescent period never existed in cultural understanding as it does now until child labor laws came into effect and high school was extended as an opportunity and requirement for all. This created a gap between when children were traditionally seen as ready for work and for all intents and purposes, adults, and gave them more time to mature into adulthood.
While brain studies do show differences in the adolescent brain, a time classified as between the ages of 10 and 25, cultural and societal norms and expectations did help guide further maturation and development in the times past than what we see now. It was not unusual for young twenty-year old men to have a diploma, a house, marriage and children just 50 years ago. That helped create a demarcation between a boy and a man and left a short gap for the in-between years. Now that is not the case at all.
On the negative end of the spectrum, we see men living bachelor lives, waiting until their thirties to take seriously their careers and the idea of starting a family while women continue to succeed academically and otherwise at rates higher than ever before. It takes longer for them to take their role in society seriously enough to live out an adult life, independent from parents, and can make it harder to find potential spouses. In short, they are lagging behind for longer and longer as the modern era marches on.
Is the modern era making it easier for men to be held back in teenage mode? Many worry that this is yet another extension of the masculinity crisis. Others see it as a progressing society that is forcing the redefinition of men in general. Without having to be responsible, men seem to be hanging around longer, waiting to find their purpose. If it takes men until their 30’s or 40’s to hit many of the milestones typified by 20-somethings in previous generations, what will the next generation of men look like?
Do you think these types of statistics are a problem? Is this a symptom of men losing their feeling of purpose in the world? Or do you see this as a positive change in a technologically advancing society?
Comment below and let us know what you think!