The failure to grow up

From National Review:

Generation Free Lunch?

A new study suggests Millennials haven’t learned the value of hard work.

by Heather Wilhelm | September 21, 2017 | 4:00 AM | @heatherwilhelm

A new study suggests Millennials haven’t learned the value of hard work. Last week, an eleven-year-old hero meticulously pushed his way into the national spotlight, intending to inspire America and “show the nation what young people like me are ready for.” I’m referring, of course, to Frank Giaccio, the budding entrepreneur from Virginia who asked President Trump if he could mow the White House lawn. “I have been mowing my neighbors’ lawns for some time,” he wrote, offering weed-whacking services in addition to a waiver of his usual $8 fee.

On Friday, Giaccio got his wish: He showed up, industriously mowed the lawn, wowed the nation with his laser-like focus, and provided some amusing Trump-meets-boy viral video clips in the process. Alas, not everyone was delighted. Former New York Times labor reporter and apparent occasional wet blanket Steven Greenhouse, for one, was unimpressed. “Not sending a great signal on child labor, minimum wage & occupational safety,” he declared on Twitter. He was being serious.

Laugh if you will, but when it comes to putting kids to work, Greenhouse is not alone. Using surveys of 8.3 million 13- to 19-year olds between 1976 and 2016, a new study published in Child Development reports that in addition to significant delays in “adult” activities like driving and dating, only 56 percent of America’s high-school seniors have ever worked for pay.

There’s more at the original. Mrs Wilhelm concentrates on the part of the study which indicates that almost half of American high school seniors have ever held a job, telling us that this means many have no idea from where money comes, that they have missed out on a valuable part of education concerning adult responsibilities.1 However, there is a lot more in the Child Development article, the abstract of which notes:

The social and historical contexts may influence the speed of development. In seven large, nationally representative surveys of U.S. adolescents 1976–2016 (N = 8.44 million, ages 13–19), fewer adolescents in recent years engaged in adult activities such as having sex, dating, drinking alcohol, working for pay, going out without their parents, and driving, suggesting a slow life strategy. Adult activities were less common when median income, life expectancy, college enrollment, and age at first birth were higher and family size and pathogen prevalence were lower, consistent with life history theory. The trends are unlikely to be due to homework and extracurricular time, which stayed steady or declined, and may or may not be linked to increased Internet use.

Some of that is good: if fewer adolescents are copulating or drinking alcohol, that’s a good thing. However, I was immediately reminded of Mark Regnerus’2 article, “The Death of Eros,” in the October, 2017, issue of First Things.

For every one hundred women under forty who want to marry, there are only eighty-two men who want the same. Though the difference may sound small, it allows men to be more selective, fickle, and cautious. If it seems to you that young men are getting pickier about their prospective spouses, you’re right. It’s a result of the new power imbalance in the marriage market. In an era of accessible sex, the median age at marriage rises. It now stands at an all-time high of twenty-seven for women and twenty-nine for men, and is continuing to inch upward. In this environment, women increasingly have to choose between marrying Mr. Not Quite Right or no one at all.

unmarried poverty rateThe difference does not sound small to me! In round terms, for every five women who wish to marry, there are only four prospective husbands. This has huge societal implications, in both a declining birth rate and a steady increase in the percentage of births to unmarried women.3 We’ve known for a long time that children living in single-parent households have a much higher poverty rate than those living with two parents. There have been some articles attempting to claim that the problem of unmarried births is due to poverty making marriage more difficult, rather than unmarried status increasing poverty, if the 100/82 statistic is correct the problem is, in large part, that so many men don’t want to get married.

To return to Mrs Wilhelm’s broader point, adolescents are not growing to young adulthood with the behavior patterns we (used to) expect from adults being part of their expectations. Marriage is being delayed until ever-increasing ages, but biology remains immutable: fecundity for women is still constrained by age, and the ages of greatest female fertility are becoming marked by longer periods of being unmarried. With one out of five unmarried men of marriageable ages not being interested in marriage, the pickings start to become slim for women in their prime reproductive years to do so within marriage.

Yet, if men of marriageable age are less interested in marriage, they remain interested in sex; that’s simply human nature. Dr Regnerus again:

Artificial contraception has made it so that people seldom mention marriage in the negotiations over sex. Ideals of chastity that shored up these practical necessities have been replaced with paeans to free love and autonomy. As one twenty-nine-year-old woman demonstrated when my research team asked her whether men should have to “work” for sex: “Yes. Sometimes. Not always. I mean, I don’t think it should necessarily be given out by women, but I do think it’s okay if a woman does just give it out. Just not all the time.” The mating market no longer leads to marriage, which is still “expensive”—costly in terms of fidelity, time, and finances—while sex has become comparatively “cheap.”

The left will be appalled by the oh-so-nineteenth-century notion that men and women ‘negotiate’ over sex, but let us be honest here: until recently, men and women did ‘negotiate’ over sex, with some form of commitment expected. Now, with the cultural changes wrought by easy contraception and the access of women to the professions — though most women, like most men, have jobs rather than careers — commitment is now no longer a required expectation, but often eschewed, especially by men, but frequently by women as well. Perhaps the left thought that this would lead to equality between men and women, but equality does not mean identical, and men and women are not the same. Women bear the greater burden in human reproduction, and breaking of the social contract which coupled marriage and childbirth did not change the facts of biology. The drive for copulation has not changed; only the social compact has, and that change has wrought the huge increase in poverty among children. We, especially men, have abandoned the impulse to grow up, because our society has made it easy to remain adolescents.
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Cross-posted on RedState.
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  1. Full disclosure: I worked from the seventh through eleventh grades delivering newspapers.
  2. Mark Regnerus is associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, senior fellow at the Austin Institute, and author of Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy.
  3. This rate has declined slightly, to 40.6% in 2013, from 40.7% in 2011-2012. The peak was 40.0% in 2009.