September 1, 2014

How Extended Adolescence Is Changing the United States (And Takes a Much Higher Toll on Women)

For the past few years, I’ve kept a file on extended adolescence because it is one of the most common symptoms I see among the thousands of messages I receive each year from readers asking for advice.  Often, they are dissatisfied with the way their life is going, yet they almost inevitably suffer from extended adolescence and the accompanying detriments that are intrinsic to the condition.  Many of them fail to even realize it because they think they are high performers in other regards.

Aside from the frequency with which I see it from my position, the ascent of extended adolescence is having a tremendous influence on the broader culture, the nation’s economic future, and interpersonal relationships, making it interesting to me on not only an academic basis but as an investor, as well.  I’m glad to see that the topic has been discussed more in the news lately.  In fact, last year, The New York Times published a nearly 8,000 word essay called What Is It About 20-Somethings? that dealt extensively with the paradigm shift.

The Eight Stages of Human Development

Erik Erikson, the legendary psychologist who coined the phrase “identity crisis”, created a theory of human development that identified eight key stages in life.  As he grew older, Erikson modified his stages model, eventually attaching specific attributes and experiences for each stage; this is a model used during the middle of his career with later models shifting the ages a bit:

Extended Adolescence

Still living at home? Parents paying the bills? Still enrolled in college? Single? No children? Psychologists would argue it is time to grow up. Economists would argue it doesn't bode well for the nation's economic future. As investors, the rise of extended adolescence introduces an interesting curve ball to the demographic models that underscore many financial models.

  • Infancy: Birth to 18 Months
  • Early Childhood: 18 Months to 3 Years
  • Play Age: 3 to 5 Years
  • School Age: 6 to 12 Years
  • Adolescence: 12 to 18 Years
  • Young Adulthood: 18 to 35 Years
  • Middle Adulthood:  35 to 55 or 65 Years
  • Late Adulthood: 55 or 65 to Death

The Five Traditional Milestones of Adulthood

Something magically happens between adolescence and young adulthood.  There are five traditional milestones of that mark entrance into adulthood that sociologists, psychologists, and the general population have used as a proxy to determine when someone has reached that tipping point of maturity.  It is at this time adolescence is shed and emotional maturity comes to full fruition.  These are:

  • Leaving Home
  • Becoming Financially Independent
  • Completing School
  • Marrying
  • Starting a Family (not applicable if the person makes a conscious choice not to have children or is infertile; this choice has been shaped by the relatively recent discovery of female birth control)

As per the practice of mathematician Jacobi (who, as Charlie Munger reminds us, urged his followers to “invert!  Always invert!” as a way to solve problems), someone who was suffering from extended adolescence would:

  • Still live at home or in a home paid for by parents or other family member
  • Still rely on parents or other family member to cover living expenses in whole or part
  • Still be enrolled in school in some capacity
  • Single
  • No Children

In some ways, it is almost impossible for me to see how someone can live in extended adolescence because virtually all (upwards of 90% or more) of my close friends and family have been married for at least a few years, have one or two kids at home, are financially independent, successful in their careers, and happy.  I don’t talk much about my personal life on the blog for privacy reasons, but those who are around me in real life know my days these past few years are filled with baby showers, brunches, and birthday parties for the under-five-years-old crowd.  It isn’t unusual for me to be sitting on a sofa reading an annual report as a three-year old pretend flatirons my hair followed by a pretend blow dry and nail polish.

Then again, I always said that the primary mission of my life was family, with my career coming a close second.  By all of the metrics except children, which have been scheduled since I was a teenager down to a very specific age range that correlated with a much larger plan, I reached adulthood at around 19 years old (my wealth coming from my own businesses, my college education was to better myself, not to get a job so it was unnecessary for my career even though it was one of the best things I’ve ever done).  My parents reached it at 18 and 20, respectively.  Most of the people around me reached it before they were 24 years old.

Real World Examples of Adulthood vs. Extended Adolescence

To understand these, it might help to frame them within real-world situations.

Examples of Adults:

    • A 25-year old teacher with a college degree, who works full time, is married, has a child, owns her own home, and pays for her own living expenses
    • A 65-year old janitor with a high school diploma, who works full time, is married or widowed, has children, owns his own home, and pays for his own living expenses

Examples of Extended Adolescence: 

    • A 30-year old who has part of their rent and bills covered by parents, endlessly enrolls in colleges or universities seeking additional degrees or credentials, single, without children.
    • A 45-year old high-school dropout living on social welfare programs who spends his days getting drunk in bars

The Cost of Extended Adolescence Is Much Higher for Women

What is particularly interesting is the interaction between biology and the paradigm shift that has occurred with so much of the younger generation suffering from extended adolescence. Women have a specific, limited window of time in which they can genetically reproduce and to which they are attractive to potential mates.  This so-called “biological clock”, written into the code at the very deepest core of our DNA, puts a limit on childbearing for females.

  • Fertility: Female fertility peaks at 20 to 30 years old.  After 30 years old, fertility drops by 20%.  After 35, it drops 50%.  After 40, it drops 95%.  As for in vitro fertilization, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine states that women in their early 40′s have, on average, only a 3% to 5% chance of having a baby through this method.
  • Down Syndrome: At 25, a woman has about 1 chance in 1,250 of having a baby with Down Syndrome; at age 30, a 1-in-1,000 chance; at age 35, a 1-in-400 chance; at age 40, a 1-in-100 chance; and at 45, a 1-in-30- chance.
  • Miscarriage: Only 9 percent of recognized pregnancies for women aged 20 to 24 end in miscarriage; 15 percent of women aged 25-30 miscarry; 40 percent of women over 40 do and more than 50 percent miscarry at 42 years of age.

These limitations do not apply to men (an 80 year old man can still reproduce).  Men have virtually no opportunity cost to waiting to find a mate.  If they want to spend their twenties working their way up their field, putting money in the bank, playing video games, and hanging out with friends, they can always wake up one morning and decide they are ready to settle down, get married, and have kids.  As such, the biological cost of extended adolescence is significantly and substantially higher for women than it is for men.  Females suffer from a Mother Nature-induced “use it or lose it” policy.

Manning Up Book

In Manning Up, author Kay Hymowitz argues that societal changes have created a delayed adolescence in men. Specifically, Hymowitz focuses on men living in extended adolescence, resulting in successful women being unable to find suitable partners as they run up against the inevitable decline in fertility that begins at 30 and accelerates at 35.

This fear was encapsulated by Kay Hymowitz in a book called Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys.  To paraphrase Hymowitz: The rules of society may have changed but sex appeal has not.  It’s an interesting read.  If you aren’t up for the entire book, you can at least check out a preview and excerpt in The Wall Street Journal article called Where Have the Good Men Gone?.

As one reviewer somewhat critically noted of the book, “Hymowitz wants the child-men [those suffering from extended adolescence] to man up so that women don’t have to become spinsters or “choice mothers” at the expense of their careers. Might women alter their own behavior? “[T]he economic and cultural changes are too embedded, and, for women especially, too beneficial to reverse.” So the answer is no. Although it is women who are becoming disenchanted with the way things are, and although it is women who have created this situation, it is [in her opinion] men who ought to change.  And they are to change precisely when women are ready.”

The reviewer is correct because men are acting rationally within the confines the new paradigm.  In today’s world, men are presented no social, financial, emotional, or reproductive advantage by adjusting their own life to the ticking of a potential mate’s biological clock.  It is for the woman, to borrow a phrase, “too damn bad”.  It may not be fair, but in a finite world, there is an opportunity cost to every decision we make.  That has always been one of the central themes of this blog.  Incentive systems drive nearly everything in civilization from the type of people we attract into certain industries to the kind of behavior we reward.  The incentive system for men has changed and society now reflects this reality.  As such, the men who become adults early in life are the ones who desire the family, kids, and independence long associated with responsible manhood.

What should be done?  Is there a cure to extended adolescence?  What are the economic, social, and political ramifications of the rise of extended adolescence beyond the inevitable insolvency of social welfare programs?  Where do we go from here?

  • http://www.tminus10seconds.blogspot.com Elisabeth

    Love this topic. I have been wondering for years where all the grown ups have gone!

    I did a little research of my own and am on the fence about one thing. There seems to be a recognition of this stage as a new phase in growing up, and yet there is a lot of criticism of young adults who take the time to learn/explore/travel. I would agree that it isn’t the job of parents to fund that period of time, but I definitely took time in late teens/early 20s to live abroad, travel, study other languages, etc with my own money and, for one trip, a scholarship. Those years were a formative learning experience for me and I wouldn’t discourage anyone else from taking a similar path. I just disagree that it is the responsibility of parents to support a grown child (I consider 18 to be grown) who wants to do this.

    But my generation is the generation where everyone gets a trophy and a pat on the back for trying; it is the generation where we were discouraged from acknowledging winners and losers because feelings might get hurt. That, to me, is coddling, but it is funny that our parents’ generation would criticize us for not growing up while simultaneously creating an environment where it is never expected. People complain about delaying retirement in order to support grown children. Didn’t someone once say that necessity is the mother of invention?

    My perspective is definitely affected by my location; my personal goals do not seem to align with those of my peers. I know there are other parts of the country where people marry younger and where the parents of 20-somethings don’t have the kind of disposable income that they seem to have in the DC metro area. But in my experience, it is extremely common for these parents to put massive down payments on cars for their grown children. Other norms: making Roth IRA contributions for their kids, or paying credit card bills monthly. By kids I mean people who are in their 20s and early 30s! It is sparing college graduates from the shock of realizing they can’t buy a luxury car and $600k house after starting their first jobs, and it is not helping them be realistic about what to expect in life. Milestones are measured by acquiring  status symbols instead of more traditional goals. While marriage and kids may not be in the plan for many people, by choice, financial independence seems to have been bumped off the list in favor of cars and flat screens.

    Thanks for a great topic – it has sparked some great discussions for me!

    • Joshua Kennon

      I’m a big fan of what the Europeans call a “gap year” between high school and college for young people to explore, see the world, and find themselves.  Personally, I wouldn’t consider that a form of extended adolescence, but more of a transition period that is marked not by relying on others but by beginning the process of arranging your life.  You can’t arrange your life unless you know what you want and I think gap years are a useful tool to accomplish that.  The thing is, as you wisely point out, it isn’t the responsibility of the parents to fund that time.  I think it would be far better if an 18 year old wants to see Paris but has to take a job to support himself than it would be to help with the expenses.

      Writing a check to a child to pay for expenses that should be their responsibility is essentially saying, “We don’t think you are capable or successful enough to be independent.  You can’t earn your own way.  You need us.”  A few days ago, my brother and I were walking somewhere and talking about a situation involving a mutual acquaintance.  My brother was saying that he wouldn’t be able to move in with our parents or accept their help if he was older than 22 or so years old.  That included having them cover the mortgage or rent because, in his words, it would be a failure; an embarrassment.  

      The good news in all of this is that our economy functions largely as a meritocracy.  It has its flaws and there are always exceptions, but for the most part, 90% of millionaires are self-made today, whereas only 10% inherited their wealth (the numbers are a little less favorable once you get into the top fraction of “the rich” but it still holds generally true).  That means that when these people living on their parents’ economic outpatient care are forced to wake up and realize there are no more checks coming, they have to either grow up or cut their standard of living.  

      I can’t imagine how humiliating it would be, though.  I would rather drive a 15-year-old car and live in a  small, inexpensive home that I paid for an earned myself than take a handout from my parents.  This Carl Barks comic sums up my feelings. (Still, that’s a false choice, because my preference is to be a self-made man with significant resources. But you get the gist.)

  • greg

    “Although it is women who are becoming disenchanted with the way things
    are, and although it is women who have created this situation, it is [in
    her opinion] men who ought to change. And they are to change precisely
    when women are ready.”

    That is classic narcissism in my view, although I try not to have views. That strikes me as a sense of entitlement. Is she for real? At least she’s open and honest with it.

    This is a good post and I’ll have to read and study and think about it more deeply. I’m a man who has adapted to the new paradigm but always wanted something classic and old fashioned. I’m 30 and desiring greatly to marry and have children, and men have a biological clock too, if not in their own bodies, then in their wives, and I don’t want to be a man who marries a woman 15 years younger, and also I want a partner now for companionship. Also I have not one but 2 (twin) brothers with Down’s Syndrome so don’t think I don’t think about age of motherhood. When I learned that relationship earlier, I was shocked, and it gives me more permission to be more old fashioned and traditional.

    I don’t think I ever got my career off the ground because I didn’t have my priorities right. As I start searching for women and I start courting them, as my highest priority under God, I feel I am learning deep things and healing even. I realize I drifted because I didn’t have a stake in the world that only a woman and children can give. I have been traveling the world teaching English and have no home. I don’t want to be an adolescent but it is not easy in our culture, especially when women compete for men with jobs that could provide for a family and lower wages. I hate to make excuses but I also hate to be a blind fool denying the obvious. Anyway I think I had a toxic sense of entitlement, meaning I felt entitled to see the world but didn’t feel the healthy entitlement that many women feel today of being able to make it in business or law or medicine or whatever. I had all the opportunity but I wanted to sort of make way for others. Even now I don’t feel this, what I’m coming to realize is a healthy sense of entitlement, until I get married. Anyway career for me would only be good for supporting higher purposes like Wife and children and home. Now I at least have my priorities ranked so I can focus: God, wife, children, home, career, personal interests. Now I am just searching, and trying to learn, and such blogs as these are eye opening and helpfully thought provoking, so there’s my story and thank you for the blog. And women: Before it’s too late and before our population implodes, go do what you feel the deep desire to do anyways, and that is find a man and have a family. You have so much power to make this happen when you prioritize, and throw out the lies that were instilled in all of us.

    Peace be with you

    • Joshua Kennon

      Welcome to the site!

  • http://www.joshuakennon.com/ Joshua Kennon

    One of the major purposes of this site is to help people live better lives so that they end up happier, making intentional choices about the type of existence they want. For that reason, I’m going to respond to this. I would prefer to send this in a private email since it is going to sound a little critical, though that is not the intent, but I don’t have a way to contact you other than through your Disqus notifications so this will have to suffice.

    Based on your response, it is clear that you read this article, became defensive about decisions in your own life, and then jumped straight into the comments to post a message, without reading through the long discussion that preceded you nor any of the other posts that are related on the site. Otherwise you would have realized that half of your numbered arguments have been discussed in depth, in some cases ad nauseum, with similar conclusions.

    Looking at your server activity on the site confirms this hypothesis.

    Take, for example, your item #3. The entire point of many posts on this site is that you should choose your own path with open eyes based on what we call around here the primary mission of your life.

    In my case, I went to music school and refused to get a job after I graduated – about as non-traditional as you can get for someone who loves business – but I did it to develop a deeper appreciation of the world, including philosophy, history, and art. I also was the first member of my family to even attend college, had to pay for it myself (which was $140,000+, covered in part by music scholarships for vocal performance). No rational person would have suggested that as a pathway to success, but I knew what I wanted to do and was willing to bet on myself.

    Saying that I suggest people follow traditional paths of success is absurd. I tell people to examine the opportunity costs of every one of their decisions, make a choice based on what they want for their life with their eyes wide open, and then live with the consequences of those decisions.

    That aside, which is forgivable since you will find a lot of agreement once you take the time to read the discussion, there are some big errors in your thinking.

    First off: This idea that somehow you need an MFA to get published as a writer. Although I define my occupation as “investor” since it most describes what I do, I am easily one of the highest paid authors that no one has ever heard of because of my low profile. My single-man shop articles across multiple sites generates tens upon tens of millions of page views a year. I could live as well as a successful doctor on my publishing profits alone each year, were I so inclined. Why? I didn’t wait around trying to get published by someone. Sure, that happened – I signed my first book deal with Penguin when I was 22 – but by then I was already collecting very large amounts of annual income from my own work that, frankly, made the book deal royalties look small in comparison.

    It’s a poor artist who blames the tools. At least twice a year, some book agent writes me asking to represent me and I turn them down (at least for now). Why? My content speaks for itself and attracts an audience.

    The lesson: Doors open because of the quality of our work, not because of some magic piece of paper you may have with a few letters on it.

    Otherwise, the Billboard Charts would be made up of students from Juilliard and Curtis. There are a few notable exceptions, such as engineering and medicine, where professional credentials are vital and even legally required. In the fine arts? No. It’s about the quality of your work unless you want to go into academia.

    In that case, if you are still relying on your parents’ support: Then, yes, you are in extended adolescence because you are not self-sufficient. You are not saying, “I am going to go into academia and will scrub floors at McDonald’s if necessary”, you, an adult, are living off the work of other people despite being of age yourself. You’re a teenager. If you are happy with that, fine. Continue onward. Don’t delude yourself into thinking otherwise, though. Accept reality for what it is and own your decisions. That is the basic recipe for empowerment.

    Finally, to address your closing sentiment: Not having children, as, again, has been discussed in depth on the site, is a perfectly valid lifestyle option. However, a man rejecting you because you are not capable of bearing children if that is important to him is not “sexist” – it is an issue of basic compatibility. Don’t negate the emotional needs of others as a defense mechanism. It only makes you look immature. Mature adults don’t speak that way because they have enough life experience to understand that different people want different things; there is nothing wrong with that. Someone not being compatible is not a form of rejection.

    In other words: It’s not about you.

  • http://www.joshuakennon.com/ Joshua Kennon

    First, you’re 23. You’re still young.

    Second, proximity has a lot to do with it. You are in Japan right now, correct? The cultural studies that dealt with this phenomenon were based entirely upon the United States so they would not necessarily be true outside of America.

    Third, without knowing your specific situation, all I can do is look at the demographic data. My suggestion would be to go where the more suitable men are (suitable being defined as desiring a life-long stable marriage for the purposes of this discussion); the ones who are likely to want to settle down with one spouse, have children, and grow old together. As with any endeavor, you are more likely to enjoy success if you are in an area where the supply / demand relationships are favorable.

    Based on all available resources, marriage rates are far higher the further up the education and income scale you go. Move to a zip code with a lot of college graduates and with a far above average income because, again looking solely at the data sources available, these are the communities likely to put a high priority on settling down, getting married, and having children in stable marriages. In fact, it is the education that is the kicker – the higher income, the stable marriages, the longer lifespans – those are all symptoms of the education level.

    Finally, it is possible that you are an outlier on the distribution curve. There are always people that fall on both ends of the spectrum – I met a woman earlier today who met her husband when she was a teenager and 27 days later they were married. They’ve now been together for almost 30 years. You could be her Gaussian opposite. If that is the case, you are still young. You don’t have anything to worry about, yet.

  • perrosolo

    What effect do you think family law has on all of this? Many men see the deck as being stacked against them in case of divorce and this makes marriage too risky. Since they don’t intend to marry and start a family, there is less incentive to perform economically.

    • Robert Brockway

      If they reach that position explicitly I’d call them MGTOW.

  • Ogechi Ibeanusi

    Stop blaming millennials for this problem. It’s not their fault. It’s all the fucked up adults from the baby boomer/generation x who fucked up the economy and adolescent/education paradigm for us. Why can’t America have a similar education system like European countries such as Germany, Finland, and Denmark that not only provide high quality/rigorous/equitable education systems, but also provide vocational training so once students graduate they can immediately enter the job market. Secondly, most of the adults that bemoan the fact that millennials are lazy, narcissistic, and dependent are in part to blame for the socialization of extended adolescence. Believe me my generation might be shallow, and small right now, but this is not our fault so stop demonizing us just because we have more of what we want and need than your generation ever did. Ask any 18 year old today how they feel about the future or do they want to be dependent on their parents forever? They’ll respond immediately with uncertainty for the future and answer no. Hell, I noticed this extended adolescent phenomenon at the tender age of 7 and I hated it and the thought that I would be dependent upon my family. It’s also no coincidence that this generation is also the most politically disenfranchised and economically poor.

  • Ogechi Ibeanusi

    Trust me, no millennial wants to live with their parents forever. They want jobs and self-empowerment, but there are no jobs let alone training for them. Hell, look at the way the treat millennials during internships. All managers complain about them having to provide job training for millennials as if that’s not the point of internships in the first place. #THANKSFORRUININGMYGENERATION’SPROSPECTS!

  • mdl

    I find this article interesting, but altogether assumptive and discriminatory. I have always hung out with young men, for example, 18-30 or so, and most of them wanted to settle down. Some of them did, many of them couldn’t find a woman who was willing. Or if the woman was willing, all was good until a baby was born and she found her adolescence again. On a personal level, I settled down because I was pressured to: by my peers, by my family, even by the damn doctors I visited when I was pregnant and single because daddy found another willing girl. It was constantly shoved down my throat that I must have a man in the home, I must be married, I must have an education. Two busted marriages later, I am about to get married because I want to, not because of societal pressure. The education was nice, if you don’t consider the fact that the only way I could be in more debt is to buy a home. Oh, and the pesky nagging feeling that I wasted my time. There are no good-paying jobs. I am a top achiever with an impeccable work record, and glowing recommendations and references. The highest pay I have EVER been offered was $26,000 per year. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how far $26,000 goes in this economy. People do not choose to live in their parents’ basement. I’m sure it was different for you, way back when, because I know in 1995 I lived pretty well off of minimum wage, and with a baby. Of course, my rent was $125 a month back then. That was for a house! Now I pay $480 for a trailer. A tiny living space, and pay about that again for gas to drive to work every month. I have an 18-year-old adult son who earns well, but who will have no hope of finding a place to move to without a roommate or a significant pay raise. I do not consider him an extended adolescent, because he works and has common sense. Now I have a 19 year old daughter who is definitely in extended adolescence. She no longer lives at home, but that’s because she doesn’t follow rules. She hooked up with a boy from a rich family and they do drugs in his parents’ basement. She has no intention to work–in fact, thinks her boyfriend should support her, not that he does. He has affluenza, and can’t possibly be bothered to do anything besides lay around. I know many adults who remain in the home to help out the parents, and I had family live with me over the years: definitely adults, definitely helped pay bills, etc. I think lumping them in with people who have no drive or gumption is not very nice. And what about other ethnicities? Mexicans, for example, live several to a room and treat their homes as communities. And let’s not forget foster children, who are put out on their collective asses the day they turn 18, without so much as a meal for the night. I was one of them. I was certainly not an adult, yet, but I learned real quickly how to play the part. I wasn’t a REAL adult, however, until my brain was finished developing: around age 26. But in the meantime, I had already passed your test by age 20. I think the major issue is society telling young adults that they are adults and must follow rules to act like it. We are not adults until we think like adults–and although that may happen at varying times, most true maturity cannot happen until our brains are wired for it.

    • http://www.joshuakennon.com/ Joshua Kennon

      The fact that the upper 50% of society isn’t falling into this broken pattern, and the typical family in even the lower classes didn’t up until the early-to-mid 1990′s, tells us that your causal hypothesis – neurological maturity – cannot be the primary culprit. Therefore, the root must lie somewhere in sociology and the culture.

      It would be interesting to get your take on this phenomenon, which has been furiously discussed in economic circles recently, even resulting in a series of New York Times pieces. Given your earnings level ($26,000), your life history is fairly archetypical of what is happening in your particular sub-demographic. What do you think the causes are? How did you find yourself in this position? How do you think it can be fixed, from your perspective?

      This sort of societal shift, occurring in the sheer scope and scale is largely unprecedented. It speaks to how large the rift is when you assume I’m older. (You talk about earning minimum wage and having a baby in 1995. At that time, I was barely out of elementary school and my mom had just given birth to my youngest sister.) In fact, even reading about it is weird because I don’t see it in my own life. I’m 31 years old and nearly everyone in my inner circle, professional circles, and social circles, is married, having been with their spouses for 10+ years. I don’t know a single one of my peers who is divorced. All have household incomes approaching or exceeding six-figures. All have college educations. None smoke. Very few drink, and those that do are largely paired-wine-with-dinner types. Most are already setting up investments for their kids, as well as planning retirement together despite it being 35+ years in the future. Every one of them, to a person, owns their home. Almost all take at least one week-long vacation a year costing many thousands of dollars, often much more than that. Nearly all have a passport so they can travel outside of the country. We, and you, are literally walking stereotypes come alive from the pages of the academic data.

      Is it simply a matter of behavioral and values? For example, you talk about having a baby and earning minimum wage. I can’t imagine anyone in my peer group having a kid if they were earning that little money, married or not. Case in point: My 29-year-old brother is being pressured to have kids, yet he and his wife (a teacher) refuse until he is further along in medical school. By the time he was 20 or 21 years old, earning base pay in the Air Force, which he joined after high school, he had already managed to save $50,000+ in cash, stocks, and bonds. Those around him were buying new cars, renting apartments; he was living in a poor part of St. Louis, sleeping on an air mattress, and building his war chest for the future so he could someday not have to worry about money. By the time he is 40, his household will be earning a minimum of $25,000 per month, probably much more (especially if I have my way – with his income, I can have him acquire apartment buildings, oil pipelines, and other cash generating assets besides equities). He inherited nothing from our parents. He paid for everything himself with his military salary.

      Is it just a behavioral difference? Or is there something else at play? How can your experience be so divergent from his when you both started with nothing?

      The United States has become two different worlds, and the people occupying those worlds don’t converse or even see each other. It’s getting to the point where we attend different schools, work in different industries, and live in different neighborhoods. We don’t even shop in the same store, anymore! Some private banks use metrics like, “Dollar General vs. Williams-Sonoma” families as they can pinpoint where in society one falls. I worry about that. How can the country remain united when we don’t even realize how the other half live? (I went into a Sears recently for the first time in probably a decade. I stood in the aisles in complete disbelief because they sold $20 toasters. They were made of cheap plastic, were guaranteed to break in a few years, and felt poorly manufactured. The stores in the types of neighborhoods where most people I know live sell toasters between $200 and $400, that will last for decades, made of heavy cast iron or steel, with multiple settings and features. We aren’t even seeing the same products, anymore. Gone are the days when everyone watched the advertisement for the new General Electric refrigerator on “What’s My Line”, which aired on only one of three television networks.)

      I’m not sure how sustainable this is. What are your thoughts? And, again, how do you think it can be fixed?

      This problem has been on my plate for a long time; the breakdown in the family among the bottom 50% of society has reached a tipping point in terms of debt load, wage earnings, divorce rates, out-of-wedlock births, etc., that I can’t see any easy solutions as it is becoming self-reinforcing. There was a period in my life where my parents were poor, having lost everything, and I liked living in a town where the people who worked down at the factory had good jobs, could buy a new car they showed off with pride, and collected their pension checks. It seems like that world is gone.

      I apologize if this response is a bit rambling. I grew up at a time when the rich banker and the poor janitor attended the same church, their kids played on the same baseball team, and they greeted each other in the grocery store. Now, they won’t even know each other’s name and I think it’s bad for the country. I worry about it, especially a few generations down the line. I don’t want to live in an oligarchy, even if I am on the right side of the dividing line. Maybe it’s because I grew up poor.

      • mdl

        The Great Divide of our generation. Through my education, I was given insight into the lives of the uber-wealthy ($400 toasters, for example, or thousands of dollars worth of vacations every year). I don’t think I know one person, aside from my boss, who has ever taken a vacation outside of the US. I live in rural Missouri, and work nearby in the third-largest city. Seven years into my second job, I make a whole $12 per hour (the same I made decorating cakes for Dairy Queen, before I went to college)–and I graduated from a private college with honors, and a 3.78 GPA. Our toaster cost about $35, and has been around about 10 years–but is made of cheap plastic and would not survive a fall. It was a gift. It takes just about every penny we make, just to make the bills, food, and gas. Choosing to not have children at an early age certainly seems to make a difference. (My pregnancy was not intentional, and I was left holding the ball, by myself, despite doing what was considered “the right thing” in the situation.) But I know plenty of people close to thirty who have not had children, and who are also not well-off by any means. I do think part of it is the part of the country we are living in–wages are just ridiculous. I have made friends all over the US, and have been in more than one heated argument about whether or not it is possible to raise a child on around $24,000 per year. It is not the best way to raise a child, although from what I have seen from the wealthy set (my daughter’s boyfriend and family, as well as both of my ex-husbands), throwing money at children doesn’t make for the best morals, either. We get by with the basics, eat healthy and spend time together, however, and that’s the best I can do for now.

        A wedding ring didn’t seem to mean much to my wealthy husbands. Both of them cheated within a few years. I know that the wealthier set puts up with infidelity–just from personal experience with my husbands’ families, as well as my daughter’s boyfriends’ parents, and the Bill and Hilary debacle, haha. I find it hard to put trust into someone who will go behind my back as soon as the opportunity presents itself. The men I dated (and married) lived lavishly, on the assumption they would one day inherit all of their families’ fortunes (one is standing to get a share of over half a billion dollars). Any savings I managed to accumulate was gone like a flash, as soon as husbands were on my bank account. Now with the economy the way it is, every week seems to be a struggle. We can barely keep up with rent, utilities, food, gas, household needs, kids’ lunches, clothing, shoes, and insurance payments! Let alone deductibles and gas to appointments. My daughter had a brain tumor removed last year, and that will have to be monitored the rest of her life. Already she has been sentenced to poverty if she takes the working route, here. Maybe she isn’t doing so bad, setting herself up for a wealthy future. Not that it ever worked out for me.

        I don’t see a way out of this, except for wages to be raised. I know the old standby, blah blah blah, raising wages will raise prices. Well I have watched prices raise, anyway, for the last 23 years, while I have worked and while wages have largely remained stagnant. When FDR signed the new deal, he said anyone working in the US deserves a wage that helps them to live comfortably–and any business who wanted to pay slave wages didn’t deserve to do business in the US. I heartily agree. Too bad he didn’t have the foresight to link minimum wage to inflation. The share of money going to the top 1% (many CEO’s for these same companies) is steadily increasing, while the rest of our buying power is dwindling. We cannot have a robust economy without a healthy middle class. I was promised by my college that the average starting wage in my field was a little over $50,000 per year. This may be true in other states; in other cities. It is NOT true here. I feel like I was lied to. I am supposed to be part of the middle class. I was better off in my uneducated bubble, than I am now, knowing where I am stuck and not knowing what to do about it. Knowing the people around me are stuck and don’t know what to do about it. Gone are the days where one can get a good job and support a family, unless one makes no bad decisions, or has really good connections. One of my ex-husbands had a (100% paid for) degree, and jobs were offered to him at $35 per hour. He didn’t “like” the line of work, so he worked at a wood mill for $7.35 per hour–while I made $12 an hour decorating cakes and went to college full-time, while tutoring and working for the PR department in my school. I wanted to start a business when I graduated. He went to his rich family eight months before I graduated, borrowed $125,000, started a small business, and crashed and burned it within the year. I may have had a higher GPA if I wasn’t working trying to keep us afloat while writing my senior thesis on poverty in rural America. And I certainly didn’t have the time or money to try to go out of state, for a job.

        It is interesting, how our worlds are so different. And I don’t mind the rambling. As you can see, I do so, myself.

  • Jenn

    I totally agree with the point that men also have a biological clock. They do – it just doesn’t go off as soon as a woman’s does. And I’m frankly getting tired of reading about the whole “men are biologically wired to seek a young, fertile mate” crap. Well, if that’s true then can you explain to me why they take such great pains to avoid fatherhood during the time when they’re in their prime to have kids with the women they’re most attracted to? Men’s attractiveness to their targeted mates (the younger women they wish to settle down with once they’re done playing around and building careers) goes markedly down with age. As a young twentysomething, the thought of being with a guy in his thirties or forties totally skeeved me out. And I wasn’t alone either: none of the girls I knew was ever attracted to guys who were more than a few years older. So these older guys of whom the author speaks, the ones who supposedly don’t have a care in the world because it’s still possible for them to father children past their prime? They are effectively shooting themselves in the foot because far fewer women of desirable breeding age will WANT them as they age. Also, the focus is always (correctly) on the females, because their fertility does drop off much more sharply, but don’t make the mistake of ignoring the males entirely. They may still be able to father kids, though due to poorer sperm quality, said kids have a higher likelihood of genetic defects exclusive to the older father they were sired by. So it goes both ways: if men and women want kids, and they know from a young age that they do, they BOTH need to take pains to grow up, get established in their careers and get married.

  • Joshua Kennon

    Ben,

    You seem to be angry about the topic and act as if you have been personally attacked. That kind of visceral response would make be believe you have a “dog in the fight” and you feel like the entire discussion is somehow an affront to you and your life and the choices you’ve made up until this point. You seem so eager to respond that it appears as if you merely skimmed the essay, rather than actually read it.

    I say that because:

    1. I never said whether I believed the emergence of extended adolescence was a good thing or a bad thing, only that any permanent shift in population patterns presents economic opportunities and challenges that are going to have an effect on us as investors. Go ahead and re-read it. You won’t find my opinion on it anywhere. I didn’t offer it, which was purposeful. You’re suffering from the mental model that was taught in the Jesus Christ vs. Captain Kirk article where you project your own beliefs and convictions onto an impartial piece of data.

    2. You state things such as, “You and Aaron are still in ‘extended adolescence/emerging adulthood’. When will you two grow up?” Yet, if you had read the essay, you’d have seen that I explicitly state that, as measured by the criteria used in psychology for the past few generations, I reached the traditional definition of adulthood by these metrics at 19 years old.

    You seem to think that my failure to discuss those aspects of my life mean that they don’t exist. But that’s part of the “it’s none of your damn business policy” of the site. It’s a well known rule around these parts that I try to be generous with sharing the things that make me successful but my personal life is off limits for privacy reasons. My friends, family, and colleagues didn’t sign up to have their life broadcast online and if they are mentioned, they almost always signed off on the specific post. What is shown, discussed, or even acknowledge is a very small portion of my world.

    I can’t get much more explicit without violating that rule than saying, “By these measures I reached adulthood a decade ago.” I even went far enough to say that well over 90% of the people in my life hit those metrics before the age of 24 (Aaron, since you mentioned him by name, is included in that figure. He was, in fact, younger than I was when he hit the milestones that mark adulthood – 18 years old, in his case, because, like me, his particular college degree was solely for personal enrichment and had nothing to do with his career training).

    3. The photo of the baby aligns with the portion of the article covered by Erik Erikson’s 8 stages of human development, not the overall article. The first two stages are infancy and early childhood (birth to 3 years old). Given that it fit that portion of the essay and I already had it licensed as part of a $3,000 per year packaged from one of the big image companies, that was the one that was selected because I didn’t feel like using one of the other download limits to which I am entitled under the contract to download a picture of a teenager.

    4. Why did I use the term extended adolescence? I’ll give you a clue: There is a reason that the site has sometimes misspelled words like “J.C. Penney” as “J.C. Penny” or I’ve phrased things oddly. It’s not an accident. It’s not a typo. It has to do with me doing what I do best – making money. People are searching for “Extended Adolescence” according to the keyword tools I use but there isn’t as much content covering that phrase so I have a better chance at monetizing the essay that I wanted to write.

    That decision probably put a few extra hundred dollars in cash in my pocket for virtually zero additional work since the essay was for my own benefit, anyway, as a way to crystalize my thoughts using Munger’s organtung theory. So a better question would be, “Ben, isn’t using a phrase like ‘extended adolescence’ instead of ‘emerging adulthood’ worth an extra $300 or so that it will generate in advertising income since it’s basically free money to me I can use to buy more investments?” People are free to be purists as much as they want. To borrow from the prophet Joshua from the Bible, as for me and my house, we’ll take the cash. And then invest it. And then earn dividends on it. Then reinvest those dividends.

    But, again, your odd focus on something like that without realizing why I did it indicates you’re irritated and angry about the topic in general because it offends you. You act like it is an attack on you when, frankly, I’m only interested in the abstract high-level social implications of the paradigm shift.

    5. Hymowitz doesn’t say women don’t want men in extended adolescence, she argues that women are unhappy that men are content to stay in extended adolescence and don’t want to get serious and settle down. Hence, my comment that this presents a problem for females because extended adolescence, from a male perspective, may be a rational way to live given the low opportunity cost.

    6. At the office we discussed this possibility and arrived at the same conclusion you did – that is, if this really is a new paradigm shift as the data indicates it is, eventually you’d see a rise in the age disparity of married couples. There would only be one generation of highly functioning professional women hurt by the transition who would be, for lack of a better term, screwed.

    7. The five tests aren’t an if/then statement, it is more of a scale. Someone who has 4 of the 5 milestones would be considered almost entirely an adult. The reason one milestone – having children – has been depreciated from the definition of adulthood while the others have not has to do with two factors:

    I.) the rise of non-traditional family units such as gay men and lesbians that can’t reproduce without outside assistance such as the use of a surrogate, which isn’t likely to happen until the 30′s due to economic costs, and

    II.) the Demographic-Economic paradox, or so-called Malthus Paradox, that no one completely predicted. It was thought for a very long time that humans would reproduce uncontrollably with an abundance of food, water, and shelter. Instead, something in the genetic code seems to force humans to have fewer children, or forgo having children entirely, once a nation reaches a specific level of economic prosperity. This has been a topic of study for some of the best minds across multiple fields for several generations to the point that reproduction is no longer considered a “hard” hurdle to adulthood.

    The other items are still germane. Marriage (or a marriage-like arrangement, e.g., what we would call a common law marriage for a couple that had been together for years) requires a type of emotional maturity and intimacy that isn’t present in other relationships so it is still considered an important part of maturity. Finishing high school or trade school is still considered a necessary milestone to adulthood because in 99.9% of cases, they are necessary to become self-sufficient. In the 1700′s, the milestone would have been an apprenticeship instead of high school.

    Adulthood is about responsibility, maturity, and independence. Someone who still relies on their parents or their parents’ money may be a wonderful person. He or she may be intelligent, focused, and responsible. But he or she is not considered an adult in many quarters of the world.

    Think about two scenarios involving Thomas and William.

    Thomas is 25, dropped of high school, lives at home with his parents, doesn’t have a wife, has no children that depend upon him, and can’t pay his own bills without assistance.

    William is 25, finished high school, owns his own house, pays his own bills, is married, and has kids he supports.

    It doesn’t matter if you are old or young, rich or poor, Democrat or Republican, black or white, religious or atheist, virtually everyone in society is going to consider William an adult and Thomas … something else. (An interesting side note: Every generation has a euphemism for someone who fails all 5 tests on the adulthood scale once passing their mid-twenties. In the 1980′s, it was “loser”, in the 1990′s, it was “slacker” and in the 2000′s, it was “living in your mother’s basement playing World of Warcraft”.)

    This isn’t just relegated to psychology. In economics there is a term for adults who rely on parental housing or money: “economic outpatient care”. Dr. Thomas Stanley, who does fantastic work, did a good job describing his findings that show it ultimately cripples someone who accepts it to the point they don’t function as well as those who were forced to pay their own way.

    My suggestion would be that you become either an economist or a psychologist and try to convince the other people in those fields that they are wrong if you believe that. But the idea that political correctness can reverse what I think is probably an enormous genetic predisposition is probably wishful thinking.

  • Patrick

    Hi Joshua, as someone in his late 30′s, when I was in my 20′s, my own experience was that my female peers were looking to party in their 20′s and wait for their 30′s to settle down.

    My plan was definitely to meet someone and marry them in my early-mid 20′s but it quite simply didn’t happen. I didn’t meet her. She wanted to “party”, “have fun”, “enjoy life”, “live it up”, so it simply didn’t happen. It’s one thing to work hard at a business and make money (which I’ve become quite good at doing), but one cannot force another person to cater to them whim (not would I want to).

    So I have to be honest, I’m very surprised now to read articles about “Where are the real men?” and “Why aren’t guys ‘manning up’??”

    I was ready, in my experience my female co-horts were looking to “have fun” in their 20′s. And I have to say, at this point I’m not really interested in someone who, in your own words, has passed peak fertility.

    In talking to my male peers, their experiences mirror my own. So I’d be really curious about what you think of this, since it doesn’t seem to be covered, most likely because in many of these “Why don’t guys man up?” articles, they don’t actually ask men what they think.

  • Joshua Kennon

    I think the reasons you are seeing these sorts of articles is that you had a generation of young boys and girls who were told that they can be, and can do, anything. Unfortunately, they weren’t given the equally as important, and equally as true, disclaimer that there are opportunity costs to all actions; e.g., if you want to be a great classical violinists, that does not leave time for you to be a great NFL quarterback.

    These young women grew up, being told by their mothers and grandmothers, not to marry too early, to go out and enjoy life. This was well intentioned advice. The downside was that it presumed – incorrectly – that the men of the same generation, who did not have the opportunity cost of limited fertility, would simply wait around until the girls were ready to settle down. That turned out not to be the case.

    I see this all the time in my own circle of friends. Almost everyone who is now settled down with a family and successful was married in their early to mid twenties; five, ten, and even fifteen year anniversaries are being celebrated, kids are going off to kindergarten, and houses are getting larger. Yet, the minority of women in my circle of friends and acquaintances who are single, almost always complain that they can’t find any decent guys who are the same age (28 to 32) because all of the good ones are, “already married, gay, weird, or interested in younger girls.”

    My response to them: What did you expect?

    Most men are genetically wired to be needed, to provide for someone else, and to be financially self-sufficient. It is as deep-seated a psychological reality as a woman’s maternal instinct, which is so strong that petite women have been able to lift cars off their children in emergencies. When the culture shifted to make men unnecessary, young men responded in the most rational, intelligent way: They adapted.

    It’s also easier to merge lives with someone when you are either 1.) both young and non-attached, able to move together and start building a family, or 2.) only one of you is established with your own employment, routines, and networks, making it much easier to merge together into a new household.

    TL;DR: It is not the job of a 20 or 22 year old man to worry about the opportunity cost consequences his female classmates are going to experience if they want to party throughout their twenties. The problem is not men refusing to grow up, the problem is the cultural and educational shifts that have ignored millions of years of natural selection that determine the basic emotional and psychological needs of men, which are not adapted to waiting around from 15 to 30, sitting in classrooms with artificial light, and twiddling their thumbs until their female peers decide they need a sperm donor to have a baby.

    That may not be politically correct, but in economic terms, that is the reality of the situation.