Published on: February 22, 2011Did you see the story in the Wall Street Journal yesterday bemoaning the state of American males, specifically those in their twenties?
The piece framed the issue this way:
“Not so long ago, the average American man in his 20s had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: a high-school diploma, financial independence, marriage and children. Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. This ‘pre-adulthood’ has much to recommend it, especially for the college-educated. But it's time to state what has become obvious to legions of frustrated young women: It doesn't bring out the best in men.”
According to the story, “Pre-adulthood represents a momentous sociological development. It's no exaggeration to say that having large numbers of single young men and women living independently, while also having enough disposable income to avoid ever messing up their kitchens, is something entirely new in human experience. Yes, at other points in Western history young people have waited well into their 20s to marry, and yes, office girls and bachelor lawyers have been working and finding amusement in cities for more than a century. But their numbers and their money supply were always relatively small. Today's pre-adults are a different matter.
“They are a major demographic event.
“What also makes pre-adulthood something new is its radical reversal of the sexual hierarchy. Among pre-adults, women are the first sex. They graduate from college in greater numbers (among Americans ages 25 to 34, 34% of women now have a bachelor's degree but just 27% of men), and they have higher GPAs. As most professors tell it, they also have more confidence and drive. These strengths carry women through their 20s, when they are more likely than men to be in grad school and making strides in the workplace. In a number of cities, they are even out-earning their brothers and boyfriends.”
In some ways, the story suggests, pre-adulthood is like adolescence, only older.
Some other fascinating excerpts from the piece:
• “The past decades' economic expansion and the digital revolution have transformed the high end labor market into a fierce competition for the most stimulating, creative and glamorous jobs. Fields that attract ambitious young men and women often require years of moving between school and internships, between internships and jobs, laterally and horizontally between jobs, and between cities in the U.S. and abroad. The knowledge economy gives the educated young an unprecedented opportunity to think about work in personal terms. They are looking not just for jobs but for ‘careers,’ work in which they can exercise their talents and express their deepest passions. They expect their careers to give shape to their identity. For today's pre-adults, ‘what you do’ is almost synonymous with ‘who you are,’ and starting a family is seldom part of the picture.”
• For these pre-adults, the story suggests, “marriage and parenthood come in many forms, or can be skipped altogether. In 1970, just 16% of Americans ages 25 to 29 had never been married; today that's true of an astonishing 55% of the age group. In the U.S., the mean age at first marriage has been climbing toward 30 (a point past which it has already gone in much of Europe). It is no wonder that so many young Americans suffer through a ‘quarter-life crisis,’ a period of depression and worry over their future.”
• “Relatively affluent, free of family responsibilities, and entertained by an array of media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig heaven—and often does. Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man. But these rational choices on the part of women only serve to legitimize men's attachment to the sand box. Why should they grow up? No one needs them anyway. There's nothing they have to do. They might as well just have another beer.”
For marketers, this kind of thing must be frustrating because it means that yet another demographic segment has been formally identified ... and now must be marketed to.
For parents of these pre-adults, this kind of story almost certainly must provoke some soul-searching, as we wonder exactly what we did wrong, what exactly we did that allowed our male children to luxuriate in this limbo.
And as for the male pre-adults themselves... this kind of story must make them wonder exactly what the problem is, anyway.
And that is an Eye-Opener.
- KC's View: