The Peter Pans of Generation Y
Are the young men of Generation Y (today's 20-somethings) more listless than their forebears? Alan Stewart Carl comments on a Leonard Sax Wa Po column:
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.
A TV advertisement that stands out in my memory showed an SUV that was seen packaged in a box as a toy, with a fully grown man agape like a child. It makes sense for advertisers to evoke child-like states of mind; child-men are more likely to make impulse purchases than mature men.
Youth has been glorified in various forms since antiquity, but in times of widespread material prosperity it is possible for people to 'live the dream' of prolonged childhood. I expect that extending the Imperial Self (to use Robert Kegan's psychological development theory) for men into their twenties, while women become more free to develop beyond the Institutional Self, will have profound implications on the institution of marriage in years to come. I see it in my own patients already. The difference between the situation now and 25 years ago is that it is common for such child-men to be economically and academically successful in their careers. This contrasts with Vaillant's work that found that achieving successful intimacy (with a spouse or mentor) was necessary to really succeed at work, because it catalyzed one's ability to connect with people, build trust, and work smoothly in organizations. In today's email workplace, it is possible to accomplish much without emotional maturity being noticed in many jobs.
But while you can fake sincerity, you can't fake emotional maturity, and tomarrow's families will need husbands and fathers who can fill the bill.