January 28, 2008
Kay Hymnowitz has an interesting article in the latest issue of City Journal bemoaning the state of today’s young men. Apparently, they like half-naked women, football, video games and staying single. Shocking, I know. And apparently this just won’t do:
Not so long ago, the average mid-twentysomething had achieved most of adulthood’s milestones—high school degree, financial independence, marriage, and children. These days, he lingers—happily—in a new hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. Decades in unfolding, this limbo may not seem like news to many, but in fact it is to the early twenty-first century what adolescence was to the early twentieth: a momentous sociological development of profound economic and cultural import. Some call this new period “emerging adulthood,” others “extended adolescence”; David Brooks recently took a stab with the “Odyssey Years,” a “decade of wandering.”
But while we grapple with the name, it’s time to state what is now obvious to legions of frustrated young women: the limbo doesn’t bring out the best in young men. With women, you could argue that adulthood is in fact emergent. Single women in their twenties and early thirties are joining an international New Girl Order, hyperachieving in both school and an increasingly female-friendly workplace, while packing leisure hours with shopping, traveling, and dining with friends [see “The New Girl Order,” Autumn 2007]. Single Young Males, or SYMs, by contrast, often seem to hang out in a playground of drinking, hooking up, playing Halo 3, and, in many cases, underachieving. With them, adulthood looks as though it’s receding.
But why not have an extended adolescence? What, ultimately, is the harm in playing Halo and hanging out with friends?
“Consider: in 1970, 69 percent of 25-year-old and 85 percent of 30-year-old white men were married; in 2000, only 33 percent and 58 percent were, respectively”
In 1970 the life expectancy of an American male was 67 years old. Today it is about 76. He’s picked up nearly a decade and damn right he’s going to use it to have some fun. Why begrudge men that?
Look, I’ve read Mark Steyn’s “America Alone”, I understand our need to maintain a certain birth rate. But Hymnowitz, and all the others who pick on people who maintain that 30 is the new 20, don’t say that these men will never settle down and outgrow their adolescence. They will get married, have babies, be responsible, and contribute to society. Just not today. And they will always love football and naked women, but so what? Women like tons of brainless crap from celebrity gossip magazines to shoe-shopping. No one calls us infants because we know what Paris Hilton is doing today. No one says we’re immature when we spend a week’s salary on Manolos. So, no, I have no scolding for the 20-something man who is doing his thing, even if that thing is getting really good at Playstation. His own life situation will cause him to grow up. No article mocking his lifestyle ever will.