Young Men Stuck in Adolescent-Adult Limbo

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In a recent op-ed, Kay Hymowitz argues that it's time for 20- and 30-year-old guys to put down the Xbox controller and grow up.

It wasn't long ago, Hymowitz says, that the average man in his mid-20s had achieved many of life's major milestones — he had a job, a marriage, perhaps even kids and a house.

Today's mid-20something male "lingers happily," Hymowitz writes, "in a new hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance."

Social scientists are struggling to define this new phase of life — "emerging adulthood" and "delayed adolescence" are two identifiers. Hymowitz has selected the term "child-man."

"Adolescence appears to be the young man's default state," Hymowitz writes, and the behavior is encouraged and reinforced by pop culture — television and the gaming industry in particular.

Hymowitz's article, "The Child-Man," appeared Sunday in The Dallas Morning News.

'Generation Next' in the Slow Lane to Adulthood

In Depth

In a series of profiles, Judy Woodruff looks at what makes Generation Next different from its predecessors.

Recent studies find interesting differences among today's young people compared with those of decades past. There's even a new term for the generation age 18 to 25: Generation Next. And a new label for this period of development: "emerging adulthood."

Jeffrey Arnett, a developmental psychologist at Clark University, coined the term "emerging adult." Arnett says a number of cultural changes over the past five decades created this lengthened path to adulthood.

"Go back 50 years, the median age of marriage for women was 20; for men, 22. And they likely had their first child within one year," Arnett says.

Back in 1960, Arnett says, most people in their early 20s had chosen a life partner, finished their education and were in a stable job if they were male; full-time mothers if they were female.

But none of that exists today, Arnett says.

"Now, if you heard of somebody 19 to 20 years old planning to get married, you'd think they were crazy," Arnett says. "It's so unusual now to do that. The average age for women to marry is 26, and for men, 27 and a half."

Colin Herron, 21, is a senior at George Washington University. Lindsay Tingley, 23, is a law student at Wake Forest University. Herron and Tingley pretty much reflect the thinking of their generation.

"I'm not feeling like I'm in any rush," Tingley says. "I think people get married a lot older these days and they have kids a lot later these days, and I know that I, myself, want to have a career. I don't see myself getting married for another, I don't know, three to four years. Three to six sounds good."

When asked if they feel like adults, Tingley says what most 20-somethings say: yes and no.

"I do have a roommate down at school. I feel independent in that way. I have to make sure my rent gets paid and I buy my own groceries, take care of my car, feel like I have adult relationships. I'm responsible for getting my work turned in and staying on top of things, so in that way, I do," Tingley says.

But complete financial autonomy? No way. Tingley receives financial help from her parents and from school loans.

"I don't know a lot about investing, and I feel like at my age, that's something that I should really start learning about," Tingley says. "I certainly wouldn't know how to buy my own house at this point."

Herron says that the fact that he's in school leaves him dependent on his parents.

"Because I have strings attached as far as school goes — loans and how I'm paying for school — that's kind of what's keeping me from entering adulthood," Herron says.

And school is the other part of what Arnett calls the "quiet revolution." The number of early 20-somethings in college has doubled over the past five decades. Today, there are more women than men attending college. Attending graduate school is more common, also, thereby increasing the length of time people spend preparing for adulthood.

Developmental psychologist Larry Nelson of Brigham Young University recently completed a study that appears in December's Journal of Family Psychology. Nelson surveyed 392 unmarried college students and at least one of their parents.

"We wanted to know if parents considered their child —18 to 26 years old — adult or not," Nelson explains. "Over 80 percent of mothers and fathers said, 'No. They are not yet an adult.'"

It's not just financial ties. These young people are also emotionally close to their parents.

"We have a really great relationship," Tingley says. "We're really close. You know, I don't talk to them about everything, but I feel I could if I wanted to."

Herron agrees. "There's certainly a security net in the sense of an emotional security net. I know that they're there. They certainly have let me know as long as I can remember that they will be there as long as they're alive for whatever I need."

A recent survey from the Pew Research Center shows eight out of 10 young people surveyed had talked to their parents in the past day. Nearly three in four said they see their parents at least once a week.

What does it add up to? A generation that's closely connected to family. And one that's taking its time to figure out the future, which, according to Arnett, isn't such a bad thing.

"Once you take on adult responsibilities, you're going to have them for life. So, why not take this time in your 20s to do the sort of things you couldn't do before and never will be able to do again?" he says. "Once you get married and have kids and have a long-term employer, you can't just leave them because something interesting comes along. But in your 20s, you can."

And much of this time experimenting with life is balanced on the other end, Arnett says, by a lifespan that continues to rise.

"I say, more power to them."

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