Young Men Stuck in Adolescent-Adult Limbo 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. Mid-20something males linger happily, Hymowitz writes, "in a new hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance."
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Young Men Stuck in Adolescent-Adult Limbo

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

And now, it's time for the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page. There was a time in the not-so-distant past that the average 26-year-old man might be found on the far side of many of life's major milestones with a job, a marriage, a kid or two, maybe a mortgage. In short, an adult.

Not so much anymore, says writer Kay Hymowitz. In an op-ed published in yesterday's Dallas Morning News called "The Child Man," she points out that these days, that same guy is more likely to be found playing "Halo 3" in the basement of a rental that he shares with his buddies. He's in child-man limbo, gleefully stretching the space between adolescence and adulthood. And she argues that popular culture caters to and perpetuates this phenomenon.

Do you have a child-man in your life? Give us a call. 800-989-8255. E-mail us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog. That's at npr.org/blogofthenation. And you'll find a link to Kay Hymowitz's op-ed there as well.

Kay Hymowitz is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor to City Journal. She joins us from NPR's bureau in New York.

Nice to speak with you again.

Ms. KAY HYMOWITZ (Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute; Contributing Editor, City Journal): Hi, Neal.

CONAN: And you write that if adolescence was itself an invention of the 20th century, we've now invented something else new in the 21st.

Ms. HYMOWITZ: Yeah. There's a lot of debate right now among social scientists and experts in the field of social development about what we should call this period. Some people like to describe it as emerging adulthood. Others - people more cynically described it as delayed adolescence. We've also heard from David Brooks something like the Odyssey years.

One thing that I felt, after looking at what guys were doing with their time before they marry, before they have children, is that we shouldn't be talking about this as emerging adulthood. It really is more like an adolescence, that's why I refer to them as child-men.

CONAN: And this is not new, you also point out. This is a phenomenon that's been observed for some particular time. And now people are asking, you know, why?

Ms. HYMOWITZ: Well, I wouldn't say that it's not new. I think it is new because we didn't used to have this long period of time, this 10 to 15 years where guys are single and off on their own and able to fill their leisure with whatever pleasures they want. The marketplace has been very happy to oblige them with all sorts of fun like Maxim magazine, lots of movies now are geared towards this age group - the science fiction movies are very popular among them. There are TV networks entirely devoted to his viewing pleasure. We've got Spike TV, Blackbelt TV, which is 24-hour-a-day martial arts. We've got Comedy Central, which is largely a phenomenon of the child-man. If you look at where it started, in the early '90s, it wasn't doing very well until it started to - that network, I mean…

CONAN: Uh-hmm.

Ms. HYMOWITZ: …until it started to appeal to these guys with shows like "The Man Show," which some of your listeners may remember. And even today, it's about two-thirds of the viewers are men.

CONAN: Yet, I like John Stewart as much as the next guy. I watch "CSI" reruns on Spike and, you know, my kids are grown. I think they're all right. I'm not extending my adolescence here.

Ms. HYMOWITZ: Sure. I mean, look, you know, you can't define it by just what you watch all the time. But, you know, if you look at the kinds of media that have been - have grown up around this group. If you looked at the kind of gaming that they're doing is that - actually, one of the things that amazed me most as I started to do this research was that most of the gaming industry, which is a $16 billion industry, is appealing to guys in this age group.

And when media - when the Nielsen Company started to look and tried to figure out just how much these guys were playing games, they found that about close to 50 percent had gone and started to use their consoles over the last six months. This was in 2006 they did this work. And that - the average time that they were spending on their - doing their gaming was about - I'm trying to remember now. Oh, it's close to three hours a day. So, it isn't just a matter of watching "CSI" - I do that, too. Or even listening to John Stewart, which of course I do also, I think that John Stewart is actually a real kind of hybrid of what I'm talking about. He appeals to the young guys, but he also has found a more mainstream voice as well.

But it is a matter of what their - how they're spending their time more generally and also what their attitude is towards life. There's an awful lot of feeling that they don't need to grow up, that they don't need to behave responsibly, and that they have no obligations to women, I - you know, one of the reasons I wanted to write this piece was because there is so much complaining going on among young women about the kinds of men that are available to them today.

CONAN: You also speculate about some of the reasons behind this, and among them that has been suggested is, sort of, a reaction to feminism.

Ms. HYMOWITZ: I think that you see some of that. There's a lot of, kind of, sticking their tongues out at the feminists saying, we don't have to be p.c. anymore. We can just act like stupid guys if we want to act like stupid guys. And then I think is a lot - explains a lot of pleasure behind magazines like Maxim and some of the shows - some of the TV shows that - on Comedy Central or the Cartoon Network that are appealing to young men.

I think there's another feminism - issue about feminism in relation to these young child-men. And that is that feminists left us with a legacy that said that women and men really had no differences when it came to love, sex, marriage and children. And I think that what the child-man proves is that's not really true. And young women - one of the reasons young women are complaining so much is because they find themselves by their mid-20s or so, sometimes even earlier, wanting to settle down, wanting to have more serious relationships. And lo and behold, who's available to them but a lot of child-men who feel like, well, why should I have to do that now? You know, there's no pressure on them to grow up, to become men, to become responsible to other people. And I think there's a certain danger to that on a lot of levels, not least because they are so resistant to strong attachments.

CONAN: And essentially you conclude that the reason young men do this is because they can?

Ms. HYMOWITZ: Well, you know, we can argue all day long about whether men are different than women, but I think what the marketplace that's available to men proves now is that they - if you give them a choice, they are going to do kind of adolescent, young guy things. And that suggests that there is some difference.

Women, you know, there has always been an assumption out there, you know, and I think it's based on a certain amount of common sense that men have to be attached to women, have to marry and become husbands and fathers in order to fully grow up. And that's, of course, not the - in the cards for a lot of young men. The numbers are quite striking at something like 58 percent of men, yet 30 are married now. Well, that's compared to 85 percent 30 years ago. And that means that those young men do not think of themselves as adults, don't have any - many obligations to other people, and don't imagine themselves as part of the mainstream society.

CONAN: Is there a child-man in your life? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail us, talk@npr.org. Our guest is Kay Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. And let's get Lisa(ph) on the line. Lisa with us from Dallas, Texas.

LISA (Caller): Yes, I am married to a wonderful man-child…

(Soundbite of laughter)

LISA (Caller): …who - I married him right out of his mother's house. He was 26, and I am six years older than he is and had been on my own for quite some time, and ended up being the breadwinner and more recently, one of our children has special needs and we had to send him to a special school, so we need more money. And he had to go to work six months ago.

Wow. It's been very difficult because - well, it wasn't as difficult. He's in a good job, but on the other hand, you know, those of us who've been working for 20 years don't expect a medal at the end of the day just for going to work. And unfortunately, he does.

CONAN: And do you fear that down the road, you - he may experience some resentment?

LISA: Oh, probably. I'm sure that, you know, those occasional lottery ticket purchases are in hopes of not having to work again, you know, and to be able to stay at home with the Wii, which we got for Christmas, against my better judgment.

CONAN And the Wii, I assume gets a pretty good workout?

LISA: Yes, it does.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LISA: But I will say, he does do the job. He's a great dad. But it is funny because, having been on my own for years and years, when I hand him the car payment and say, here you go, pay this. He goes, oh my gosh, it's so expensive. And you just kind of, well, you know, I've been doing this for a long time. You're just now getting in on the fun.

CONAN: Well, good luck to you, Lisa.

LISA: Thank you.

CONAN: Appreciate the phone call.

LISA: Love your show.

CONAN: And, Kay Hymowitz, her husband, well, obviously, didn't meet one requirement. He made a commitment to a woman and he's got kids and now he's got a job, but nevertheless, I guess there's some blurry edges around this definition.

Ms. HYMOWITZ: It sure sounds that way. But my hats off to Lisa. She's taken on quite a difficult process, I think. You know, you asked her whether he would be - he was resentful, that is, her husband was resentful at the demands on him. One of the things I think that you see if you look at a lot of male culture, is there is a lot of resentment around - towards women, towards people who ask men to behave.

Now, I take this to be something, kind of, well, for lack of a better word, kind of natural. I think that there has been resistance always among men towards the kind of bourgeois order. That's one of the things that I argue in the piece that appears in the City Journal, not so much in the piece that appeared - the shortened version appeared in the Dallas Morning News that you referred to. I think there's a - if you look at the history of how men have adapted to life in a, you know, bourgeois marriage, there's always been a lot of resentment. There's always been a lot of resistance, looking for outlets in the popular culture and looking to go to the club or to go fishing with the guys or that kind of thing. The fact is, though, that they are, you know, at least in earlier days, there was social pressure for them to be grown-ups even if they wanted those outlets and even if they felt some resentment, they knew that's what was expected of them.

CONAN: Our guest on the opinion page this week, Kay Hymowitz. There's a link to her op-ed on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation, and this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's go to Chris(ph). Chris calling us from Honolulu.

CHRIS (Caller): Yes. My wife - I'm a man-child.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHRIS: And I have tens of thousands of dollars worth of toys. I've got a gaming computer that was - in other words, set up just for gaming. I've radio-controlled models. And my wife embraces it. She - you know, she makes a day of it. She packs a lunch. We go to the beach, we run, you know, we run my radio-controlled boats. She does - scale model or saw car racing with me. And we have a ball.

CONAN: And she's the breadwinner?

CHRIS: Oh no. I've worked - I own a business here on the island, but she certainly was someone that did work very hard, and when she married me, she retired. But you know, she embraces the whole thing. I go to see movies that I think a lot of ladies wouldn't go see just because it's like the whole action/adventure thing. And I'm constantly playing with what some people would consider, you know, kids' toys.

CONAN: So, but your wife - you certainly earn enough money that this is not a problem with your wife?

CHRIS: Oh no, not at all.

CONAN: Okay.

CHRIS: Not at all.

CONAN: Again, blurry edges, don't you think, Kay Hymowitz?

Ms. HYMOWITZ: I do think. And I think Chris is a very lucky man, by the way, to have found a woman who can take the pleasure in those things. Most women do not and, you know, they're going to perhaps feel resentful if their men are off playing games all the time when there might be other things that they prefer to do.

I mean, I think this is just some of the stresses of living together in marriage and also, especially, the time when we expect so much companionship from each other. It didn't used to be that way, by the way. That, you know, it used to be that if you were married, that was sort of a - kind of a formal arrangement you didn't expect to or your spouse to be, a companion to quite the same extent. So, you know, if you have a wife, if you - and the guys out there who do love to game - play games or to run the boat that Chris just described, and you have a girlfriend or wife who enjoys that, thank your lucky stars.

CONAN: Let's get Edward(ph) on the line. Edward with us from Philadelphia.

EDWARD (Caller): Yes. How are you doing, Neal? I'm looking forward to opening day of baseball just like you.

CONAN: I certainly am.

EDWARD: I would just like to say the name - the word child-man I feel is a little bit derogatory. And I've - I was - I'm 40 years old. I was married for several years. I got divorced about four years ago. Had to relive slight adolescence, but I keep an everyday job as a pastry chef and baker, get up early in the morning and I play music at night, and I am engaged. I'm going to be married in a few months. And, you know, I've a lovely woman who, like, I think relationship is based on finding common denominators. And to define a man as someone who has a child, has a steady job, is focused with family connections. Like, I'm a baseball coach, too. So…

CONAN: She wasn't defining man, though. She's just defining an adult-man.

EDWARD: Adult-man.

CONAN: Yeah.

EDWARD: But adult-man, that doesn't mean those - just those connections. It's also connections with community and family beyond, not just being married, you know?

CONAN: What's your response, Kay Hymowitz?

Ms. HYMOWITZ: Yeah - well, he raises an interesting question, and that is whether the child-man - as I call them and I still think that a guy who's playing, is spending most of his time reading Maxim, watching cartoons, and playing games is, you know, maybe - that the term child-man seems to be appropriate. But he raises an interesting question about whether he could - the child-man can still be very much, you know, a productive member of the community. And there's no question that the child-man has to support himself so he's a worker.

But I think, statistically, what you'll find is that it isn't until marriage that, that men and women, for that matter, tend to join volunteer organizations, tend to join religious institutions. Certainly, they take no interest in the schools or children in the communities until they have their own kids. So I would argue that, in fact, there is something to be said for the idea that it's not until you marry and have children that you really become a full member of the community.

CONAN: Edward, thanks very much for the call.

EDWARD: Neal, may I make a response?

CONAN: You can if you keep it short.

EDWARD: Sure. I agree that to spend time watching Maxim - reading Maxim and cartoons is foolish. Like, I don't do that, I don't have cable TV. I'd rather be connected with people and family and community. And there's a lot of men out there like that. But I agree, there's a lot of men that aren't.

CONAN: Okay. Thanks very much for the call, Edward.

EDWARD: Okay.

CONAN: And finally this e-mail from Nick, who describes himself as a 28-year-old male from Minneapolis. I am a man-child, he writes, and I love every minute. I can focus on my job, hang out, explore options. And by the way, aren't many young, successful women doing the same thing? Did you find any examples of that in your research, Kay Hymowitz?

Ms. HYMOWITZ: Well, sure. Especially in their early 20s, you see a lot of women who are equally excited about being single and going out and having fun. That tends to change for women, I think, for obvious reasons. They do have that biological clock ticking. They have - they seem to have a greater sense of a deadline out there.

CONAN: Kay Hymowitz, thanks very much.

Ms. HYMOWITZ: Okay, thank you.

CONAN: Kay Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute. You can find a link to her blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

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