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March 31, 2006

Another Mystery Solved

This is supposed to be a mystery?

This phenomenon cuts across all demographics. You'll find it in families both rich and poor; black, white, Asian and Hispanic; urban, suburban and rural. According to the Census Bureau, fully one-third of young men ages 22 to 34 are still living at home with their parents -- a roughly 100 percent increase in the past 20 years. No such change has occurred with regard to young women. Why?

My friend and colleague Judy Kleinfeld, a professor at the University of Alaska, has spent many years studying this growing phenomenon. She points out that many young women are living at home nowadays as well. But those young women usually have a definite plan. They're working toward a college degree, or they're saving money to open their own business. And when you come back three or four years later, you'll find that in most cases those young women have achieved their goal, or something like it. They've earned that degree. They've opened their business.

But not the boys. "The girls are driven; the boys have no direction," is the way Kleinfeld summarizes her findings. Kleinfeld is organizing a national Boys Project, with a board composed of leading researchers and writers such as Sandra Stotsky, Michael Thompson and Richard Whitmire, to figure out what's going wrong with boys....

...In Ayn Rand's humorless apocalyptic novel "Atlas Shrugged," the central characters ask: What would happen if someone turned off the motor that drives the world? We may be living in such a time, a time when the motor that drives the world is running down or stuck in neutral -- but only for boys.

We have turned off the motor that drives America. Boys (and men) need to be needed, to have a role; to build, to discover, to support, to defend, to explore. If we emasculate them, if we tell them that the very qualities which make them essentially masculine are somehow anti-social and need to be suppressed, should we be surprised if they opt out of the race? Who wants to run it dressed like a girl?

If we treat them like overgown children, should we be surprised when they fail to grow up?

This isn't rocket science.

Posted by Cassandra at March 31, 2006 08:35 AM


No, it's a lot less mysterious than even that. Just read my blog post to find the answer.

Posted by: Half Sigma at March 31, 2006 10:27 AM

The problem with boys is a reflection of what is happening in not just American culture, but around the world. Men often stay at home well into their thirties in in OPEC nations and Europe as well. Much of it is simply economics, with housing being more expensive and semi- professional and blue collar jobs not providing the income necessary to support a single person, leave alone a family.

However, boys do seem to be maturing much later than just a generation ago. The pressure to be a man is still there, it has simply evolved. Two generations ago a man was expected to be self sufficient and a provider. A generation later he was expected to be self sufficient, and if a family was in the plan, the wife would work to contribute income for their standard of living. Now what largely defines a man is how many muscles you have and how homophobic you are. Having a job is relevant as well as having stuff, but a professional job and the house with a two car garage is loosing appeal to many that simply have little prospect of reaching such a lofty goal. The Ipod and cell phone as trophies will just have to suffice. Still pressure, but different.

Though it is perceived that America is the land of the free and our economic system is the best, and our system should be readily exportable around the world, this country is hardly free. It is demonstratively materialistic andpredicated on debt. Man at his worst, and best, was meant to be truly free to express his maleness. In such a heavily structed technological world this is simply no longer the case. With women earning their place in the economic strata, there is little economic need for men in there lives.

With lessened expectations and dimenished urgency to excel in anything, the trend will continue to move downward as far as community contributions. Men can expect women to be more in charge of things, ergo expect it to no longer be a "man's" world, but a woman's world. Which may not be such a bad thing after all.

Posted by: John Hughes at March 31, 2006 10:59 AM

Personally, having watched the interaction between men and women, I think we need the contributions of both sexes to the workplace. I happen to think women offer a lot of valuable qualities when they're not whining about equality (for instance, I think I am very adept at negotiating potentially adversarial situations and getting both sides to cooperate while steering them in the direction I want them to go, something I think female people skills are uniquely well suited for). On the other hand, I am just plain not aggressive, and I have no problem leaning on my male co-workers when we need to play good cop/bad cop. I don't like confrontations.

Oddly though, for some reason I am far more frank than most of the guys I work with and if someone needs to say "no" to a client, I am almost always the one who will deliver the bad news straight up. And I seem to be able to do this without raising hackles the way I've seen my male coworkers do.

And I would be the worst sales person on the face of the earth. Don't ask me to pressure someone into doing something they don't want to do - it ain't happening. I can make a case for anything (and I've written up arguments for others to present) but I'm not going to go to the mat or go mano a mano with anyone over it. It's really not in my nature. And guys in general are bigger risk-takers, while women in general are better at creating and following procedures. You need both kinds of people in an organization. One type creates efficiency, stability, and order and the other keeps the firm from becoming hidebound and overtaken by events.

So men and women make a good team. I wouldn't want to live in a completely male-dominated world, and I know I don't want to live in a world run by women.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 31, 2006 11:23 AM

I think I agree with Half Sigma. The main thing is the money -- housing, in a lot of places, has gone through the roof.

I think the future is telecommunications -- once the standard is that people telecommute to work (as I now almost always do), they can do their jobs from anywhere, which means they can live anywhere. Instead of having to cluster near big cities, we can spread out as much as we want. Then, since you can pick a spot where you're not having to compete with a thousand other people for the same house, you can expect lower prices, a better house, and more land.

At that point, I expect you'll see a lot of social changes, including more folks moving out earlier. I mean, I kind of like the idea of keeping the family together, having a big compound, if you've got enough room and property. But I think a lot of people find they enjoy having a bit more space, and a bit less overwatch from their mothers. :)

Posted by: Grim at March 31, 2006 11:41 AM

That line of reasoning gets zero sympathy from me.

As a mother of two sons, they would have felt my shell-pink toes in their rear quarters very quickly if they were in their twenties and still trying to live at home. Not because I don't love them, because I do, but because a child needs to stand on his own two feet if he's ever going to have any self-respect. My boys never had any expectation that we would pay for their rent and they managed just fine on their own. They need to live within their means and plan for the future, and living at home teaches them to do neither of those things.

My oldest boy stayed at home a grand total of two months after graduating college. My youngest lived at home for a few months while he saved up the down payment for his condo, then he too moved out. This is not rocket science.

There has never been any question that I would help them if they truly needed it, but I have to say that neither of them has ever asked me for a single stinking dime. I think they would die first. I am so proud of them.

Occasionally I have given them money, but they know it's *my* idea and I don't make a practice of it because I think at this age it is better for them to learn to be self-sufficient. We do put matching funds in their retirement accounts to encourage them to save.

I have to say that every time I see a kid acting like this, I see a parent who is essentially an enabler: always stepping in and treating their son or daughter like a little child. Well of course they don't act grown up -- every time they try, you undercut them!

I guess my approach was always to praise them to the skies for being self-sufficient and then, later on, find a quiet and indirect way to reward them in a way that doesn't undermine their independence. I think that's especially important with boys because we are very close emotionally and no one wants to be a Mamma's boy. They need their space.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 31, 2006 11:57 AM

Sorry if that sounded ferocious. I just can't imagine something like the linked article - a 26 year old "man" with no school, no career, living at home and just screwing anything on two legs.

That's I like to think of as an oxygen thief.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 31, 2006 12:01 PM

I completely agree with Cassandra. If men aren't living up to their responsibilities - not as men, but as grown-up human beings - then the problem lies not with some "larger social problem" but with the parents who don't requires that their boys be every bit as independent as their girls.

Maybe because women recognize how lucky they are to be able to work and achieve equally with men - and how recent this phenomenon is - we don't take it for granted and we don't let our daughters take it for granted.

The way this article is written, it sounds like the author is saying that men, who've always had these privileges, would rather not play in the clubhouse if it's going to be full of yucky girls who don't laugh at their porn jokes.

Posted by: Shae at March 31, 2006 12:57 PM

Now, I don't want anybody to get hurt while patting themselves on the back.

Posted by: RIslander at March 31, 2006 01:02 PM

Oooch! Ouch!

[crawling away...]

I take it from this, RIslander, that you think it's a good thing for young 26 year olds to live with their mommies and daddies and not get jobs? :D

I realize how my first comment sounded. That's why I put the second comment up there. But when you've lived through two years of fighting with a headstrong boy I guess you still have a lot of pent-up defensiveness. Like I said, I hate confrontations, and living with a young man who is thrashing out the growing up process is one constant confrontation.

If I'm not terribly forgiving of people who fold, it's because there wasn't a single day when I didn't want to run screaming into the hills, or give up. But I honestly don't see how you can do that if you love your kids and want them to stand on their own two feet. But I suppose your mileage may differ. It's a free country.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 31, 2006 01:10 PM

I wonder how successful I'll be at getting the girls away from their mother. Son #1 is on his own, as is Surrogate Son. But I get the sneaking suspicion that I'm going to have to marry the girls off in order to get rid of them. It's just too easy at home.

Posted by: spd rdr at March 31, 2006 02:40 PM

I guess I'm just hanging with the wrong crowd. As an IT professional I work with a bunch of Gen X'ers and younger, and by and large I rate them better than their parents (the '60's generation). They're working for their goals and doing a damn good job at it. Last year as a deployed geezer I got to work with a lot of 19 and 20 year olds that may have appeared immature at times, but when the chips were down, I could count on them. OK, there's some losers living with Mom out there, just like there were some losers living in communes. I'm not ready to write of the gender just yet.

Posted by: Pogue at March 31, 2006 02:47 PM

My mother in law said something very smart. After she graduated from finishing school and while she waited for my father in law to graduate from the Nasal Academy, she lived with her parents, but she paid them rent in recognition of the fact that she was now an adult.

It gave her some freedom and paid them back for their sacrifice in continuing to care for her past her 18th birthday. It "balances the scales" and is a symbol of the passage to adulthood.

After we were married, we couldn't afford to live together after about a year and so I had to move back up here to find a job where the market was better. I moved in with my parents but I paid them rent too. They (as I recall) were dead set against the idea, and I don't think I paid them very much money either. I didn't make much, truth be told. But that wasn't the point. It was the principle of the thing - it was their house and I lived there the better part of a year until my husband could get through college and into the Marines.

We started out with nothing because we were dumb, and my parents are incredibly generous and kind. I have given my kids money on occasion and my parents have given me money too. Family does that for family.

But when we were first married, what I tried to do if I needed something was ask them to deposit a sum into my savings and use that as collateral for a share secured loan instead of having them give me money outright. That way I built my credit rating and it wasn't a gift - after I paid back the loan I gave them their money back with the interest they would have earned and they weren't any worse off, plus I had compiled a credit record. Recently one of my sons was trying to figure out how to afford something without using credit cards and I offered to do the same for him.

Makes a lot of sense. There are ways to help kids without making them dependent on you. I owe my parents and in laws a lot and I will never deny that. I have also tried not to abuse their generosity because they are such good people.

I think your kids will do the same, mr rdr. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 31, 2006 03:03 PM

Thinking over some of my comments, and remembering those years when my boys were growing up, I kind of have to laugh [and suppress a shudder].

My husband was always much harder on the boys than I was, 98% of the time, right up until the time they turned about 17 or so, and then I was much tougher on them than he was.

But they told me once that though they weren't the least bit afraid of me, if they really wanted something they would go to him over me because when I said "no" I really meant "no". He was more reasonable about some things than I was sometimes and I depended on his advice more than once when they had spun me up, as kids do from time to time.

I think I was tougher on them two times: during the first two years when the ground rules were being established (who was in charge - me or them) and during the last year they were at home. And I think that was because both times I thought what was going on was critical to their development, and moreover I was much stricter that last year because I was frightened for them. I knew I wouldn't get another shot, and I figured the world was going to be tough on them, and they'd better get their act at least somewhat together before they left home.

If they were going to mess up, I wanted it to be while I was still around to help them pick up the pieces. Raising kids is a scary business. There are no guarantees - I've seen people do everything right and still a child goes wrong, and do everything wrong and a child turns out wonderful. So it's not like the parent can take credit. You do what you think is right and hope for the best.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 31, 2006 03:19 PM

Show a little passion baby,
show a little style
Show the knack for knowing when
and the gift for knowing how
And have a little trust
when fear obscures the path
You know we got this far darling,
not by luck, but by never turning back
Some will call on destiny,
but I just call on faith
That the world won't stop,
and actions speak louder
Listen to your heart
(to what your heart might say)
Everything we got, we got the hard way

Caught up in our little lives,
there's not a lot left over
I see what's missing in your eyes;
you're searching for that field of clover
So show a little inspiration,
show a little spark
Show the world a little light
when you show it your heart
We've got two lives,
one we're given and the other one we make
And the world won't stop,
and actions speak louder than words
Listen to your heart, what your heart might say
Everything we got, we got the hard way...

Posted by: Cassandra at March 31, 2006 04:20 PM

I just think there's something right and noble about a family, finding that times are tougher than they used to be, pulling together and taking care of each other. The family gets stronger, I think, by putting a common goal ahead of their individual interests -- and I think that's true of every member of the family.

If you're living at home and being a loser, that's one thing. But if you're living at home and working, contributing to the upkeep of the family -- that's a good thing. Not only is there nothing wrong with that, there's a lot right with it. Big, extended families all working toward their common good used to be the rule in America, and we weren't a weaker society then.

Posted by: Grim at March 31, 2006 07:08 PM

I am nearly 60, so maybe this article doesn't apply to me. Never-the-less, when my Dad died, I moved back "home". Life's circumstances conspired to leave me an empty nester with no other family ties. Dear Old Mom is nearly 90. Without someone living with her we kids would have to fight over nursing home care and the other uglies of an elderly parent. I am the only child without other obligations who can move in with her.

After being here for a couple years, in a house that is hers, with the bills in her name, I can bear witness to the effect of living as a sponge off parent's largesse. I feel somewhat dimished compared to my siblings independance. As if, somehow, I am living on their inheritance.

It does diminish one's sense of independance and self worth. And makes one susceptible to irresponsible behavior. Yes, I have an independent income. But I still look twice when I pass folks conversing about "sponging off their parents". I wonder what Dr. Sanity would say about it. Or Shrinkwrapped. Sigh.

I can imagine how such circumstances would prevent a youg man from reaching his potential.

Kids should be kicked out of the house at about the age of 18. Supporting a family is a wonderful way for post-teenage children to learn responsiblity. I recommend marriage for folks in their early twenties. It is important to their ability to make it in a competitive world.

Posted by: happyhill123 at March 31, 2006 07:21 PM

I think so too Grim :) Don't get me wrong.

But that is not at all what was described in the article I linked to. That was young, single, able-bodied men who have no disabilities mooching off their parents because they have no ambition to get out there and work hard to better themselves. It is different if you have family responsibilities and fall on hard times - kids change everything.

But back to the linked article. Housing prices aren't going to cut it for me. Housing does not cost more for a man than a woman - if that were it then young women would be staying home too! And sharing an apartment just does not cost that much, and if it does you are living in the wrong area and maybe you need to consider moving. We do not all get to live where we want.

My kids wanted to live in California, but housing was too expensive so they moved back here. They may have to move out of the area, which will really break my heart, but makes financial sense, because that will make it possible for them to buy a house and live on one income while they have kids. That is important - to have my daughter-in-law at home with the children during their early years, and I couldn't agree more. I don't like it one bit, but I applaud their good sense. You do what is right for your family. That is what I tried to raise my boys to do: be sensible and think of the long term.

There is nothing most of us wouldn't do for our children if they needed us. That's one reason I don't quit my job. I still think: what if my kids need something? Even though they are gone, it is nice to have the extra income as a fallback with the prospect of grandchildren in the future. I don't tell them this, but I'd like to be able to help them buy a house. I won't help them up front because they need to figure out that kind of thing for themselves and I don't want to meddle, but once they get it all arranged I would like to be able to slip them some money on the back end if they say it's OK :) That's an investment in the future of the family.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 31, 2006 07:24 PM

HH, it kind of sounds as though you are doing that, at least in part though, to take care of your Mom. Her inheritance would be eaten up by nursing home costs if you weren't there - my sister in law is dealing with that scenario now.

Isn't that a different thing?

I know what you mean though. My parents are so wonderful. They have always been very willing to help me, but I have always been aware how easy it would be to take advantage of that generosity - to become dependent on it, and so I have tried to make my own way. Maybe that's one reason I'm so prickly about keeping my kids independent. I honestly think it is best for your own sense of worth. That feeling you speak of is exactly what I worried about when living with my parents, and when one of my sons lived with my parents for a brief time in between apartments (their house is nearer his job and he has no car so he needs to be near the train) he paid them rent for that same reason. They would gladly have put him up for free because they're that nice. I imagine it's worth it to your Mom to have you there. My parents aren't anywhere near that point yet.

As Grim says, families help each other because they care about each other's welfare, and everything can't be neatly measured out in dollars and cents.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 31, 2006 07:35 PM

Hey, while we're talking about how unfunny Ayn Rand was, and how boys got it tough out there, and frankly how unfair everything is, especially getting old and all the rest, just WHERE IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT'S DECENT IS PILE ON'S FRIDAY SATIRE ENTRY?

(this space intentionally left blank)

Just asking, really. I know you think we don't notice these things, but we're not as slow as you think, Miss Cassandra Blog Princess. One throwaway line about pushing a penguin off a cliff isn't enough Pile On for a week. Have I la crossed the Rubicon here?

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at March 31, 2006 07:47 PM

:) :) :)

I *knew* he was going to upstage me, durnitall!

I hate his guts and livers. Where is the troublesome fellow??? Probably drinking beer. And I'm supposed to be cleaning. Or working. Or something. Heh...

Seriously, he had a tough week at work.

He's probably drinking beer.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 31, 2006 07:51 PM

Well, and so am I. Good for him -- but I just wrote a blog post anyway. No excuse. :)

Posted by: Grim at March 31, 2006 07:54 PM

Get off me peoples, I never promised any regular features. Homey don't work that way.

The man has me teaching (the progeny of immigrants sans papers)to the test 6 God forsaken days a week now.

Sure, I could write a post right now....but I promise you it would not be another weak attempt at humor.

So uh....what is the topic here?

Posted by: Pile (your humble correspondent) at March 31, 2006 08:21 PM

I think I can summarize here in 25 words or less:

Boys got it tough, made into sissies, living at home with mom and dad, and spd rdr can't imagine getting his 19 daughters married off.

There, 25 words. Ha.
I would also mention, that to the blog-aware, this isn't rocket science, and that Ayn Rand wouldn't have made it as a stand-up comedian, despite the fact she was Jewish.
There's other things going on here too. Grown-up "kids" taking care of their parents, old grumps who like Gen-Xers, stuff like that.

Okay, Pile On. Synthesize all this into a biting knot of satire. Whatsa matter? Little Texican chemistry chicas gotcha buffaloed???

Notice: This thread has been officially hijacked.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at March 31, 2006 09:48 PM

Well, if it's hijacked, may I suggest a wee diversion? We'll make men out of the little bastards yet.

Posted by: Grim at March 31, 2006 09:52 PM

*tiptoing in*
I am reading all of these and taking notes. Keep up the discussion, please.

One thing I can contribute as a parent who still has kids at home is that they need to be encouraged. There is nothing like being able to talk to either parent to help them get their world right.

Then there is the Major Payne method of child rearing...

"I call it nurturing."
Major Payne: "I call it neutering."

Posted by: Cricket at March 31, 2006 10:43 PM

My situation was different than most,I got sick at twenty six(kidney failure)and that is the main reason I'm still at home with my parents and trust me I wasn't happy about it at all!I had big plans for myself;didn't happen!I'm now a A kidney transplant patient who has still struggled with her health,but,God is seeing me through this,and Although I'm an only child ,I do what I can here at home financially,and physically,but,your right,men do need to grow up but if they have issues like drugs and alcohol that makes it worse,and that is a problem in my immediate family,and a lot of times these mothers coddle their son's too much,and try and still protect them old men as if they were six or seven.I ashked her what would she do when she isn't here?most of them don't think like this!

Posted by: Lisa Gilliam at April 1, 2006 03:24 AM

I think that's another example of what Grim was talking about, Lisa: families taking care of each other. As I said, there is nothing on this earth I wouldn't do for one of my boys if they needed me.

I've often asked myself, for instance, what would happen if my oldest son (a cop) were shot and had to go on disability. I wouldn't hesitate for a moment to help. And if they needed to come live with us then I would be glad I could be there. Extended family used to provide the 'safety net' that government seems to provide today, but I kind of see that as something you do for those you love as a matter of course.

The good thing is that you appreciate what your parents are doing for you and would rather be out on your own. A lot of these grown-up kids just seem to take it for granted that someone is going to do for them. I will admit I have a bug in my ear about this because of a couple of examples we've run into in 'real life' recently that just stunned me. My frustration over that was part of what motivated me to write this post.

As bad as I feel for the parents, in a way I almost feel worse for the kids. There is something pitiful about seeing someone in their mid-twenties or even thirties continually making really dumb choices and running back to their parents to have them 'make it better'. What on earth are they going to do when Mommy and Daddy are no longer around? And why can't the parents see what they are doing to their kids?

Posted by: Cassandra at April 1, 2006 06:31 AM

I see a lot of posts suggesting complicated pyschological reasons when the phenomenon is simply and easily explained by rising housing costs.

However, I may point out that the notion that there's something wrong with unmarried adult children living with their parents is pretty unique to modern times. Until sometime in the last century, extended families were the norm.

Posted by: Half Sigma at April 1, 2006 11:58 AM

And are rising housing costs to blame for the fact that young men are no longer going to college like their female cohorts are, which would in turn bring their wages up, allowing them to afford housing?

Do landlords charge men more than women for rent?

Posted by: Cassandra at April 1, 2006 12:26 PM

And in answer to your question, I don't necessarily see anything wrong in extended family living together as long as everyone is pulling their weight.

It does, as HappyHill pointed out, pose some issues with independence. And it is hard for a young person to separate from his parents emotionally if he never moves out. It's possible, but difficult. At some point you need to cut the cord. I am still very close to my kids. I see them all the time.

But there is a recognition that they are adults now. I don't interfere in their business. I don't offer them unsolicited advice. I try not to intrude on their privacy and I try to respect their "space" or whatever the heck they call it these days. In other words, there are boundaries, and I try to observe them. Other than that, I love them without measure and I'd do anything for them.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 1, 2006 12:32 PM

"And are rising housing costs to blame for the fact that young men are no longer going to college like their female cohorts are"

At the low end of college, men see that they can make more money with blue collar jobs than with a degree from a bottom level college.

Top colleges have no shortage of male students.

Posted by: Half Sigma at April 2, 2006 05:37 PM

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