Preadulthood is a consequence of two related economic trends that are reshaping both men and women. The first is the extended period of training -- college and beyond -- deemed necessary to the modern economy. The second is women's flourishing in the new economy, two developments that make Hymowitz's book so timely.
Hymowitz says economic changes drive cultural ones. She puts economic conditions first -- along with the increasing professional accomplishments of women. “Preadulthood” is "an adjustment to huge shifts in the economy, one that makes a college education essential to achieving or maintaining a middle-class life."
Hymowitz points to the lifetime earnings gap separating college graduates from those who have only a high school diploma. But a changing economy more friendly to the educated is also "very, very female friendly," offering women more career choices. Last year, women became a majority of the workforce: "At the heart of preadulthood is women's determination to achieve financial independence before marriage."
Right now, the "second sex" dominates higher education from attendance data to graduation statistics. After graduation, young single women out-earn men in nearly every U.S. city, and they are more than twice as likely to own real estate. More education typically means delaying marriage. The average college-educated woman now waits until 28 to wed. And what goes for the goose has to go for the gander. Forty years ago, 80% of men aged 25-29 were married. Today it's 40%.
Why do men suffer in “preadulthood”? Libertarian scholar Charles Murray blames government social programs that slam non-college males. Welfare state programs have had a devastating effect in many inner-city communities. Murray says that when “the children of the woman he sleeps with will be taken care of whether or not he contributes, then that [man’s] status goes away.”
Journalist Hanna Rosin, writing in the same vein, describes a group of men in Kansas City she calls "casualties of the end of the manufacturing era."
The 30 men sitting in the classroom aren't there by choice: Having failed to pay their child support, they were given the choice by a judge to go to jail or attend a weekly class on fathering, which to them seemed the better deal. Like them, [the social worker running the class] explains, he grew up watching Bill Cosby living behind his metaphorical "white picket fence" -- one man, one woman, and a bunch of happy kids. "Well, that check bounced a long time ago," he says..."All you are is a paycheck, and now you ain't even that...What is our role? Everyone's telling us we're supposed to be the head of a nuclear family, so you feel like you got robbed. It's toxic, and poisonous, and it's setting us up for failure." He writes on the board: $85,000. "This is her salary." Then: $12,000. "This is your salary. Who's the damn man? Who's the man now?" A murmur rises. "That's right. She's the man."
In his book Manliness, Harvard Professor Harvey Mansfield wrote to become a man is to develop a sense of duty, which means responding productively to life's challenges. Mansfield points to a U.S. Navy ad that shows men jumping from helicopters into the ocean on a rescue mission to "answer the call."
Today, however, men are unemployed, and the cause, Mansfield believes, is modernity, which relies on technology more than duty to satisfy our needs and protect us. The economy's productivity and the government's programs provide a baseline level of security that is the "very antithesis of manliness... The entire enterprise of modernity could be understood as a project to keep manliness unemployed."
Jonathan Rauch is another writer who like Hymowitz believes shifting economics is reshaping the American family. Rauch says the new model is delayed marriage and delayed family formation, as men and women pursue their education. This leads to new gender roles, with fatherhood redefined to include children's emotional well-being, and motherhood including bringing home a paycheck.
But Rauch is speaking to college graduates. Next year Charles Murray's new book Coming Apart will argue that American behavior in the core areas of marriage and family is dividing along class lines to an unprecedented extent. For the educated upper middle class, Rauch’s new model may work fine. But in the working class, intact families are an endangered species.
Murray compares the extent of marriage in the upper-middle class relative to the working class for those in the prime of life (ages 30-49). In the 1960s, 88% of those considered upper-middle class and 83% of those considered working class were married. In 2010, the figures were 83% and 48%. That 35 percent gap "amounts to a revolution in the separation of classes in this country...Marriage has collapsed in the working class." And the rate of out-of-wedlock births has skyrocketed. In 1960 only 6% of children of working class parents were born out-of-wedlock. Today the number is nearly 50%. (Note: Murray looks only at data for white Americans to underscore his argument that class, not race, is what divides us.)
A new Pew study has figures similar to Murray’s. In 1960, nearly three-fourths of those 18 and older were married. By 2010, that number had plummeted to 51%. Four in 10 births were to unmarried women. In 1960, the most- and least-educated adults were equally likely to be married. Now, nearly two-thirds of college graduates are married, compared with less than half of those with a high school diploma or less. And those with less education are less likely to ever marry and more likely to divorce if they do. Looking at the figures, Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution concluded that “family structure is a new dividing line in American society.”
Comment: On top, married, educated women. On the bottom, unmarried, uneducated men.