There is an article in the New York Times that is garnering a lot of attention on a familiar topic, the delay of adulthood or the extension of adolescence, however you want to look at it. The essay, What Is It About 20-Somethings? , is a fascinating and disturbing look at the state of 20-something adults.
The 20s are a black box, and there is a lot of churning in there. One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year. Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once. They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch. Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. And marriage occurs later than ever. The median age at first marriage in the early 1970s, when the baby boomers were young, was 21 for women and 23 for men; by 2009 it had climbed to 26 for women and 28 for men, five years in a little more than a generation.
We’re in the thick of what one sociologist calls “the changing timetable for adulthood.” Sociologists traditionally define the “transition to adulthood” as marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had, by the time they reached 30, passed all five milestones. Among 30-year-olds in 2000, according to data from the United States Census Bureau, fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so. A Canadian study reported that a typical 30-year-old in 2001 had completed the same number of milestones as a 25-year-old in the early ’70s.
I read a take on this topic yesterday from Mark Driscoll. This should have been an excellent post from Mark but it didn’t turn out that way. Unfortunately Mark reverts back to form, going for cheap laughs in lines like this:
The tough retrosexual guys consume women, porn, alcohol, drugs, television, music, video games, toys, cars, sports, and fantasy leagues, as if being a man is defined by how much meat you can shove through your colon, how many beers you can pound, how fast you can drive, how stinky you can fart, how hard you can hit, how far you can spit, how loud you can belch, and how big your truck is.
Har har har! Guffaws all around!
This is a serious topic but it turns into a chortle fest, although frankly it is a pretty lame attempt at humor. I find it deeply ironic that in a diatribe against men acting like boys, you have a man trying to show how “real” he is by sprinkling locker room humor throughout his essay. Contrast what Mark wrote with this serious and thoughtful post from Albert Mohler on the same topic. Mark Driscoll apparently wants to have it both ways. On the one hand he wants people to take him seriously as a thinker and leader in the church, someone who has valuable insights and opinions (and who is someone that people will buy books from). On the other, he just can’t seem to resist delving back into potty humor to show that he is not some stuffed suit, that he is raw and real as if that makes his opinions more authentic, almost as if he were saying "Hey look at me, I am just as cool as you are but I talk about God too!"
The problem is here goes beyond internet pornography or video games. Those are merely symptoms of the problem and are examples of the market responding to reality. The deeper issue is that society no longer demands that men take responsibility as men and it does so by negating the single greatest maturing influence upon men: women. Getting married and having children pushes men into maturity. Having a wife and children to care for has an amazing effect on men but that is no longer a priority in society. Our cultural norms now tell women to put off getting “tied down” by marriage and kids and instead to give men what they want without expecting anything of them. What was interesting from the Times article was the impact of sexuality on maturity. We are living out the old and seemingly quant saying “Why buy the cow when you are getting the milk for free?”. It is little wonder young men don’t grow up, they are able to have all of the benefits of being an adult man without any of the responsibility. Instead of career, marriage and family maturing men, society waits around for men to become mature on their own and then get married and get a real job. Little wonder that without anything pushing them, men are acting like boys later and later into life.
I am a big believer that boys need to be prepped for being a man sooner rather than later but we find that a lot of what we value in society acts in opposition to this need. A big culprit is college (yes I am banging that drum again). Colleges have turned into hiding places where kids who have, against their will, become legal adults can extend out their childhood by 4, 5 or even more years of going to school. The line between “higher education” and “finding a place to hide until I can move back home” is getting pretty blurry. The other obstacle is enablement, parents and women enabling men to keep living out the behavior that prevents maturation. It wasn’t that long ago that men who lived at home or were unable to hold down a job were not terribly attractive to women and their parents were completely disinterested in having adult kids back in the nest.
This has a significant impact on the church. We already deal with a dearth of young men in the church. Scratch that, we have a serious lack of men at all and of those who do show up not many are terribly engaged. I would hazard a guess that the leading predictor of how engaged a man is with the church is his marital and family status and I am confident that studies would bear that out. The lack of men, especially mature men, in the church puts additional pressure on women to “fill the gaps” where men are absent and that leads to unbiblical usurpation of roles that they are not called to. In addition, more and more of the burden of ministry falls onto the shoulders of the few men that do step up in the church.
We are rapidly becoming a society of women, women without husbands and without children and that is unhealthy. More women are in the workforce than ever before as more men drop out. More women are putting off having kids until later in life or never at all. More kids are being raised by strangers in daycare and public schools and at home by women without husbands. More men are losing jobs and unable to find new ones, leading to a swelling population of men without jobs, wives or children and that is a dangerous situation.
Men and women were made to be together in the bounds of marriage and raising children together. Family both requires and fosters maturity in men and without the tempering influence of wives and children many men will stay in perpetual adolescence for decades. It is high time we demand that men and women alike grow up and start acting like adults instead of kids who can buy alcohol and drive cars.