Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hymowitz is Right About Young Adults Not Understanding What Marriage Does - But Did They Ever?

Kay Hymowitz' new book, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys, argues that young men and women are delaying marriage so much these days because they see it as something you do when you are already an adult. Now, young people who plan ahead try to get all their education done and their careers started before they marry and have children. For many women, this means they wait too long for kids.  Men do not have the same timeline, so the mismatch between the sexes creates the problem Hymowitz is writing about. There is, she argues, no certain script for adulthood, which leaves "emergent adults" emerging (or floundering) for a long time.

I think this is true - which raises an important question about the past.

Prior generations found marriage to be a formative institution of maturity.  You got married, then you figured out together how to be adults, especially when the first child came along. The script of adulthood often began with early marriage, with or without pregnancy, with growing maturity to follow.

The question I put to her at a recent seminar was this: did past generations understand marriage to be something that forms you into an adult, or did they just get married as part of the script, and then find out how formative marriage is through experience?

Hymowitz didn't know, and neither do I.  I put this question to you, blog friends, for your thoughts.


The Skirted Wordsmith said...

"Did they just get married as part of the script, and then find out how formative marriage is through experience?"

My parents and all my older relatives did just that: followed the script and then grew up afterward.

I agree that today, not as many people are following this script -- we all feel entitled to "find ourselves" before we impose ourselves on someone else. I wonder why that is?

gruntled said...

Since marriage is, inevitably, a formative institution, how married people have found themselves first?

John said...

You pose an interesting question. It seems we live in a time where it is both too easy and too hard to get married. Too easy in that there are no real strictures on two people creating a household and then decided to part ways even if there are kids involved. And as you mention, too hard because of the financial requirements for supporting a family hence the delay to get education and establish a career. One wonders if finding ourselves first dooms us to never finding an us?

gruntled said...

I don't believe we are ever doomed. I do think that people who marry and grow up together have, as a group, many advantages over those who try to grow up on their own, and then find someone to marry who has grown up in a similar-enough way.

Alec Hudson said...

As a young, single college student with no certainty in the future as of right now, I plan on getting my education finished and finding minimal financial stability before I even consider marriage. Further, as a child of divorced and remarried parents my personal experience has shown me that people need to learn to be self-reliant and stable before they can devote themselves to a serious relationship like marriage.

I can't blame people of my generation for waiting for marriage, expectations of marriage and family should be secondary to pursuits of stability and self-growth. Though marriage can help those things, learning and finding self-growth and stability for oneself is important before marriage, in my opinion.

Diane M said...

I think one thing you have to consider is that education takes longer than it used to. Earlier generations were ready for a job earlier.

I know it's anecdotal, but my grandmother talked about not getting married until my grandfather was earning enough to support a family. So I'm not sure the attitude towards marriage was different so much as what it took to be ready to support children.

Diane M said...

I also think the divorce rate and fear of divorce may be affecting current generations. The divorce rate was unusually high in the 1970s and I think it is still affecting people.(And the comment above suggests that could be true.)