What the hell is wrong with these slackers?
Fully one-third of Americans aged 22-34 are living with their parents; this is double the rate of 20 years ago. What changed? Are American parents doomed to let as many of their boys live with them into their mid-thirties as Italian families? (85% of Italian men aged 18-35 live with mom and dad). My theory is that perhaps the proportion
of men who aren't ready to be independent hasn't changed; the rate at which men leave adolescence has always been somewhat higher than for women. What's changed is that instead of graduating college with a young wife willing to stay home and "be mom", they're graduating college with most of their female peers ambitious for careers and hungry for achievement, not picking up socks. So they go back home. My theory is weak, I admit it. Do you have anything better? I can't believe that the social stigma of living with your parents has declined enough that one-third of guys live with their moms.
Justin goes off to college for a year or two, wastes thousands of dollars of his parents' money, then gets bored and comes home to take up residence in his old room, the same bedroom where he lived when he was in high school. Now he's working 16 hours a week at Kinko's or part time at Starbucks.
His parents are pulling their hair out. "For God's sake, Justin, you're 26 years old. You're not in school. You don't have a career. You don't even have a girlfriend. What's the plan? When are you going to get a life?"
"What's the problem?" Justin asks. "I haven't gotten arrested for anything, I haven't asked you guys for money. Why can't you just chill?"
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. The project is only a few weeks old, it has called no news conferences and its Web site ( http://www.boysproject.net ) has just been launched.