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Delaying Functional Adulthood is Biggest Societal Mistake of Our Era

February 18, 2021 25 comments

Almost a decade ago, I read an article which bemoaned that the average age for getting your first research grant as a principal investigator in american universities was now 42 and rising. A couple years later, I read another article about how female academics delaying childbearing till their late-30s to early-40s resulted in a lot of heartbreak due to the inevitable miscarriages and fertility problems. Some of you might have also read how Gen Xers, Millennials etc have a small fraction of the wealth their parent’s generation had accumulated at the same age. All of this got me thinking whether deliberately obstructing functional adulthood, now the default in every western country in past couple of decades, was the biggest societal mistake of this era with massive downstream negative consequences.

I am sure many of you, especially those from coastal areas, have heard tons of stories about guys in their 40s with decent jobs but unable to afford their own apartment or houses. And it is not just men, since the low rate of women in long-term relationships in such areas results in many of them living with roommates or their relatives. Now I am certainly not suggesting that being part of a nuclear family in a suburban house surrounded by a white picket fence should be the default. Indeed, many countries and cultures (outside the west) have significantly more communitarian living arrangements. But there is a major difference between people living in multi-generational households in Spain, Italy, India, China etc. In those countries, society is structured around such living arrangements.

In contrast to that, societies in west European countries and north America are built around the assumption that almost everybody will live in some sort of nuclear family. These societies are structured around the assumption that people will pair up, marry or cohabitate, pop out 2-3 kids and so on in a certain sequence and at a specific pace. This set of assumptions affects everything from the design and growth of suburbs, projection of automobile sales, tax receipts for schools and infrastructure, funding assumptions for universities and other post-secondary institutions etc. To put it another way, the continuity of a large part of money flow in western societies is dependent on most people living the status quo lifestyle.

But the adverse effects of societies creating circumstances that delay functional adulthood go far beyond than disrupting established patterns of money flow. For starters, these societies are built around the myth that a certain type of lifestyle (individualistic, nuclear family etc) is the only way to be perceived as successful by your peers. Contrast this to places such Spain, Italy, Mexico, India, China etc where there are many almost equally acceptable pathways to be seen as successful and “normal”. While the preferred lifestyle in western countries was realistically achievable for a majority as late as the 1990s, it hasn’t been so for about two decades- especially if you live in larger metros- coastal or not.

An ever bigger problem stemming from this profound mismatch between reality and theory is that the inability of most people to achieve a supposedly “normal” lifestyle causes them to lose faith in those societies and their institutions. That is why, for example, people above 30 who have never married or been in long-term relationships seldom do so later. It is also why a majority of people have zero trust in anything coming out the mouth of “experts” or other “credentialed” people. Such people are also not connected to the society they live in and have little to zero interest in its continuation past their own death. In other words, you end up with many highly alienated people who could care less if the system burned down in front of them.

A further consequence of societies intentionally delaying functional adulthood is that little to no progress occurs because most people are too busy chasing scarce financial opportunities or fickle social status. Therefore very few, if any, devote their livers or careers to doing anything aimed at improving the dying status quo. There is a reason why scientific advances went down over past 40 years but especially in past two decades. There is a reason why soya boys without any real abilities beyond pretending to understand, being culturally relevant etc seem to be the most common type you see in younger age groups. In summary, societies putting obstacles in the path of people becoming functional adults are doomed to slow collapse and growing irrelevance. This isn’t going to end well- is it?

What do you think? Comments?