WBUR On Point with Tom Ashbrook had a great show on April 4, 2006 on the "Failure To Launch" phenomenon popularized by the recent movie of the same title. Tom interviews Leonard Sax a family medicine physician and a psychologist, and Katherine Newman, a Sociologist at Princeton, about the fact that the percentage of young men between the ages of 22 and 34 living at home with mom and dad has doubled in the last couple of decades.
It appears that these boy/men are like Peter Pan and have failed to grow up and achieve independence. Is this pathological, or a new form of family which we haven't seen before?
Different people have different interpretations of the phenomenon, some good and some bad, and some perplexing.
My thought is that the biggest reason for this new trend is economic. Working class and lower class men have no good ways of supporting themselves, let alone a family, with the wages that they can command. Even middle class, college educated men, have increasingly large college loan debt, and a need for graduate school education often, before they can enjoy a middle class lifestyle to which they have become accustomed living with their parents, on their own.
I also believe that there has been a deterioration in the work ethic in the United States over the last 30 years as we have shifted from an agricultural and industrial economy to a service and information economy. It is unclear what it means to work hard any more, and how this translates into economic success. The way to get rich or affluent these days is not through hard work but through investment in the stock market or positioning oneself in a career that places one at the intersection where money changes hands, not where goods and services are being produced. For example, I was shocked 15 years ago to learn that the biggest major at my Alma Mater, SUNY Brockport, which has historically been a teachers college, was business. I remembered thinking to myself at the time, "What the hell kind of a college degree involves a major in business?" When I was in high school in the early 60s, the smart kids took regents classes if they wanted to go to college, and the dumb kids took business courses and learned how to type.
At any rate, it seems to me that this phenomenon of young adult males in their prime still being dependent on parents says more about the state of our economy and social factors than it does anything about individual pathology or failings.
To listen to the show click on the link below.