The Corner

20 Somethings

Yesterday, I briefly mentioned a factoid in a NYT article on “why so many people in their 20s are taking so long to grow up.” Now I’ve had a chance to read the whole thing. It’s a mix of interesting empirical data and psychological hooey. Let’s focus on the hooey. The article suggests that we must recognize a new “life stage” known as “emerging adulthood,” in which people who are adults but have not yet fully matured must engage in “identity exploration” and embrace their “sense of possibilities.” You know: Anything but finding a steady job, a good mate, and starting a family. It’s basically an excuse to put off adult responsibilities until after you’ve turned 30, gussied up by people with Ph.D.s.

I’ll save the lectures on growing up for my own kids. If others want to defer adulthood until after a big portion of it has passed away, that’s their business. Yet it turns out that “emerging adulthood” could cost the public dearly because behind the discovery of this “life stage” is a call for federal spending:

How about expanding programs like City Year, in which 17- to 24-year-olds from diverse backgrounds spend a year mentoring inner-city children in exchange for a stipend, health insurance, child care, cellphone service and a $5,350 education award? Or a federal program in which a government-sponsored savings account is created for every newborn, to be cashed in at age 21 to support a year’s worth of travel, education or volunteer work — a version of the “baby bonds” program that Hillary Clinton mentioned during her 2008 primary campaign? Maybe we can encourage a kind of socially sanctioned “­rumspringa,” the temporary moratorium from social responsibilities some Amish offer their young people to allow them to experiment before settling down. It requires only a bit of ingenuity — as well as some societal forbearance and financial commitment — to think of ways to expand some of the programs that now work so well for the elite, like the Fulbright fellowship or the Peace Corps, to make the chance for temporary service and self-examination available to a wider range of young people. [emphasis added]

More programs! More programs! More programs! Not for the sake of “the children”–but for the sake of “the emerging adults.”

John J. Miller is the national correspondent for National Review and the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. His new book is Reading Around: Journalism on Authors, Artists, and Ideas.

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