Friday, April 29, 2011

Younger All the Time

This article on the reason why Mormons delay marriage was interesting and certainly hits a nerve with a whole lot of people. The vitriol it generated is prolific. But I think it misses the mark yet again. The whole American population is changing, not just Mormons. And it's more about economy than it is about society.

Once American companies learned that Filipinos, Cambodians, and others will do the work for a pittance versus what they have to pay Americans at least minimum wage to do, jobs were exported. So, the 65% of the population working in factories had to find work in services or management. As soon as factories closed, people needed to reinvent themselves and went to college. College enrollment is higher than ever before. Then things became competitive because all the erstwhile manufacturers went into services and management, or at least their kids did. Today even lawyers compete for work, when they used to be guaranteed a good job after law school. It's because now we have 15% of the population in factories and the rest in all those jobs that require higher education. So, young adults have to strive for even higher education before we can bring in any real income at all. Even those who intensly dislike school consider a master's degree to get an edge on the competition.

So, combine that national trend with Mormonism. In a religion that teaches self-reliance, it's no wonder men and women are trying to gain a financial foothold before committing to an eternal relationship where they need to provide more than money, but also time, talents, and everything. While women are taught to get a degree in a world where divorce is a real possibility, men are still taught that they are to win the bread even when the rest of the world has a two-year head start on them.

But, when it comes down to it, that isn't really the issue either. It's that the American economy has real effects on American culture. It is delaying maturity. Thirty is the new twenty. Because they don't have economic resources, young adults are living with their parents well into their twenties. For some, it's mostly summers and vacations, anytime colleges close. Or, more commonly, Mormon young adults use their parents as an economic crutch when times are bad. Many move home or accept money from parents just until they can find real work. (I have.) This postpones maturity. Twenty-one-year-olds don't feel like adults. Society and economic reality have taught them they aren't. It used to be people were adults and on their own as soon as they graduated high school. Now people don't even decide what they want to do with their lives until the third or fourth year of college, if then. And then it'll take at least a few more years before they're earning enough income to pay rent and food for two mouths. I don't think a person is totally psychologically matured until he or she has direction, focus, and reinforcement, despite any urging to grow up. Sometimes, that's only from a real job where a person feels he or she contributes.