The headlines regarding young males often describe gang-related murders, carjacking, and robberies. Teens and young adults who commit these crimes suffer from despair–substance abuse, depression, alienation, and hopelessness. Another less visible group of young males should be reported on as well. Though of a more privileged background, the effects of their actions are also harmful to themselves, their families, their communities, and society as a whole. Their numbers are growing, and their negative impact is increasingly widespread. Often from middle-class families, they suffer from many of the same maladies as gang members but also experience loneliness.
These young adults are usually found at home with one or both parents. They are, simply put, stuck with no job, no school, no interests, and unlike the gang members, have no social network. These young men avoid work, school, and friends to whom they would have to explain why they live with their parents. According to the Pew Research Center study in 2020, 52% of young adults ages 18-29 live with one or both parents. Males are more likely than females to live with their parents, and white young adults account for two-thirds of the increase in 18-29-year-olds living at home. These 18-29-year-olds represent the highest number of at-home adult children since the second world war. The problem of young males who fall into these two categories is not getting better, but this second less visible group’s failure to attain adulthood is reaching epidemic proportions and shows no signs of lessening.
In political economist Nicholas Eberstadt’s book Men Without Work, and political scholar Richard Reeves’ Of Boys and Men, the authors document this disturbing male young adult trend. For example, Eberstadt writes about the growing number of men who are “not in the labor force” (he calls them NILFs), revealing that the number of men who have dropped out of the workforce has tripled since 1960. The 11 million NILFs he describes include those typically counted as unemployed and those who have discontinued seeking employment. According to Reeves, the biggest fall in male employment is between the ages of 25-34. COVID contributes to young men getting stalled or derailed, but the problem started much earlier and is trending upward. Reeves also describes how though the gender gap in wages persists, women are overtaking men in many ways. For example, for every 100 bachelor’s degrees awarded to women, 74 are awarded to men. In his concerns regarding males, Reeves states that the problem isn’t that women are overtaking men in areas such as education and careers, which is something to be celebrated, but that men keep falling further behind.
Almost 90% of my work as a psychologist is with parents of young adult men. The common denominator for these young men is despair that is both source and product of their failure to reach self-sufficient independence. Once out of work and not in school, their resources shrink, and opportunities for social support or meeting a future life partner dissipate.
In the late teens or early twenties, when a young person fails at school or work and seems floundering, parents are concerned, but when this continues to be the case at 25, 26, or 27 years of age, the alarm bells ring, and rightfully so. I’m giving voice to this societal challenge on behalf of the many struggling parents, fearful of their child’s future and desperate to find help. Parent resources in this area are scarce, and parents often feel uncomfortable and embarrassed to disclose that their young adult is still at home. The problem is complex and begs for comprehensive solutions and structural changes such as those that Richard Reeves offers in his book. I’m trying to do my small part to ameliorate this worrisome situation by counseling the parents and young adults, but much more help is needed. Through my work and research, I have found that parents can do their part too, by showing love and backbone. They must offer love to get these young people help for anxiety and depression, but also grow a spine to signal that living at home and doing nothing isn’t an option.
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