Thursday, January 5, 2012

Interview: Kay Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute

The responses to the interview questions may not represent the views of The Echo Boom Bomb's author. These interviews are provided to inform readers of information from experts and provide these experts with a medium where they can answer questions without any content changes. You can also read other interviews at this link.

One prediction I make is that the Millennial generation will have a low marriage rate. However, there are other socioeconomic trends that play into my prediction - for instance, the growing emphasis on education can delay marital formation, as the claim by some media that young men and women seem to be drifting in different directions (this favors cohabitation over marriage). Kay Hymowitz has written articles and even a book based on research into a few of these observations. From her Manhattan Institute bio:

Kay S. Hymowitz is the William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. She writes extensively on childhood, family issues, poverty, and cultural change in America.

Hymowitz is the author of 4 books including Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age and Liberation's Children: Parents and Kids in a Postmodern Age. Her newest book, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Is Turning Men Into Boys, was published by Basic Books in March, 2011.

Ms. Hymowitz has also written for many major publications including The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, New York Newsday, The Public Interest, The Wilson Quarterly, and Commentary.

In addition to her writing, Hymowitz has presented her work at many conferences, most recently at "A New Era: Defining Civil Rights in the 21st Century," sponsored by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights She sits on the board of the journal National Affairs and of Future of Children, a publication of the Brookings Institute and the Woodrow Wilson School. She has also discussed her work on numerous radio and television programs.

A native of Philadelphia, Hymowitz has degrees in English literature from Brandeis, Tufts, and Columbia University. She and her husband have three grown children and live in Brooklyn.

1. America tends to encourage its children to go to school for a good job in the business world. Suppose a young person decided against that (due to a growing zeitgeist questioning education), what three things would you advise that person?

I agree that college has been oversold. But now I fear the same is happening with the drop-out, start-up romance inspired by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Still, if you’re thinking of skipping college, keep in mind the following:

One, you are only 17 (or 18) and you probably don’t know much about yourself or about the way the world works. At its best, college can provide a time out to do some more growing up before you are set loose. But if you are someone who is very independent and self-motivated, if you have an idea of something you really want to do, if you can wake up in the morning knowing that it’s completely up to you to figure out how to make that happen without panicking, or without putting the pillow over your head and going back to sleep, go for it.

Two, avoid the “grand tour” and barista traps. The best way to learn about how to align your interests and the work place is to get a job. Don’t assume you’ll figure it out by travelling through South America. And don’t put it off by taking a job at Starbucks unless absolutely necessary. You need time in the workplace just to figure out the incredible variety and complexity of jobs today. Do you know what a risk analyst does? A script supervisor? A content strategist? Probably not. There’s a world out there of new and often exciting possibilities that you’ll need to learn about on your own.

Three: be ready to change your mind, maybe several times. People often have preconceptions about what kind of work would make them happy, only to find out they had no idea what the daily grind feels like. My son graduated from college, decided to follow his “dream” job as a sports announcer. After cold calling hundreds of people, developing tapes, offering to help a fledgling team for free, sleeping on floors in strange people’s apartments in strange cities, he got a position as an announcer for a minor league baseball team in Florida. Within six months, he realized he didn’t love sports as much as he had at 16. He took a job as a producer at MSNBC, got inspired by some of the pundits and commentators, decided to get a master’s degree in public policy, and at 30 went to work in international development in Africa. He never, ever could have seen that coming at 22.

2. According to Pew (as of 2010), the Millennial generation at its current age (18-28) has the lowest marriage rate compared to other American generations at that age. What factors have contributed to this? Also, how would you respond to people who predict that the Millennial generation will have a low marriage rate?

Let’s disentangle a few important strands of this discussion. It’s almost impossible to talk about what’s happening to marriage in the United States, among Millennials or anyone else, without talking about class. The widely discussed changes in marriage – by which people usually mean high divorce rates, nonmarital births, and nonmarriage – is concentrated among the lower and working class. That group is more likely to have children in their early or mid twenties while single or cohabiting. If trends continue as they have, they will eventually marry, though often not to the father or mother of their children.

The college educated middle class – and I presume that includes most of The Echo Boom Bomb's readers – do things differently. They are waiting to marry and to have children, often well into their 30’s. They have good reason to do that. Preparing for a high end career takes years of education, internships, fellowships, moving between jobs, possibly between different cities or even different countries. (See above.) It’s awfully hard to coordinate two careers during this time.

Does this mean that Millennials will not marry in their 30’s or even their 40’s? Not based on my own observations - or the data. The percentage of educated women who get married has increased over the past decades; it’s the less educated who are marrying less. Also, the large majority of young people continue to say they want children someday. College educated men and women know from first-hand observation what research shows over and over: a child has a better chance at doing well in life – including graduating from college - if he or she grows up with her stable, married mother and father.

It’s worth mentioning, by the way, that disentangling the data in this way casts some doubt on the idea that marriage is “obsolete,” as in, no longer useful. Marriage continues to do what it’s always done: provide the most promising environment for raising the next generation. That may seem irrelevant to your life in your twenties; it won’t by the time you reach, say, 35.

3. What can be done with the educational system - if anything is necessary - to correct some of these social problems that you mention in your book Manning Up, such as young men avoiding/delaying maturity?

Up until fairly recently, people in their twenties knew exactly what was expected of them in the social realm: they were supposed to find someone to marry and start their families. Now, for the college educated at any rate, the twenties are primarily a decade for establishing a career. The social scripts – when or whether to marry, who asks for a date, who pays, whether or when to call after a hook up - have been tossed up in the air and have yet to come down. I think the ambiguities are particularly puzzling for men. Twentysomething women have more degrees, more money, and arguably more ambition than they do. Yet a lot of women still seem to want and expect some traditional moves of mating and dating from them. At the same time, they expect to be treated as equals. You have to be an emotional genius to figure it all out.

Adding to the tension is the biological clock. Women are aware, either consciously or not, that if they are planning to have a family, they’d better be settled with a husband by their mid 30’s when their fertility takes a big drop. That means they’re more likely to get serious about finding a mate in their later 20’s. With no biological pressure, men don’t have the same time frame. Some of them continue to think of themselves as boys – or “dudes” – and to think of adulthood as something way off in the distance.

Editor's Note: Kay has a point here and science agrees. Dan Eisenberg's research might indicate that older fathers carry an advantage that younger fathers don't possess. This could provide an evolutionary explanation why a few young women might prefer an older man, and also why a few men may not see the logic in maturing quickly - an older father could pass on genetice advantages to his offspring.

I don’t think the educational system has much of a role in resolving these tensions. But for the sake of their own well being, it would be a good idea for Millennials to admit that they will probably marry and have children someday, just like previous generations have, and to think of their twenties as leading up to that major life task rather than just time for hooking up and hanging out. Freud used to say that happiness requires finding satisfaction in two things: love and work. He was wrong about a lot, but that little observation holds up pretty well.

Update: updated a few errors, most notably, the last name!