THERE WILL be a test.
WHAT MAKES pre-adulthood something new is its radical reversal of the sexual hierarchy. Among pre-adults, women are . . .
. . . the first sex. They graduate from college in greater numbers . . . and they have higher GPAs. . . . These strengths carry women through their 20s, when they are more likely than men to be in grad school and making strides in the workplace. . . .
Still, for these women, one key question won't go away: Where have all the good men gone? Their male peers often come across as aging frat boys, maladroit geeks or grubby slackers . . . .
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Pre-adulthood can be compared to adolescence, an idea invented in the mid-20th century as American teenagers were herded away from the fields and the workplace and into that new institution, the high school. . . . [The] country had grown rich enough to carve out space and time to create a more highly educated citizenry and work force. Teenagers quickly became a marketing and cultural phenomenon. . . .
Like adults in the 20th century, today's pre-adults have been wait-listed for adulthood. . . .
. . . . The invention of adolescence did not change . . . the American script. Adults continued to be those who took over the primary tasks of the economy and culture. For women, the central task usually involved the day-to-day rearing of the next generation; for men, it involved protecting and providing for their women and children. If you followed the script, you became an adult, a temporary custodian of the social order . . . .
Unlike adolescents, however, pre-adults don't know what is supposed to come next. For them, marriage and parenthood come in many forms, or can be skipped altogether. In the 1970s, just 16% of Americans ages 25 to 29 had never been married; today that's true of an astonishing 55% of the age group. . . .
Given the rigors of contemporary career-building, pre-adults who do marry and start families do so later than ever before in human history. Husbands, wives and children are a drag on the footloose life required for the early career track and identity search. Pre-adult has also confounded the primordial search for a mate. It has delayed a stable sense of identity, dramatically expanded the pool of possible spouses, mystified courtship routines and helped to throw into doubt the very meaning of marriage. . . .
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In his disregard for domestic life, the playboy was a prologue for today's pre-adult male. . . .
At the same time, young men were tuning in to cable channels like Comedy Central, the Cartoon Network and Spike, whose shows reflected the adolescent male preferences of its targeted male audiences. They watched movies with overgrown boy actors like Steve Carell, Luke and Owen Wilson, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Will Farrell and Seth Rogan, cheering their awesome car crashes, fart jokes, breast and crotch shots, beer pong competitions and other frat-boy pranks. . . .
The writer should have added Dave Letterman to the list.
What explains this puerile shallowness? I see it as an expression of our cultural uncertainty about the social role of men. It's been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reading physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles -- fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity -- are obsolete, even a little embarrassing.
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Single men have never been civilization's most responsible actors; they continue to be more troubled and less successful than men who deliberately choose to become husbands and fathers. So we can be disgusted if some of them continue to live in rooms decorated with "Star Wars" posters and crush beer cans and to treat women like disposable estrogen toys, but we shouldn't be surprised.
In Middle America, marriage is in trouble. Among the affluent, marriage is stable and may even be getting stronger. Among the poor, marriage continues to be fragile and weak. But the most consequential marriage trend of our time concerns the broad center of our society, where marriage, that iconic middle-class institution, is foundering.
For the the last few decades, the retreat from marriage has been regarded largely as a problem afflicting the poor. But today, it is spreading into the solide middle of the middle class.
(The National Marriage Project, University of Virginia, "When Marriage Disappears," stateofourunions.org, December 2010)
"When Marriage Disappears" cites three cultural developments that have played a particularly noteworthy role in eroding the standing of marriage in Middle America.
First, the attitudes of the moderately education . . . appear to be turning more socially permissive . . . .
[Second,] these Americans are more likely to be caught up in behaviors -- from multiple sexual partners to marital infidelity -- that endanger their prospects for marital success.
[Third,] moderately educated Americans are markedly less likely than are highly educated Americans to embrace the bourgeois values and virtues -- for instance, delayed gratification, a focus on education, and temperance -- that are the sine qua nons of personal and marital success in the contemporary United States.
What we are seeing, then, is a growing "marriage gap" among moderately and highly educated Americans, which is leading to a stratification of our society. . . .
This is worrisome. American democracy has always depended on a relatively strong, stable middle class. If, because of the fracturing of the family, the middle class begins to enervate, it is bound to have negative, far-reaching ramifications. In addition, when marriages fail, children are the ones who absorb the most severe damage. Broken marriages and unwed pregnancies are also largely responsible for what in 1965 Daniel Patrick Moynihan called a "tangle of pathology." . . .
. . . .
. . . . For a growing number of middle-class Americans, [marriage] is a disappearing institution. And nothing good can come of that. Nothing at all.
(Peter Wehner, "Marriage and Middle America," commentarymagazine.com , December 13, 2010)
[What] we're seeing here is that Middle Americans are less connected to the institutions of work, civil society, and religion that have traditionally sustained strong marriages in this country. They're also more likely to be taking their cues . . . in marriage and relationships from places like Hollywood and Madison Avenue -- places that haven't historically . . . been sources of support for a strong marriage mindset. [They're] also less likely to have both the marriage mindset and the bourgeois values that are crucial to marital success . . . .
As a consequence, they're losing faith in marriage. . . .
. . . . Why should we be concerned about this? [Kids] who come from non-intact homes are about two to three times more likely to experience serious negative outcomes like delinquency, depression, or an arrest. . . .
[Young] men who grow up in a home without their father are about twice as likely to end up in prison before they turn 32. . . .
. . . . Teenage girls are much more likely to become pregnant as teenagers if they're raised in a home without their married father. . . .
. . . .
[Kids] who are living in any other family structure besides the intact biological married household are much more likely to be abused -- particularly kids who are living with their mother and her cohabiting unrelated boyfriend. . . .
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[For] progressives, this retreat from marriage should be an issue of central concern insofar as it is a major cause of economic inequality and child poverty in the nation. . . .
Conservatives should [also] be concerned by this retreat because marriage is really the original Department of Health and Human Services. When marriage disappears, the state has to step in as both a provider to broken families and a protector of the community against young men who have not been socialized by their fathers.
These developments . . . strike right at the heart of the American experiment in democracy . . . .
(W. Bradford Wilcox, Lecture, Heritage Foundation (heritage.org), February 22, 2011)
As for girls without fathers, they are often among my most disruptive students. You walk on eggshells with them. You broker remarks, you negotiate insults, all the while trying to pull them along on a slender thread. Their anger toward male authority can be lacerating. They view trips to the principal's office like victory laps.
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"My mom and my grandma both got pregnant when they were teens, and they're good mothers."
"Nobody gets married any more, mister," Shanice and Maria chime in. "You're just picking on us because we have kids."
. . . .
My students often become curious about my personal life. The question most frequently asked is, "Do you have kids?"
"Two," I say.
The next question is always heartbreaking.
"Do they live with you?"
(Gerry Garibaldi, "'Nobody Gets Married Any More, Mister,'" City Journal (city-journal.org), Winter 2011)
An intergenerational cycle of dysfunction is unfolding before our eyes . . . .
No less discouraging is that the response has become ingrained.
Sixteen, unmarried and having a baby? No problem. Here are your food stamps, cash assistance and medical courage. Can't be bothered with a kid? No sweat, there's foster care.
. . . . "She recently had a child by a man who is 24 years old and has [five] other children. He is homeless and does not work, but knows how to work young girls very well. . . . This young man is still trying to have more children."
He's the cause. Our community deals with his consequences.
A 16-year-old mother who reads at a sixth-grade level drops out of school? Blame the teacher. Knock the city for underserving girls during their second and third pregnancies. Blast social workers for not doing enough to help children with developmental disabilities or kids in foster care. Carp at the counselors responsible for troubled youth in detention.
Sure, tackle the consequences. Constructure a bigger, better more humane safety net. I'm for that, especially where children are concerned. And the causes?
God forbid, don't mention the causes.
(Colbert I. King, "Celebrating black history as the black family disintegrates," Washington Post (washingtonpost.com), February 5, 2011)
When I think of marriage I think of grace . . . . Marriage requires grace every moment if it's going to be what God desires it to be. Thankfully, God extends his grace to us through marriage.
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Our union with God deepens and intensifies as we grow in the image and likeness of Christ. Marriage helps us both understand and accomplish this because marriage is not only uniting but transformative.
This is the picture presented in the miracle at the wedding in Cana. We are meant to see that grace is given my God in marriage. The groom lacks wine, and Christ, in his goodness and mercy, provides it. But Christ does not send his disciples to the market. Christ extends his grace by miraculously transforming water into wine.
"People may or may not be good, may or may not be wise, but alone they are like ordinary water," writes Meletios Webber . . . . "In marriage, they can, through the intervention of God, be transformed into 'good wine' in a process which can only take place at a miraculous, 'mysterious' level."
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[God] pours out his transformative, sanctifying, saving power every moment of our lives together to enable our continual growth in the likeness of Christ and our more accurate reflection of the union of Christ and his Church.
(Joel J. Miller, "The sanctifying power of marriage," joeljmiller.com, February 21, 2011)