Like many college students at some point over the past month, I spent a few days moving into a new place for this upcoming school year. Scaling several flights of stairs while hauling hand-me-down furniture in which the original ownership is no longer known (perhaps for better, because you might not have accepted that sofa if you knew its past) is almost rite of passage for students as they get settled into their new apartment, dormitory, or house. It represents a certain independence from your parents and the pre-college years, where you learn to live, cook, budget, time-manage, clean, and other responsibilities that you may have once taken for granted when Mom and Pop were just down the hallway. You develop in a way that is intended to better you for once you’ve nabbed your diploma and hit “the real world.”
Yet, for those that have read Mark Steyn’s After America, we see that this formerly formative period in one’s life – the whole “baby bird leaving the nest and spreading its wings” episode – may actually only last through your undergraduate career, if it all. Steyn describes an Italian court ruling in which a sixty year old father must continue to pay Marina, his thirty-two year old daughter who is still working on her thesis eight years after her last class, a monthly allowance:
Marina is what they call a “a bambocciona,” which translates roughly, as “big baby” – a term that the ever-growing number of Italian adults still living at home, in the same bedroom they’ve slept in since they were in diapers.
Marina is the norm, not the exception: seven out of ten adults aged 18 to 39 live with their folks in Italy. Steyn also sheds light on the “bambocciona” equivalents in Germany (Nesthockers) and Britain (KIPPERS). “Today, most developed nations have managed to defer adulthood,” Steyn remarks. Here in the U.S., close to 40% of those between the ages of 25 and 34 are living in their parents’ home, which has doubled since. We’re far enough behind the trend to correct ourselves before it gets too late, but close enough to see it’s not unthinkable that we’d reach that point.
It seems counter-productive: work hard to go somewhere, only to end up where you started after a lot of time and money. It’s like an old Jerry Seinfeld bit about horse-racing. Panting after the race, the horse wonders why he just ran so fast to finish exactly where he just was a minute ago.
I understand there are many reasons to all this, ranging from economic to political, but it just seems more cultural to me than anything else, which is ultimately influencing the other areas. To a certain degree, there's an approach towards college that it’s a multi-year summer camp: you go somewhere new, have some fun, entertain your hobbies, meet some cool people, and (maybe) learn something along the way. What happens when this metaphorical summer comes to an end though? Well, I guess as we’re seeing, Mom and Dad come pick you and your stuff up and its back to their place.