What Men Talk about When They Talk About Love (and Marriage)

I’ve been working the National Marriage Project on the release of a report, “Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America.” Here’s a recent blog I wrote for them. There’s more where that came from, so check it out.

* * *

I recently reread the short story by Raymond Carver “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love” (originally titled “Beginners” which is apt here.) I’d just interviewed two very different young men in their 20s about marriage, relationships, and children and I was struck by how so little has changed since that story was written in 1981.

Carver’s story, one of my favorites, opens with three couples sitting around a kitchen table in Albuquerque with an open bottle of gin on the table and the sun setting through the curtains. They’re talking about love. They’d each been in prior relationships, which had ended in divorce and bitterness. And Mel, getting slightly drunk, is wondering how a person can love someone so wholly and then fall out of love, move on and love someone else, equally wholly. It’s that existential question: how can I be the center of someone’s life one moment and so utterly inconsequential the next?

Later, as a second bottle of gin is opened, Mel tells the story of an elderly couple who were nearly killed in a car accident—he’s a surgeon and operated on them both after the accident. The two were badly hurt and both were bandaged from head to foot. While recuperating, the husband became very depressed, even though he knew his wife was going to make it. He was depressed because he couldn’t turn his head in the cast to see her. “I’m telling you, the man’s heart was breaking because he couldn’t turn his goddam head and see his goddam wife…. Do you see what I’m saying?”

Even then, it seems, in the heyday of divorce and new avenues, Mel was pining for that selfless, enduring love—that script that says, you marry someone and love that person wholly for the rest of your life. That she or he is THE ONE. Of course that’s not always possible, but it is and was even then the ideal we somehow crave: to be the 70-year-old couple who has been together so long that your heart breaks when you can’t turn your head and see your spouse.

Nearly 30 years later than when Carver’s story was first published, it struck me after my interviews that we’re still in that spot, wanting to find the one, that soul mate who has the power to break your heart. And yet, the doubt lingers. Today’s couples also know full well that they could be those couples sitting around the kitchen table talking about their ex’s.

The two young men I interviewed could not have been more different in circumstances or outlooks, yet they both seemed to be searching for the same ideal that Carver was writing about—enduring love.

Reed, who is a videographer by training but now working in a record store while looking for a job, met his girlfriend four years ago when he was 23. He’d dropped out of college at the time, though he has since gone back and finished a degree, and they met at a party he was throwing. It was love at first sight, he says. He followed her to New York City while she did an internship at Marvel Comics, and then back to Pennsylvania so she could finish school and he could re-enroll. He finished up while she moved to DC for a graduate degree. They live there now in a “hippy-dippy, crafty” kind of neighborhood in DC.

He would love to get married, he says, but he’s conflicted. “I have a desire to get married, but it’s sort of muddled with my activist sensibilities. I love the romantic notion of marriage binding two people together and as a display of love that your family can share in, but I also think that if two people want to be joined permanently, they should be able to do that however they want. Marriage is the accepted way, but there’s all these relationships that don’t follow that script.”

He’s leery, he says, because he’s seen so many broken marriages: His parents and his parents’ friends all divorced, and as the years passed, steadily more in his family got divorced. Marriage, he worries, is almost a detriment. Why get married if we love each other?

“People are reluctant to get married because they recognize that it might not last. It’s a scary prospect. Actually, it’s not that marriage is so scary, but that divorce is such an ugly experience.”

And yet, “many of my friends can’t wait to get married. I know a lot of men who are actively seeking someone to settle down with but they can’t find mates who are willing to take that step with them. More often, women are more marriage-phobic.” They have careers and many opportunities ahead of them, he says, and they don’t want to settle down yet.

While Reed feels conflicted, wanting to embrace the ideal of marriage but at the same time not sure he wants to be part of that clan, Brad has no doubt. A junior in college, Brad has been dating his girlfriend for two and a half years. “We realized quickly that we were looking for the same thing,” he says: a long-term deal. They plan to marry as soon as one of them gets a job after graduation.

In his family, he says, there was also an emphasis on what it is to live a fulfilling life. His parents have been married for 30 years, and he says, “coming from a big religious Italian family, it was always expected that men marry nice girls and have kids.”

“Among my friends, marriage is definitely not dead. My friends in relationships, they’re all thinking, ‘all right, when should I get the ring?’ Many of my single friends wish they could find the girl who will settle down with them.”

And then there’s Ricky, whom David Lapp interviewed for the “Love and Marriage in Middle America” project at the Institute for American Values. Ricky, at age 27, has been engaged four times, all four of which fell through. Ricky is a working-class guy with little education and a string of typical jobs: working in the kitchen at Pizza Hut, delivering pizza for Domino’s, working in construction, a stint as a mechanic—none of them well-paid or permanent.

Ricky, Lapp writes, wonders why “you have to put it in paper” if you love someone and if you know you’re going to spend the rest of your life with them. It’s too much like a contract, he says. As he says, “What good ever comes from contracts really? You end up getting screwed in the long run.”

Burned before, he’s wary. “I’m not lookin’ to fall in love,” he says, “I feel like it’s for suckers.”

And yet he writes heartfelt poetry and really does, it seem, pine to be loved and to love. After all, no one proposes to girls four times who doesn’t at some level really believe deep down in, if not the institution of marriage, then at least the prospect of enduring love.

All three of the young men, it sounds to me, want to be that man in the hospital with a wife he loves so much after 50 years of marriage that he can’t bear not to see her. And yet, whether that will be in a marriage or not is the open question. This generation is living at the endpoint of a cultural moment that was in full swing when Carver was writing in 1981. The cultural revolution that was the 1960s and 1970s has handed this latest generation many more possibilities and avenues, but now without a clear script or set of expectations.

Life can be confusing without a script to follow. But in the end, all three are looking for what Mel wanted: security and comfort that you get from another person who loves you.

Will Step-Children Be There for Their Aging Step-Parents?

Happy new year, belated as it is. As I said many moons ago, I’m going to start blending research and ideas about both young adults and older Americans in this blog. And I recently attended a meeting on aging and the changing family and heard a startling notion on just that topic. 

Usually I can sit in on these discussions and take some notes, and think about the issue in the abstract. But this one hit home. 

The noted family sociologist Andrew Cherlin spoke about the rise in cohabitation, the decline in marriage, and the changing structure of the family. What does it mean, he asked, for later caregiving of elderly parents when step-families are increasingly the norm? Will the bonds be as strong among a step-daughter and her step-mom when it comes time to check in daily to make sure mom hasn’t fallen or to manage the increasingly complicated caregiving needs, let alone help pay for assisted living or other such care? Research shows, he says, that these step-bonds aren’t as tight in other realms. Step-children are much less likely to provide support to nonbiological parents.

And having just gone through the stress of an aging parent, I can attest to the toll it takes. It requires a mighty strong bond and sense of obligation to see the process through to its inevitable end.  

Research also shows that the vast majority of caregiving is provided informally, by family or friends. The magnitude of informal caregiving services is such that, if such unpaid care were not available, the costs would overwhelm our health care system. Therefore, this is a question that is not going away. 

The other question that caught my attention was who will care for the fast-growing group of women who don’t have children. Say moi? Today, about 20% of 40-somethings are childless so this is an issue that will need an answer. 

We heard a lot about resources — or lack thereof– in the agonizing fiscal cliff debates, and there’s more to come I’m sure as we face the necessary budget cuts. Most of this discussion is framed as an “us vs them”– greedy geezers taking all the resources away from future generations. Much of this discussion in turn is centered on the costs of Social Security and Medicare.

We are at a moment in our history where we can either let fear (and political opportunism) drive us to retract essential programs or we can take this opportunity to look forward and devise smarter policies. I say that rather than pitting generations against each other, we need to have a smart conversation now that plans for the future. 

Amazingly, given the short-sighted policymaking that rules the day in Washington today, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration in the 1930s took the long view. They did something that, in hindsight, was quite remarkable: they planned ahead, despite the political headwinds. Although certainly not an easy legislative feat, FDR was able to get Social Security passed in 1932, at a time when only 4% of the population was over age 65.

The foresight of this policy—implementing it when the proportion of the population that was older was quite low—is a lesson to remember. That pay-off, after all, was quite amazing. The well-known policy wonk Jonathan Gruber (aka “Mr. Mandate” for his work informing the mandate in the Affordable Health Care Act) and his colleague Gary Engelhardt, estimate that a $1,000 increase in Social Security benefits was associated with a 2 to 3 percentage point reduction in poverty rates for elderly households. According to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Social Security has a much larger effect in reducing elderly poverty than all other government programs combined. The U.S. population now relies on this foundation in retirement security.  But if it had not been created when it was, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to do so now.

Likewise Medicare.  The goal of Medicare in fact was to both ensure that the elderly had secure health care, as well as ensure that families would not be financially strained by the cost of caring for elderly parents. A main impetus for President Johnson in enacting Medicare was to ensure that people who were working hard wouldn’t lose their standard of living simply because their parents became sick and they did the right thing in supporting them.  Medicare (and Social Security before it) was, in many ways, a family policy, not an old-age policy.

The future of Social Security and Medicare today is fraught with difficulty and uncertainty, but those programs are undeniably still the most important federal sources of cross-generational economic support. We shouldn’t squander them. More of us than ever are going to need them as the family continues to evolve and as the country ages. 

 

In honor of Dot

My mom had a stroke on Sunday and has gone quickly downhill. She’s in a lovely hospice as I write, doing it her way right up to the end. As a few of my posts attest, she was quite a character, working hard to mortify me, I was convinced, and striding out ahead of her time on issues of women in sports (she gave a biography of Babe Didrikson when I was 10), the environment (we spent a lot of time in the woods and sled rides to pick milkweed pods for centerpieces), and food and nutrition. The latter was the most mortifying.

I spent my formative years in 1970s, an era when Twinkies and Ding-Dongs were hitting big and Henry’s Hamburger’s in Austin, MN, was overtaken by McDonalds. Alas, there would be no Twinkies in our house. While my friends were cracking open their fabulous Davey Jones or Partridge Family lunch boxes (replete with a thermos (!) ) to the bliss of a bologna sandwich on Wonder Bread, a mini-pag of Lay’s potato chips, and (be still my heart) a golden little log of heaven, a Twinkie, I was facing a brown sack. And not the lunch-sized brown paper bag, but a full-on grocery bag, its excess hastily rolled down in a crumple, with my name in black magic marker scrawled on the side. 

Inside was a lunch to behold. My mother, as readers well know, was not spending her free time watching Julia Child. Cooking to her was just one huge interruption. She would much rather be out in the pool, or moving the furniture around, wallpapering a bathroom (again), or sewing. I’d come home after school to the dull thump of the sewing machine upstairs and the dining room table littered with fabric scraps of another ghastly jumper that I’d be forced to wear over to Halverson’s on Sunday night. She was in love with that hideous 1970s concoction that was a nod to my tom-boy world: the shorts jumper. Half dress/ half shorts, in a loud flower print or zingy stripes. 

If there wasn’t a pattern on the table, there was wallpaper. Wallpapering to her was a timed sport. She’d slap some paste on the sheet with a stiff, malformed paintbrush that had been sitting in the Folger’s can of paint thinner since her last “project” and make a run for the wall. My dad–a very meticulous person who made a cabinet with tiny drawers just for screws–would pick up the can of paint brushes stuck to the bottom of now dried paint thinner and just shake his head. Mom would maneuver the strip of paper up on the wall, shift it around a little bit to it was at least butting up against the ceiling, rub it down to remove the biggest bubbles at least and  move on to the next one. She wallpapered a room in about 10 minutes flat. Let’s just say the seams were like those on a cheap suit. 

But back to that lunch bag. Like I said, while my friends were unwrapping their baloney in the neat sandwich bag just perfect for the size of a sandwich, I was unfurling about a yard of tinfoil to find my roast beef sandwich with butter and mustard. Chunks of butter. Chunks so big they tore the bread. Hunks of roast beef would be poking out in odd lumps and bumps. If she was on a roll, there’d also be a hunk of iceberg lettuce to further entice. For dessert–alas dessert. I would plead, plead with her to buy some Twinkies. Everyone has Twinkies, I’d cry. “You don’t want that crap,” she’d say. Oh but I did, how I did. I’d unroll my grocery sack thinking, maybe, just maybe this time she came to her senses… only to find the tinfoil and an apple, often with a big soft bruise. 

 

To say I was mortified by the lunch experience is probably an exaggeration. No, she was waiting for Halloween to do me in on that one. I sometimes think that mom should have been a stage designer. She had the creative eye but the attention to detail was a tad wanting. But on stage, those little details don’t matter. Scene design, costume design, you can have a mismatched seam and no one will know. In fact, mom often outdid herself on Halloween. I had a witch costume that rocked. She made a black cape and dress that I must have worn for five Halloweens straight. The pointy, crooked hat was piece de resistance. Slap on a fake nose and I was off.

On the other side of the Halloween equation, however, her anti-Twinkie stance prevailed. Yes, I was that house. Out we’d go, trick or treating (sans parents) to homemade carmel apples, Snickers bars, candy corn, — the bounty of sugar and chocolate was heavenly. The porch lights were on and the kids were streaming up and down the stairs, holding out their special plastic pumpkin buckets for more loot. I had the sack again, but it didn’t matter. It was filling with candy!!! 

Back at my own front porch, however, the kids were coming back down the stairs with that look I knew would hang with me for weeks at school. My mom gave out pencils. At least I thought I’m not the dentist’s kids, whose dad gives out a toothbrush. That’s guilt and no fun. But I was just rationalizing at that point. 

Alas, my mother would turn out to be, dare I say it, right. Twinkies are indeed dreadful. Roast beef is better for you than bologna. An apple by far better than a ding-dong. Pencils… well, maybe she could have gone with apples instead, but she was into making a point. 

Her death was managed in the same spirit. She was going to do it her way–and she’ll probably turn out to have a lot of foresight in that, too. The doctors were standing by to intervene but she would have none of it. When she awoke after her stroke and the doctor told her what had happened, she said, “oh I don’t like that word “stroke.”” By Friday, when it was clear she’d never walk again, she closed her eyes and rarely opened them again. For a woman who swam laps–real laps–until she was 88 and had broken vertebrae from lifting a cinder block in her garden, living in a wheelchair was incomprehensible. She opted for hospice and refused the feeding tube. As I write, her breath comes in longer intervals, but she has an air of comfort to her. As her favorite musician once sang, I did it my way. 

 

Image

Why Nurses Need More Authority

Here’s one of my first outings as part of the Network on an Aging Society. Jack Rowe and I wrote this piece for the Atlantic’s “America the Fixable” site on one way to lower health care costs–give well-trained nurses more authority, especially in rural areas that suffer from doctor shortages.

But alas, even this straightforward, seemingly practical option garners outrage. It’s a tight race, but I think “bewareoffalsegods” in the comments wins for sheer and utter stupidity. If the comments are any indication, there’s quite a contingent that needs to go back to fourth grade and bone up on reading comprehension.

Parents Are Spending $7500 Annually on 20-Something Children

At dinner with friends the other night, Sarah, a mother of two young adults, said something that struck me. We’ve all heard how hard young adults have it during this recession. Latest estimates are that more than 50% of recent graduates are either unemployed or underemployed (working at a job they’re overqualifid for). But as Sarah said, it might just be the parents who are getting the rawest deal.

“We expected to be supporting our kids for only so long,” she said. “We’re the ones who are squeezed. We hadn’t planned on this part.” Indeed. Rising health care costs (and now young adults can stay on the family plan until age 26, adding to the fee), decimated 401ks, aging parents, and falling housing values are all added on to a new cost: supporting their young 20-somethings.

Indeed, a new study by the University of Michigan for the MacArthur Network on Transitions to Adulthood (whose research I based my book on), finds that 60% of young adults age 19-22 received money from their parents in the past year, and the amounts were not unsubstantial: on average, $7,500. And that was before the recession. It is sure to have risen.

Familial Financial Assistance to Young Adults, [pdf] by Patrick Wightman and Robert Schoeni of the University of Michigan’s National Poverty Center, and Keith Robinson of the University of Texas at Austin, uses data from 2,098 interviews conducted between 2005 and 2009, with young men and women and their families to examine how much parents are giving and for what.

“Young people in the U.S. are taking longer to leave home, finish their schooling, get stable jobs, get married, and have children,” says Wightman. “And the slow transition to traditional adult roles has been accompanied by an increase in the financial support young adults receive from their parents.”

Interestingly, the researchers found that a child’s demeanor early on predicts how much financial help they will receive later. So any 12-year-olds reading this: shape up and play nice.

“Basically,” says Wightman in a press release, “this finding shows that parents are more inclined to provide extra support to children whom they perceive as more positive and outgoing. They’re more likely to help those who, even at a young age, help themselves.”

About 65 percent of the young adults lived at home for a significant portion of every year, and the analysis did not include the value of room, board or food. However it did include money for housing away from home, a vehicle, college tuition, help paying pills or just as a gift or personal loan.

Among the key findings:

  • About 42 percent of respondents reported their parents helped them pay bills, with those receiving help getting an average of $1,741;
  • Nearly 35 percent of young adults said their parents helped with college tuition, with those receiving help given an average of $10,147;
  • About 23 percent received help with vehicles (about $9,682 on average);
  • About 22 percent received help with their rent away from home ($3,937 on average);
  • About 11 percent said they received loans from their parents ($2,079 on average) and nearly 7 percent said they received financial gifts (average amount of $8,220).

“As expected, we found a large difference between high- and low-income families both in terms of whether or not they provided financial help to young adult children, and in terms of the amount they provided,” says Wightman.

About 80 percent of high-income parents provided help to young adult children, Wightman found, compared with slightly less than half of low-income parents.

“The gap is especially large for education related assistance,” he reports, which is pause for concern, given the widening income disparity in the US between those with and without college degrees. “While just 11 percent of low-income youth received tuition assistance from their parents, 66 percent of high-income youth did. And among those who did get help, kids from high-income families received an average of $12,877, compared to $5,788 for those from low-income families.”

Still, he reports, poorer families who did help their young adult children provided as great a share of their income overall as wealthier families did – about 10 percent.

Ten percent of household income is the unexpected outlay that my friend Sarah was talking about. When Boomers like Sarah were starting out in life, they felt they had a clear idea of how life would unfold, and part of that was that they would financially support their children until they were 18 and then their kids would be off on their own. They also thought they’d have a pension to fall back on, and health care costs were the last thing on their minds. But in their lifetime, everything has changed. The pensions are gone along with job security. Health care costs have risen astronomically. And now, their children are remaining at home longer as the paths into adulthood stretch out longer. It’s enough to cause anyone gray hair.

What are your thoughts? Should parents continue to support their kids? How much do you spend on your young adult kids? Are you sacrificing your retirement income to offer this support? Is there a benefit to all this?

“Older workers tire more easily” and other myths an Atlantic Magazine article promotes

Over lunch, I usually like to read “pleasant” stuff. All day I read reports on poverty or failing education policy, or how on earth we’re going to feed 9 billion people (a new topic!). So at lunch, on my break, I like to dabble in Vanity Fair or the New Yorker’s cartoons. But today I decided to read the Atlantic. Mistake.

As I mentioned a few weeks back, I’m doing a lot of work with the MacArthur Foundation’s Network on Aging in Society–a decidedly impressive group of doctors, economists, and other scientists— so a headline in the Atlantic caught my eye. “Europe’s Real Crisis: The Continents problems are as much demographic as financial,” by Megan McArdle. (Yes, I’m a nerd).

I figured I’d dip in and see if there was anything I could learn about the aging population in Europe that might apply to the Aging Network. It started out well enough, but about halfway through, I started to detect the “Kony” effect: simplifying something to grab eyeballs only. Granted, this topic of aging and its effects on the economy is not exactly an attention grabber, so you need to make it palatable. But, as much as I respect journalists, this one got to me.

A couple of flags went up in reading McArdle’s two-paragraph trot through 200 years of demographic shifts, but I’ll give her that. It’s kinda dull after all. But then she started in on the “Morningburg/Twilight City” analogy and it was downhill from there.

She uses these analogies to illustrate how good it is to have a majority of young workers and how perilous for an economy it is to have a majority of old people–those old-heads who cling to jobs and prevent young people from advancing, who are risk-averse and hate change, who aren’t as productive on the job, and who start up businesses that will never expand beyond their hobby clientele.

In Twilight City, time horizons are shorter—people aren’t looking for projects that will make them rich or famous 20 years from now. They are interested in conserving what they have. That’s mostly rational, given Twilighters’ life stage; but studies show that older people worry more than younger ones about losses and are therefore especially averse to risk. Twilighters also tire more easily and need more time off for illness, so hours worked slowly decline each year. Wages stay steady, however; Twilighters, like most people, get very angry if you try to cut their salary.

That makes Twilighters expensive—so when they lose a job, finding another is tough.  As a result, Twilighters tend to cling fiercely to their positions, and may block younger workers from getting a foothold in the labor market.

The difficulty of reemployment contributes to Twilight City’s surprisingly high, but somewhat deceptive, rate of entrepreneurship. Looking closely, we find that businesses there are disproportionately owned by semi-retirees who have hung out a consulting shingle, or become part-time caterers, or invested in a hobby business like an antique store. These businesses typically don’t have much growth potential, in part because cautious Twilighters won’t (or can’t) borrow money for expansion.

There are so many wrong presumptions there I don’t know where to start. But here’s a few, with what I’ve learned from the Network:

  • Older workers need more time off for illness: I’m not sure what her sources are, but disability rates have been rising for young workers and falling for older workers. Granted, disability is a little different from “time off for illness” but the overall trend here is one of healthier 50+ workers and unhealthier younger workers.  The sharpest aggregate growth in disability rates—50%— occurred among those aged 30-39 between 1984 and 1996 (they’d be age 46-55 today).
  • Older workers block younger workers from getting a foothold in the labor market. That is just patently untrue. The “lump of labor” theory just doesn’t hold up. The economy expands with new businesses and new job opportunities. It’s not a finite thing. There aren’t only x number of jobs in the economy to hoard.
  • Twilighters tire more easily. Ok, maybe if we were all doing manual labor on the farm, but come on. Tire more easily?

This pitting of older and younger workers is dangerous. It foments intergenerational battles that don’t need to happen. In fact, older workers complement younger workers in many ways. Younger workers may take more risks and try new things, but innovation is not necessarily a purview of the young only. And — the experience and emotional steadiness that comes with age are a nice counterpoint to more youthful rashness.

Granted, having a graying society is not ideal, but to portray it in these simplistic either/or ways is disingenuous at best and at worst prevents any serious discussion of how to change our social institutions to adapt to this inevitability.

That’s what David Canning more or less tells McArdle later in the article:

“Aging is a good thing,” Canning says. “It means health improvements and longer lives. We only think it’s a bad thing because we’re trying to hang on to these institutions. We should be welcoming these changes, but changing our institutions to match.”

Sadly, he gets no more time than that. The Network on Aging in Society is grappling those very issues– how do we recast work, for example, to increase productivity? How do we rethink our institutions of learning so they can better accommodate the need for life-long learning? How should we rethink Medicare and Social Security to encourage longer careers?  How can we tap the potential of elderly volunteers in more effective ways?

Stay tuned: I’ll be writing about them more as I dig in and learn  more.

Intergenerational living–the new normal?

It’s starting to get hard to keep up with the new wave of stories about young adults moving back home. This round, though, I’m happy to report the articles are becoming a little more positive and less snarky and judgmental. The turn of tune is testament to the growing ‘normalacy’ of intergenerational living.

The latest Pew Research survey released today reports the highest share (21.5%) of young adults living in multigenerational households since the 1950s. The survey finds that finds not only are increasing numbers living at home longer, but the fact that young adults and parents are pretty much ok with it. As the Pew study writes:

If there’s supposed to be a stigma attached to living with mom and dad through one’s late twenties or early thirties, today’s “boomerang generation” didn’t get that memo.

It’s also become, with time, a more equal co-residence. About half of those surveyed said they paid rent to their parents, and more than 90% said helped with household expenses. I’ve been saying this for about a year now–that eventually we will get so used to this pattern that the stigma will fade and it will all become just, well, normal. In Europe, which is ahead of us in living home longer and intergenerationally, it started out as a worry as well. But with time and familiarity, it became the stuff of the Gallic shrug.

In fact, Kathy Newman’s new book, Accordian Families, looks at intergenerational living broadly, comparing trends in the United States with those in Europe and elsewhere.

Christian Science Monitor article –which features yours truly– also has a more positive spin on the trend. It conveys a sense that maybe this trend is shaking out in positive ways. And looking longer-term, the rising numbers living  at home for longer could create positive sense of mutual obligation down the road, when mom and dad are in need of some support themselves as they age.

However, not all is sunny. As a recent New York Times article noted, this generation is the least mobile in decades. In “The Go-Nowhere Generation,” Todd Buchholz and Victoria Buchholz lament the loss of the quintessentially American urge to hit the road. While generations of youth have packed up and moved almost as a rite of passage, this generation is staying put. As they write:

The likelihood of 20-somethings moving to another state has dropped well over 40 percent since the 1980s, according to calculations based on Census Bureau data. The stuck-at-home mentality hits college-educated Americans as well as those without high school degrees.

They report that it’s not economics that is keeping young people tethered to their home towns, but an urge to stay more connected to where they grew up. Even if the jobs are elsewhere, they’re not keen on making the leap, they write. Could this be another sign that we’re in a new era of Americanism–one that is more rooted to place (ala Europe) and more intricately tied to extended family? If so, that can only be good for an aging society such as ours. Kids can take care of their parents, and parents can take care of their grandkids in a seamless swap of support.

More generally, this risk aversion might not be so surprising. The Great Depression cemented a long-lasting fear of risk and spending. My mother is a prime example. She has an entire cupboard of CoolWhip containers for tupperware and she buys the cheapest toilet paper on earth.  She’s not alone. A recent study finds that those who come of age in times of uncertainty are for decades later significantly more hesitant and timid in their financial matters (and other realms of life) than those who are coming into their own during flush times. An article in the Daily Beast expands on this point.

And finally, another new book adds a twist to the trends. Rather than worrying over the numbers living at home, Eric Klinenberg in “Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone,” regales readers with the benefits of single life. He’s on to something. While the numbers living at home have risen, the numbers and time spent living alone are much more pronounced. According to him, more than 50%  of American adults are single — a number that has jumped from 22%  in 1950. While he also touches on the darker side of solo lives (dying alone, social isolation), his is an upbeat assessment of this dramatic shift. It’s worth a read. Both Klinenberg and Edin’s books are reviewed here.