Tuesday, April 20, 2004

New Attitudes Towards Kids and Marriage

Via Joanne Jacobs comes a facinating article in City Journal, which examines the pro-family sentiments of Gen - Xers and Millennials. Kay S. Hymowitz writes:

If you listen carefully, you can hear something shifting deep beneath the manic surface of American culture. Rap stars have taken to wearing designer suits. Miranda Hobbs, Sex and the City’s redhead, has abandoned hooking up and a Manhattan co-op for a husband and a Brooklyn fixer-upper, where she helps tend her baby and ailing mother-in-law; even nympho Samantha has found a “meaningful relationship.” Madonna is writing children’s books. Gloria Steinem is an old married lady.

Younger Americans are particularlly interested in getting married and having kids. In fact, they are "marriage nuts." (This makes me a bit nervous. I hope that people don't start feeling pressured to get married and have kids too early.)

Hymowitz also tears apart the Laura Kipnis article in the Times from earlier this year.

Much of this new attitude has to do with a backlash against their boomer parents. As Gen-Xers have kids, they have a nostalgia for a time of intact families and high parental involvement in kid's lives.

The 30-somethings who are today’s young parents show every sign of keeping the hearth fires burning bright. According to American Demographics, Gen-X parents are “nostalgic for the childhood that boomers supposedly had. It’s informed their model of the perfect, traditional marriage.”

Generational backlash counts for a lot: what we’re seeing now is a rewrite of the boomer years. The truth is, Gen Xers and Millennials have some real gripes about the world their boomer parents constructed. When a 1999 Peter D. Hart Research Associates poll asked Americans between the ages of 18 to 30 what experience had shaped their generation, the most common answer was “divorce and single-parent families.” Growing up in the aftermath of America’s great marriage meltdown, no wonder that young people put so much stock in marriage and family, their bedrock in the mobile twenty-first century.

It mentions a blog, Church of the Masses, where Gen Xer Barbara Nicolosi recently wrote, "For my generation, which has had to pay tens of thousands of dollars just to get educated—home ownership has become the American Dream again,” she writes. “(For our boomer parents, who got to go to college for cheap and who mostly inherited property from their Greatest Generation parents, the American Dream seems to have been something about doing whatever they felt like without ever getting stuck or pregnant.)”

An interest in domesticity does not mean that Gen-Xers want a return to the conformity and chastity of the '50s, writes Hymowitz.

Home, kids, career. I might have talked about that stuff once or twice. I found her comments about the Boomer backlash particularly interesting.

Before I got married, Steve and I had to decide what to do with our money. Should we keep a common account or have two separate accounts? When you get married in your thirties, you're not anxious to give up control over the bankbook. I surveyed my married friends about how they dealt with money. What I learned shocked me.

While a few kept common records, many had created complex accounting schemes. Even after being married for years, some friends had entirely different accounts and divided all expenses down the middle. Some had three accounts, one for each of them and one for common expenses. And a few women even had banks accounts containing several thousand dollars, which were kept secret from their husbands.

Why all these multiple checkbooks? Because they were all afraid of getting divorced. They had seen their mothers left penniless by cheating husbands. Women who never had a credit card in their own names or knew the extent of their savings. Even though my friends chosen good guys, they were still left with the scars of broken families. My parents were in a good marriage, but I still had lots of examples among my mom's friends who had been shafted.

In the end, Steve and I decided to keep a common account mostly because we were so poor that it seemed silly to put $1.50 in one bank account and $3.00 in another.

My generation knows first hand the impact of divorce on kids and women and wants to do things differently. They protect themselves by putting off marriage until their late 20s and 30s and even by keeping secret bank accounts. And when they do have a family, they value it. It might be corny, but I just think it's just smart.

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