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The case against adolescence

The case against adolescence
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First Published: Fri, Jun 15 2007. 01 10 AM IST
Updated: Fri, Jun 15 2007. 01 10 AM IST
Teens in America are in touch with their peers on average 65 hours a week, compared to about four hours a week in preindustrial cultures. A contemporary wise and moderate 33-year-old is looking to climb the career ladder, find a mate, or raise his babies. He doesn’t have a great desire to educate unruly 15-year-olds and indeed he can insulate himself from them almost completely. He doesn’t need a teenager to carry his net on the elephant hunt. Capitalist production and rising wage rates lead to an increased sorting by age. Moral education of teens takes a hit.
—Tyler Cowen
Prosperity vs marital blis
Danny Finkelstein says economic freedom and prosperity have led to family breakdown. I agree. There are numerous mechanisms here.
Start with the dishwasher. This embodies an important feature of economic growth—it’s given us labour-saving household technologies. Thanks to dishwashers, microwaves and the like, people no longer need to spend hours on household chores. This has had several effects... It means it’s more technically feasible for men and women to live alone. That alone has reduced the marriage rate and increased the divorce rate. It also means wives have had the time to enter the workforce. That’s led to more affairs—as men and women meet more often away from their spouses eyes at the workplace. And in giving women an income outside marriage, it’s increased their ability to divorce their hubbies.
This, though, is not the only way in which divorce has risen, and marriage fallen, because women no longer need a meal ticket. One feature of economic growth is a decline in relative demand for physical strength and increased demand for intellectual or social skills. This too has led to increased numbers of women workers—and the more skilled among them are not marrying and having children.
A third mechanism is creative destruction. Economic growth is—in the long run—often fastest where job destruction rates are high, as this frees up resources for more productive uses. But job loss leads to more divorce, not least because it signals to people that their spouse is no longer the meal ticket they thought.
Also, economic growth is associated (the causality goes both ways) with social and geographical mobility. This means people are less likely to meet like-minded others. That means less chance of marriage, and possibly more chance of bad marriages that don’t last.
Finally, economic growth raises people’s aspirations—it encourages the belief that you can have more, “because you’re worth it.” This in turn creates dissatisfaction, with the result that a wife with a mediocre spouse is less likely to stand by her man.
Family breakdown— not just more divorce but fewer marriages in the first place—is a necessary part of the consumer revolution, not just something separate.
This could be a big part of the solution to the Easterlin Paradox—the finding that economic growth doesn’t make us much happier. Good marriages are fantastic for our health and happiness. So if prosperity economic growth causes there to be fewer of them, it won’t make us happier.
— Chris Dillow
Democrats & capitalism
Capitalism seems “increasingly problematic” only to people who have always thought it was problematic.
But I would rather have Larry (Summers) be the one worried about it than others on the Left. Larry is less likely to aggressively push really stupid policies. In general, the Democrats have lousy instincts when it comes to economics, but they have reliably good economists.
— Arnold Kling
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First Published: Fri, Jun 15 2007. 01 10 AM IST
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