Failure to launch

I have learned that there is a new social condition out there – Failure to Launch (FTL).  It is a term referring to adult children who don’t leave home at the generally expected age of somewhere between 19 and 25.  Instead, many of those children are staying at home with their aging parents and, as a consequence, remaining somewhat less-than-mature and less-than-able in the world.  It is not good.

It is not good for the aging parents, of course, who need to get on with their lives but it is also not good for the ‘subsidized’ young adults who will be left unable to properly fend for themselves when the time comes – which it inevitably will.

And no, I am not talking about one or two young adults.  According to statistics, the number is closer to 30% of the baby-boomer’s children!  That is a helluva lot of young people caught up in some kind of weird generational dystopia.  A dystopic world consisting of basement bedrooms, video-games, under-employment and unreal expectations.  It is a world of loneliness, too.  One of three are not ‘in the game’ that their peers are playing.

This is a social epidemic of dysfunctionality.  And it is a tragedy of immense proportions.

Part of the reason for this, I think, is the recent phenomena of women working full-time.  The only major statistical change in the last few generations is women in the workforce in droves.  That means fewer mothers at home.  There is no greater incentive for a young person to leave home than a nagging, cloying mother treating emerging adults as children.

And, when a young man is feeling his testosterone, if the only female in his life is his mother or sister, there is a built-in primal check and balance that has him reject them for someone new.  Someone new requires getting out more.  So, he goes.  And so goes his sister.  But working women are not so omnipresent at home these days and watching TV in the rec room is made so much easier.

Of course, it is much more complicated than that, I am sure.  In the old days, fathers were not SNAGs (senitive new age guys) and were generally more belligerent than the modern Alan Aldas of today.  Which I think is a good thing.  But the law of unintended consequences plays out in the bull mooses of the family NOT butting heads as was so often the case in the past.  Personally, it was my father’s nasty disposition that prompted my leaving home at nineteen and had me planning my departure years earlier.  That is not the Disney or Father Knows Best force we have all come to value but still it was quite an effective launching mechanism.

More liberal sexual mores are also a factor.  Seems many kids are sexually active now in their early teens.  If you are living at home and your sex life is condoned by your parents, society and by your now-more-willing partner, then another reason-for-leaving home has been eliminated.

And, I guess, most families being somewhat better off financially has also made the need for another adult’s income or, at least for the launching of a mouth-than-can-work, somewhat reduced.  If the parents can easily afford to keep the adult child, then the need for that child to make his or her own way when they can is alleviated.  Wealth can undermine the next generation’s independence as history has shown time and time again.

Of course, some kids are just dysfunctional.  That, too, has been the case throughout history.  But that contingent has always been a small number.  Thirty percent is unprecedented.  We have and are continuing to do something very wrong on a very large scale.  There will be consequences.

There already are.  A few of my relatives are FTLs and they are not happy, motivated, citizens-in-the-making.  They are angry.  They are bitter.  And they are becoming increasingly more dispirited.  In fact, one young relative tore a strip off me one day for being part of the generation that ‘owns a house when I never will’ and ‘holds on to the job so long that I will never get one’.  That I retired at 55 saved me from a further tongue lashing but the attitude was manifest.  He is not a happy camper.

Spoiled rotten?  Dysfunctional?  Socially challenged?  Unfit?  Not really.  He had a degree but couldn’t get a job in his profession.  Claimed all the baby boomers were staying on too long (teaching).  But he was sociable, intelligent, and spoke and presented well.  He could have been hired – but just wasn’t.

Unfit?  Definitely getting there.  His attitude is not good.  And it is not getting better.  But he didn’t start that way.  Fifteen years of not being able to enter the workforce was showing.  He would not have been my first choice had he just interviewed with me, that is for sure.

Even though ‘launching’ does not require a house, the goal of having one someday is usually in the back of everyone’s mind.  When I was young and starting out, houses were outrageously expensive.  Seemed way out of reach virtually all of the time I was trying.  A reasonable but modest house cost as much as ten times my annual gross salary.  If I made $7000 a year, the house in my neighbourhood was $70,000.  Today, houses in that same neighbourhood are a million dollars or more.  To keep to that already almost-impossible earnings-to-house-price ratio a young person starting out has to earn $100,000 a year.  Even if some young person is part of the newbies group who gets a job, they don’t earn that much.  And, if you are un- or underemployed, owning a home is beyond contemplating.  So, it is harder to launch.  The kids are right.

Of course, a little help, a little tough love, a good attitude and a lucky break or two can change anyone’s life and I think that this generation needs to strive towards all of that.  But, when 30% are in that situation, they may need something more.  I have no idea what that might be but one thing is for sure – these kids have big challenges.  I think they are bigger than we had.

5 thoughts on “Failure to launch

  1. With about twelve percent of young people characterized as special needs, what is there for high anxiety young people feeling very challenged as Members of Generation Screwed(MGS). One perception held by some young people is the greedy baby boomers sucked up the entire trough and left not a drop for MGS. A thought containing some truth in the orgy of land speculation, citizenships for cash investments in BC, and an ever expanding gap between rich and poor. One only need to look to the UK where many young folks stay home until married and in some cases long after marriage. The reason is economic primarily but each case has its own merits and one reason does not fit all. Youth sometimes stay to help aging parents, provide for all persons at home from the very young to the elderly a supportive family unit like was for 100,000 of years until recently when became the vogue ask sixteen year old to leave home(their only home) until such as the old folks are to old to hump in the hot tub and are put in supported living residence(an irony evident to all)


    • Not quite sure of your point but, if it is that some of them are great and doing good at home, I agree. I am just saying that it is a huge sociological shift and one that has some serious implications. I am really in no position to judge but I am in a position to observe. And this looks a bit weird to me.


      • The expectation of the kids leaving home is a fairly recent trend growing out of the need for labour arising after the Industrial Revolution( I realize that the Industrial Revolution started in the 18th century). However children remaining with their families has continued through the ages for hundreds of thousands of years. With out-soarching of jobs as a feature of globalization most young people can expect to work at menial low paying jobs in the service industries. The once good paying industrial jobs are now off shore. Children leaving home to join the middle class is a cruel joke. The middle class is shrinking. So if young people have little to look forward to but poverty why would they leave home? There is a huge economic aspect this.


        • Yes. I agree. Is there an essential need-to-leave that we have just taken for granted given our enjoyment of the now disappearing middle class? Maybe not. Maybe 3 and 4 generation homes are a good thing…strengthening family ties and all that…..
          But it is clearly a shift, a change, a sea-change in the world as we and the kids behind us expected it.


          • Families who pool their resources do much better than those who go it alone(every child for herself).


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