Why Gen Z and millennials are ‘failing to launch’
Four years ago, the eyes of the world were riveted on a court case in Upstate New York. At the centre of the storm was a couple, pictured sitting stoically in a courtroom, who were using the legal system to remove their 30-year-old son from the family home.
There was good reason for the journalists to show up on the lawn of this family – this is not just an American problem. From US to Britain to Kenya, more and more millennials and Gen Z remain at home well into their 30s.
The arrangement is so common, in fact, that therapists have a name for it: “failure to launch.”
A number of changes have occurred within our societies in the last 40 years to contribute to this seemingly baffling situation. Beginning in the 1960’s Jungian analyst Marie-Louise Von Franz gave a series of lectures on a complex that she referred to as the puer aeternus. Von Franz described this syndrome as someone who “remains too long in adolescent psychology.”
What few have seemed to note amid all the public discussion is that adulthood is not a given, but is defined by family, culture and society. We are not born knowing what an adult is or how one is supposed to act. However, many millennials are left without clear definitions about what a mature person would look or act like.
Contributing to this problem is the fact that many in our society have discarded the rituals that used to usher us through the different phases of life. Without these rites of passage and clearly marked changes in status, it is easy to become caught in what anthropologist van Gennep referred to as a liminal state betwixt and between. With the decline of religious practice and community life, fewer people now have access to the rites of passage that structure human and community life. As van Gennep writes, these rituals “enable the individual to pass from one defined position to another, which is equally well defined.”
Another feature of the failure to launch is that fewer and fewer people are getting married or are getting married later as they further education and career. For our parents’ generation, the transition to adulthood happened in one fell swoop: You got married and moved out of the house, often starting your own family shortly thereafter.