Monday, April 03, 2006

Failure to Launch - Round Three

From Po:

Oh, we've had some fun this weekend. It's a bit of a convoluted story, so let me give you the short version first.


The author of the book Boomerang Nation, Elina Furman, didn't like Ashley Merryman's post of March 12th which pointed out there is no Boomerang trend after-all. (Boomerangs are youngish adults who move back home - fewer people are doing it over the last ten years, not more.) So on her blog this Saturday, Ms. Furman attempted a scathing rebuttal which only served to dig her hole deeper. In her rebuttal, she mysteriously did the following:

1. She failed to notice the fact that the March 12th post was written by Ashley (even though the very first two words of the post were, "From Ash:"). So Ms. Furman didn't attack Ashley. She attacked me, Po Bronson, misattributing every single word. Since Ashley and I commonly disagree on topics, attributing her words to me would be akin to mistaking Siskel for Ebert. When I pointed this out to Ms. Furman, she added an excuse to her blog: Ashley's byline was too small a font size! Except it was the same size you're reading right now. Can you read this?

In case Ms. Furman is reading along, I'm going to make the font of the next paragraph bigger, just for her.

2. Ms. Furman admitted that Ashley had done her research on Boomerangs, and admitted that Ashley was right - there are fewer people living with their parents, not more. But Ms. Furman argued the facts weren't important. This was a strange debate tactic, and one I haven't seen since 5th grade. It was a rather unique counterpoint. She clearly had contempt for Ashley being such a darn bookworm factotum, with all her boring census reports - you can sense the schoolyard disdain.

3. Ms. Furman objected to Ashley characterizing her as being in cahoots with the Viacom publicists for the film, "Failure to Launch." Then, she turns around and admits right out that she was, indeed, in cahoots with the Viacom publicists the last two months. In fact, she brags that it was her own idea to cross-promote her book with their film! She makes it clear that Viacom didn't approach her - she approached them. See! We're not in cahoots, because it was my idea, not theirs! ... No, I didn't see the logic of that argument either.

You can read Ms. Furman's intriguing blog post here


Enough of the gossip already! Because here's the thing. I think I like Elina Furman. Readers of my blog and books would argue, "But hey! You see the good in everybody! Can't you see this woman hates you!?" And they'd be right. Oh well. But I do like Elina. First, I admire every author who fights to write their books and finds ways to promote them. I approve of authors consulting for major corporations and brands - I really do, I'm not being sarcastic. Get your paycheck, and keep writing. She's a hard-working writer.

Second, I've recommended her book "Boomerang Nation" to many people who have had to move back in with their parents at age 27 or 34 after a layoff or a bad breakup. I've recommended it because it's the only book out there directly for these people, and it has plenty of handy tips in it. Mostly, the book makes these people feel less like a loser, and helps them understand they are not the only one who has had to do this. Any reader of WDILTP knows that families take many shapes, and this is one of them - a not uncommon one. If you've got a 32-year-old friend who is living with his parents, then buy him this book - and also send him the link to this post.

Because there are two VERY MAJOR cultural frameworks that most of the media-echo-chamber stories about Boomeranging have failed to discuss:

The first is what Ashley noted in her March 13th post - that our definition of what makes someone a "grown-up" has changed as we recognize the diversity of family types and experiences we have always had. Moving out of the home and having kids of your own isn't the benchmark anymore. I highly recommend clicking on that March 13th link. She has a funny list there of people who haven't grown up according to traditional standards - including Alan Greenspan and Barbara Bush.

The second thing you need to know is that a grown man who lives with his parents is considered a failure only in a few regions of the world - in North America, the United Kingdom, and the Nordic countries. The rest of the world doesn't value independence as something important or expected. They do not foster the notion that you need to separate from your parents or that you need to be on your own for awhile before you get married. In the rest of the world, when a grown man lives with his parents, you know what they call it? They don't call it "Boomeranging" and they don't call it "Failing to Launch." They call it "our extended family."

Sociologists call this topic "Home Leaving." For instance, in Italy, only 7 percent of young Italians have left home by the age of 25. You don't leave home until you get married - and even then maybe not. And even if you leave home, it might not be very far - 43% of married Italian couples live within one kilometer of the husband or wife's parents. In Ireland, 57% of young adults live with their parents. Sixty percent of young Japanese men in their 20s live with their parents; the figure is 80 percent for Japanese women in their 20s.

Most of the world does not think it's good to physically leave your family. In China, 65% of married couples live with the husband's parents - that's in the rural areas. In the cities, it's still 32%. In Germany, 90% of adults live within an hour's drive of their extended family.

Meanwhile, in Denmark, a whopping 75 percent of young people will leave home by the age of 25. The numbers are similar for England and the United States. The contrast between our little island and the rest of the world isn't a matter of degrees - it's a radically alternate custom.

So when American journalists write about how so many young American adults are failing to grow up because they are living with their parents - that's a very myopic and culturally-biased judgment.

Consider also that the huge rise in immigration over the last 20 years has come from countries that value sticking with your family. So if you look at the statistics on who is living with their parents - which is a big figure, some 18 million American youngish adults - consider the likelihood that a huge chunk of those are immigrant extended families. Not guys who look like Mathew McConaughey.

My point is, if you are an American living with your parents at age 28 - you're not a loser. The rest of the world would consider you normal.

The reasons we created the Factbook on Family is that we routinely see journalists quote statistics while failing to consider how that statistic has been shaped by the steady flow of people who come from a different culture. Almost all American journalists are college educated individuals who have moved out of their family's home, and so these journalists consider this "normal" and "right." These journalists then condemn broad swatches of people who have always lived differently - unaware they're even making a cultural faux-pas.

The merit to "Boomerang Nation" was that it didn't accuse Boomerangers of failing to grow up. The book rightly says, "you're not alone." I never had a beef with Elina Furman, because I liked the respect she showed to people undergoing this confusing transition. Our beef was with the other journalists who covered the topic and expressed sneering disdain at Americans who live with their parents.

The last two years, the press has been on a roll, attacking us for failing to live on our own. Meanwhile, remember all those sensational stories a few years ago about the death of the extended family? How we no longer live together, et cetera, and how terrible that is?


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