The yawning gap between the haves and have-nots will undoubtedly be a focus of discussion in this year’s midterm elections. But while the fact that income inequality has been growing is well known, little attention has been paid to how the changing nature of adolescence may be contributing to this troublesome trend.
In order to understand this connection, it’s important to understand why adolescence has become so much longer.
It is often said that adolescence begins in biology and ends in culture — it starts with the onset of puberty and ends with the transition of young people into the traditional roles of adulthood: full-time employment, marriage (or its functional equivalent), and residential and economic independence from one’s parents.
Using these markers, it’s clear that this stage of life is significantly longer today than it has been before. The age of puberty has been falling, whereas the age at which people take on adult roles has been rising, and neither trend shows any sign of abating. By my estimate, adolescence, which in 1950 was approximately seven years long, now lasts around 15 years.
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