Yesterday's cable and radio shows were full of news about Michael Rotondo, whose parents went to court in upstate New York to get him to move out of the house. Their house. The judge agreed with mom and pop, and ordered him to leave. The kid says he just needs more time. Young Master Rotondo is thirty years old.
As with almost everything else in the news these days, this rang a distant bell with me. My bestselling book After America (personally autographed copies of which are exclusively available from the SteynOnline bookstore) contains an account of a similar case. It didn't go so well for the parents:
In creaky melodramas of the old school, there came a moment when the plucky heroine would announce her intention to go ahead with some ill-advised courtship, and her father would threaten to cut her off without a cent.
Easier said than done. In Italy, a court ordered, upon pain of having his assets seized, Giancarlo Casagrande of Bergamo to pay his daughter an allowance of 350 eurosâ€”approximately $525â€”every month. Signor Casagrande was then 60. His daughter Marina was 32. She was supposed to have graduated with a degree in philosophy eight years earlier but, though her classes ended way back at the beginning of the century, she was still working on her thesis. So Signor Casagrande was obliged to pay up, either in perpetuity or until the completion of Marina's thesis, whichever comes sooner. Her thesis is about the Holy Grail. Which Marina would have little use for, given that she's already found a source of miraculous life-transforming powers in Papa's checkbook.
Marina is what they call a "bambocciona," which translates, roughly, as "big baby"â€”the term for the ever-growing number of Italian adults still living at home. Not their homeâ€”with a spouse and young kids and putting out the garbage and repainting the stairs and so forthâ€”but at their parents' home, in the same bedroom they've slept in since they were in diapers.
There was, as usual, a momentary spasm of ineffectual outrage over the judge's decision against Signor Casagrande, whose very name is mocked by this demographic trend: the casa would seem much more grande if only Junior would move out. But in Italy they rarely do. Renato Brunetta, the Minister of Public Administration and Innovation, announced his support for a law requiring children to skedaddle out of their parents' pad when they turned 18. That would certainly be an Innovation but might well put strains on Public Administration: right now, seven out of 10 adults aged 18-39 live with their folks. Indeed, Signor Brunetta blushed to admit that he himself had lived at home until he was 30. "My mother made my bed up until I left and I am ashamed of that," he confessed. Italy increasingly resembles the old Benny Hill sketch in which he and his dolly bird are bikers who can't find affordable housing:
"Why don't you move back in with your parents?" suggests the BBC interviewer.
"We would do," says Benny, "but they've moved back in with theirs."
Indeed. Sixtysomething Italians ordered to pay "child support" to thirtysomething kids might consider moving back in with their nonagenarian parents and suing for a monthly allowance backdated to the early Seventies. Italy's bamboccioni have their equivalents around the world. In Japan, they're called parasaito shinguruâ€”or "parasite singles", after the horror film Parasite Eve, in which alien spawn grow in human bellies feeding off the host. In Germany, they're Nesthockers with no plans to move out of "Hotel Mama". In Britain, they're KIPPERS (Kids In Parents' Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings). In Canada, we have the phenomenon but are polite enough not to coin any disparaging term: By 2006, 43.5 per cent of adults aged 20-29 lived with their parents. Between 1981 and 2006, the percentage of men in their late twenties living at home doubled, and the percentage of women near tripled. By the close of that fifteen-year period 31 per cent of men aged 25-29 were still sleeping in their childhood bedroom each night.
In the old days, there were, broadly, two phases of life: you were a child until, say, 13. Then you were a working adult. Then you died. Now there are four phases: you're a child until, say, 12, 11, 9â€”or whenever enlightened jurisdictions think you're entitled to go on the pill without parental notification. Then you're an "adolescent," a term of art now stretching well into middle age and of which a 32-year-old taking eight years to complete a thesis on the Holy Grail would appear to be a near parodic example. Then you work, after a fashion. Then you quit at 65, 60, 55, 52, whatever you can get away with, and enjoy a three-decade retirement at public expense. Functioning adulthood is that ever-shrinking space between adolescence and retirement.
No society can make this math add up. The economics of demographics used to be relatively simple: in a traditional agricultural society, by the time you got too worn and stooped for clearing and plowing, you hoped to have sired able-bodied 13-year-olds to do it for you. Today, most developed nations have managed to defer adulthood and thus to disincentive parenthoodâ€”quite dramatically so, if the judgment against Signor Casagrande holds. Why blame his daughter? No matter how long you stay in school in Italy, there's nothing waiting for you when you come out. Francesca Esposito was 29, spoke five languages, had two degrees, and could land no job other than an unpaid traineeship with a government agency facilitating millions of euros' worth of false disability claims. "I have every possible certificate," she told The New York Times, which, in its poignant profile of Italy's young, never seemed to consider whether such expensively acquired "certification" is necessary for a government job â€“ or most others. Young(ish) Francesca had a law degree from Italy, a master's from Germany, and had interned in Luxembourg at the European Court of Justice. A century ago, this leisurely, indulgent saunter through a tri-national varsity would have been the province of bored aristocratic scions with no interest in politics or soldiery, but somehow Europe got the idea to universalize it. Miss Esposito's father is a fireman, her mother a high school teacher. She is the first in her family to learn a foreign language and graduate from college.
And she may well be the last. There is absolutely no return on investment, either for her or the Italian taxpayers who funded it. How could there be? A world in which you're expensively educated till 30 to join a government agency justifying its own expansion by manufacturing welfare fraud is almost too perfect an emblem of the European Union. Francesca will live a worse life than her parents. She will do unpaid traineeships and low-paid short-term contract work because in Europe's catatonic labor market the young (if one can call 29 "young") are already paying the price for the lavish salaries and benefits awarded to the unsackable middle-aged. Hence, bamboccioni, Nesthockers and KIPPERS. There used to be an English expression, "kippers and curtains". In Europe today, it's KIPPERSâ€”and curtains. "Hope" of "change"? To be young in the EU is to live in a land beyond hope.
All that has changed since I wrote those words is that the US has caught up with Europe: When After America was published, less than seven years ago, approximately a quarter of young American adults lived at home; now it's a third. Free-born citizens of advanced democracies are increasingly the world's wrinkliest teenagersâ€”a development Hilaire Belloc predicted quite explicitly in his book The Servile State way back in 1912, before teenagers had even been invented. If you're a 30-year-old Japanese gal or 38-year-old Canadian guy, why move out of the house? You've got all the benefits of adulthood (shagging, boozing, your own phone and TV) with none of the responsibilities (cooking, laundry, property tax bills). We've created a world in which a 37-year-old Italian male can stroll into a singles bar, tell the chicks he lives at his mom and dad's place in the same bedroom he's slept in since he was in grade schoolâ€”and nobody laughs. Though they would have at any other point in human history.
And every progressive politician says we need more of it. Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau and Bernie Sanders want everybody to go to college. Why?
Hey, why not? Most would-be employers already regard a high-school diploma as utterly worthless, so why not do the same to a bachelor's degree?
Mr Rotondo is not typical of his generation in every respect (he appears to have acquired a young son somewhere along the way). But almost every structural defect of western societies arises from the contemporary phenomenon of prolonged childhood - later family formation, leading to collapsed birth rates, providing an "urgent need" for remorseless, mass unskilled immigration, setting in motion profound, destabilizing cultural transformation. Indeed, one reason why the existential threat of that transformation is so hard to recognize is because, among its other effects, protracted adolescence so infantilizes the populace (as Wells saw in The Time Machine) that it utterly enervates even a basic survival instinct.
Why be surprised by that? A society in which it becomes the norm for 40-year-olds to climb the stairs every night to their childhood bedroom, the same one that once had the teddy-bear wallpaper and the Thomas the Tank Engine coverlet, will not be a world that makes men, or women, in any meaningful sense of those terms.
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