Saturday, April 1, 2023

On segregation by age

Glenn Reynolds:
.... If you look around our society, many of our more dysfunctional institutions are sorted by age: Homes for the elderly, public schools, even colleges. This age-segregation is artificial, something that never happened naturally in human society and barely happened at all until fairly recently in historical terms. Age segregation separates people from society, perhaps stigmatizes them, and, I think, harms society too.

It’s probably worst for teens. Putting kids together and sorting by age also created that dysfunctional modern creature, the “teenager.” Once, teen-agers weren’t so much a demographic as adults in training. They worked, did farm chores, watched children, and generally functioned in the real world. They got status and recognition for doing these things well, and they got shame and disapproval for doing them badly.

But once they were segregated by age in public schools, teens looked to their peers for status and recognition instead of to society at large. As Thomas Hine writes in American Heritage, “Young people became teenagers because we had nothing better for them to do. We began seeing them not as productive but as gullible consumers.” Not surprisingly, the kinds of behaviors that gain teenagers status from other teenagers differ from the kinds of things that gain teenagers status from adults: early sex, drinking, and a variety of other “cool” but dysfunctional characteristics—once frowned upon—now become the keys to popularity. ....

Modern a modern invention, and most of the restrictions on teenagers that we take for granted are actually fairly recent in nature. Taking away the opportunity for teenagers to behave responsibly and earn respect from nonpeers just ensures the growth of a toxic “peer culture” that values appearance over achievement and rule breaking over responsibility. ....

Until the industrial age, kids, adults, and old people all lived in the same society. Kids learned from adults, quickly got responsibilities – some of them quite “adult” by today’s standards and many of them not at all safe – and gained their sense of accomplishment and self-worth from their standing in the larger community. ....

My advice for people of all ages is to spend some time outside your age cohort. It’ll benefit you, and it may benefit the people you’re with just as much. .... (more)
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, "The Age Barrier, And Its Costs," March 28, 2023.

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