Suzanne Fields

Between the baby boomers on one hand and Generations X, Y and Z on the other, cultural and economic changes have transformed the landscape of our culture. It's difficult to wrap a description around what sociologists call a "cohort."

"I'm not a real person yet," says a 27-year-old college graduate in the movie "Frances Ha," the latest and hippest of the contemporary coming-of-age scenarios. She has no credit card and explains that she even has to look for a cash machine to pay a dinner check. But if she doesn't yet feel mature enough to assume "personhood," at least she has enough cash in the bank to live an independent life. Many modern young adults never leave home.

The latest generation to arrive at adulthood is not only economically adrift, but many of the privileged among them are adrift without time-tested values to anchor them. Sex is readily available, but the most creative among them complain there's no thrill of a romance and the joy of falling in love. Bonding takes place in friendship, but smartphones dominate communication -- there's a lot of looking at flat screens but not so much looking into a beloved's eyes.

Sociologists say that becoming an adult no longer begins where adolescence ends. The age of 20 to 30 is more "post-adolescent" than grown-up. Young adults put off moving past the traditional benchmarks -- a job with benefits, marriage, and the responsibilities of motherhood and fatherhood.

As young singles seek to "know thyself" through connections on iPhones, Twitter, Facebook and other destinations on the Internet, the traditional next stage -- marriage and family -- is undergoing radical change, too. New arrangements in raising families arrive with fundamental alterations in male-female relationships.

A study released last week by the Pew Foundation, putting numbers to these trends, is drawing heated discussions among sociologists, psychologists and economists about the impact of the changes. Nearly 40 percent of mothers with children under the age of 18 are either the primary or sole breadwinner of the family, up from 11 percent in 1960. This statistic covers another more troublesome change: While 5.1 million, or 37 percent of these mothers, are married with a higher income than their husbands, another 8.6 million mothers, or 63 percent of the female population, are raising children alone.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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