Section B

What Youngsters Expect in Life

Back in the good old days of stable economic expansion — the 1950s and 1960s — a person could choose to do something new, exciting, and creative in life but could also choose to say, "That's not for me: I am going to play it safe in life. I am going to stay in my home town and have a nice comfortable career in a salaried job." That second choice no longer exists for the vast majority of Americans. All of us are going to be creators and pioneers over the next 10 years whether we like it or not, and many of us don't like it.

Just look at what the attitude surveys tell us. In the United States, three-quarters of the adults surveyed by the Harris poll and two-thirds of all high-school seniors surveyed by Scholastic magazine say they believe that the United States will be a worse place 10 years from now than it is today. No wonder young people are disaffected. No wonder they are not motivated to learn. They think the world in which they are going to spend their lives won't be a very satisfactory place.

Young men, in particular, are not happy with their prospects for the future. When surveyors ask U.S. female high-school students what they are going to do when they graduate, they list all kinds of roles they want to fill, like doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, civil servants, police and firemen, and fighter pilots. In short, they want to do all the things that men have always done. Moreover, less than 10% of female high-school seniors expect to spend their adult lives solely as mothers and domestic managers, while nearly 90% are committed to having both a career and a marriage based on equality.

By comparison, nearly half of male high-school students express their preference for a traditional, male-headed, one provider, nuclear family, where the wife stays home as mother and housewife. And when male high-school students are asked what kinds of careers they would like to have, the only two job fields that consistently receive large numbers of responses in open surveys are "professional athlete" and "media personality". A large proportion of America's young men — one third or more — simply say they don't know what they're going to do as adults.

If these people do not acquire some constructive vision of purpose for themselves, they are likely to be very destructive forces of resistance in society throughout their lives. We already see that. One recent estimate is that one-sixth of all fourteen-to twenty-four-year-olds in America — mostly males — are currently "disaffected and disconnected". They are not associated with any formal role in society, nor are they in any formal relationship with another person. These are the folks who are joining the gangs in inner cities and swelling the ranks of the rural military gangs. They see no roles for themselves in an Information Age society, and they are angry about their empty future.

So this is a very pregnant moment, not only for the future of America, but also for all of the mature industrial economies and, ultimately, for the world at large. It is an uncertain moment, a scary moment. It is the kind of moment in history when, to summarize in the words of Alfred North Whitehead, familiar patterns fade, familiar solutions fail, and familiar options disappear. Of course, the books and periodicals that are warning society about the removal of jobs, "the end of work", and wage decreases only serve to increase public anxiety — a slow-motion variation of shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater.

These alarming forecasts are largely simple projections of the past two or three decades of workplace trends. However, in the absence of plausible alternative explanations for the gloomy economic news of the past 15 — 20 years and the gloomier prospects implicit in the projections of those trends, industrial societies — fearful for the future — might very well take backward steps. These steps will principally serve the interests of the economically dominant groups who want to protect their assets and resources from the forces of change. Nations that take such steps will lose balance. Social and economic progress will grind to a halt and more and more jobs will be eliminated by the negative side of this transformation. The anger and frustration displayed by people who do not understand what is happening to them will be a terrible and dangerous force in all the major industrial economies.