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Peter Pan and the Death of Marriage

September 2, 2008
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Michael Kimmel, a sociologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, recently released the results of his groundbreaking study in a book entitled Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. Kimmel interviewed nearly 400 young men between 16 and 26 years of age, and over the course of 352 pages, he reveals a disturbing trend among the future of American manhood. Guyland seeks to answer the contemporary questions, “Why do so many guys seem stuck between adolescence and adulthood? Why do so many of them fail to launch? Just what is going on with America’s young men?”

Kimmel coined the term “Guyland” to describe “the world in which young men live.” Guyland, according to Kimmel “is both a stage of life, [an] … undefined time span between adolescence and adulthood that can often stretch for a decade or more, and a place … where guys gather to be guys with each other, unhassled by the demands of parents, girlfriends, jobs, kids, and the other nuisances of adult life. In this topsy-turvy, Peter-Pan mindset, young men shirk the responsibilities of adulthood and remain fixated on the trappings of boyhood…” (Kimmel, Guyland [New York, NY: Harper Row, 2008], 6).

Kimmel goes on, “In college, they party hard but are soft on studying. They slip through the academic cracks … getting by with little effort and less commitment. After graduation, they drift aimlessly from one dead-end job to another, spend more time online playing video games and gambling than they do on dates …, ‘hook up’ occasionally with a ‘friend with benefits,’ go out with their buddies, drink too much, and save too little. After college, they perpetuate that experience and move home or live in group apartments in major cities, with several other guys from their dorm or fraternity…. They have grandiose visions for their futures and not a clue how to get from here to there.”

In other words, many young men are not growing up; they’re not leaving the narcissism of childhood for the responsibilities (as well as opportunities) of manhood. They’re unproductive and short of ambition; they’re hedonistic, shallow and vain, lacking any coherent sense of direction, purpose or meaning. And this is not, according to Kimmel, the exception. He writes, “Guyland … has become a stage of life, a ‘demographic,’ that is now pretty much the norm.” (I would add the church is not countering this condition when it employs the same childish methods of amusement and entertainment to “disciple” our youth.)  

Kimmel is not alone in his assessment. Scholars at the National Research Council in 2002 “estimated that at least one of every four adolescents in the U.S. (male and female) is at serious risk of not achieving productive adulthood” (Jacquelynne Eccles and Jennifer Appleton Gootman, National Research Council and Institute of Medicine [eds.], Community Programs to promote Youth Development [Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2002]).

Neither is this a uniquely American problem but a growing trend among many Western nations. Both Britain and Australia are confronted with “Laddism”: Lads are simply Guys with British accents, consuming the same media, engaging in the same sorts of behaviors, and lubricating their activities with the same alcohol. In Italy, they’re called mammonis, or mama’s boys. In Italy “a whopping 82 percent of men aged 18–30 are still living at home with their parents” (Mark Penn, Microtrends, [New York, NY: Hachette Book Group, 2007], 324). So severe is the economic impact that the Italian government is offering incentives for these mama’s boys to move out and become productive! In France, they’re called “Tanguys” after the French film with the same title, which depicts their lifestyle. Not coincidently, these countries have among the lowest birth rates—no marriage = fewer families, which means less children.

So what is essential to becoming an adult? Psychiatrically trained anthropologist David Gutmann summarizes the answer well when he writes, “We can say that adulthood has been achieved when narcissism is transmuted” (David Gutmann, “Adulthood and Its Discontents,” Working paper 67 [New York: Institute of American values, 1998], 4). So what is it that most hinders the transmutation of narcissism among adult males? While there are a number of factors that combine to encourage childishness in young men, I would offer that one of the most compelling is the delay or absence of marriage.

Consider: in 1970, 69 percent of 25-year-old and 85 percent of 30-year-old white men were married; in 2000, only 33 percent and 58 percent were, respectively. And the percentage of young men entering marriage is declining. Census Bureau data show that the median age of marriage among men rose from 26.8 in 2000 to 27.5 in 2006—considered a dramatic demographic shift in only six years. One writer observed, “Not so long ago, the average mid-twenty something had achieved most of adulthood’s milestones … These days, he lingers … in a new hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence…” (Kay Hymowitz, “Child-Man in the Promised Land,” City Journal, Winter 2008, vol. 18, no. 1).

So what? According to David Meyers, professor of psychology at Hope College, “Marriage domesticates men” (David G. Meyers, The American Paradox, [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000], 117). More specifically, “once men are married, they are much less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as drinking heavily, drivingly dangerously, or using drugs. They are also more likely to work regularly, help others more, volunteer more, and attend religious services more frequently” (Steven L. Nock, “Marriage as a Public Issue,” The Future of Children, Vol 15 No 2, Fall 2005, available at:

Sociologist Steven Nock adds, “Others have made similar arguments about how marriage ‘domesticates’ men by fostering a sense of responsibility for their families, orienting them toward the future and making them sensitive to the long-term consequences of their actions…” Marriage is an essential element in the maturation of men and their future contributions to society.

What changed? According to a study by Rutgers University, the top reason given by men for their unwillingness to commit to marriage is “they can get sex without marriage more easily than in times past” (Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe, “The State of Our Unions, The Social Health of Marriage in America, 2002,” The National Marriage Project (Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey). Wow! Apparently sexual immorality does adversely impact marriage; in this case, it simply nullifies marriage.

What will the future hold where a majority of men refuse to take their place in society? What kind of future can we expect where men are disinclined to commit to the building of families much less the world in which they live? To young women: if you want men to grow up and become responsible, you must stop giving to men what they should only receive after they have committed their lives to you in marriage. Lastly, if the church would begin to live this way, it would strengthen our culture’s commitment to marriage more so than any legislation ever could.

© 2008 by S. Michael Craven

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Response from : Sam Vaknin  

September 1, 2008 10:56 AM

Great piece.

his may also be of interest:

The Narcissist as Eternal Child

Take care and thank you.


Response from : linda  

September 2, 2008 9:09 AM

Professor Neil Postman said it best (although it has been said and certainly complained by many, including those decent, responsibile parents) in his books when he wrote that we are losing that which distinguishes childhood from adulthood. We are losing our distinctions, including male/female distinctions. This problem began a long time ago as we destroyed our traditions, our culture and our religious beliefs, and ridiculed our churches - we discarded all the important and necessary elements of a society and community. Kimmel writes nothing new and we don't need any 'scholarly studies' to prove the obvious trend to this sort of oneness in age and gender where we are all the same and the same age, where parents are no longer necessary because they are as young as their young. Idiocy, we are on the road to idiocy - happy, sporty, funny idiots. This was not a road chosen by responsible people, but forced on the people with laws, compulsory schools, colleges, tuition charges, sports, sports scholoarships, etc. And this coersion has effected even the good, intelligent, strong, mature adults and their families as well, slowly, gradually, over time, it effects everyone, until the truly wise stand alone.

Response from : linda  

September 2, 2008 9:24 AM

I would further like to recommend that everyone should read Professor Neil Postman's books, "Amusing Ourselves to Death," "Technopoly," and his other books. Some of his theme is repeated in the books, but they are well worth reading. There are many other books by other authors to help parents understand the madness of losing distinctions and what it would ultimately lead to. For any society to remain decent it must have traditions and strong morals that are never compromised. Tolerance has gone too far when it effects another person's right to life, liberty and property.

Response from : Jody  

September 2, 2008 9:38 AM

What fascinating data! I would love to see this discussion on a "mainstream" level. A hearty amen to two of Michael's points: 1)our youth groups only encourage childishness; and 2)if only the church would live out true manhood, we could impact the culture far more than any legislation. I suggest any reader is now responsible for passing this information on to those who can best jumpstart the conversation at a larger level.

Response from : Greg Williams  

September 2, 2008 9:57 AM

Mr. Craven

Excellent article once again! I truly believe, I think you would concur, that the harvest we're reaping is exactly what the Church has sown in abdicating the responsibility of raising up Godly, humble and strong young men to the world and its education, govt. and media system that has truly emasculated them. Unfortunately many 'christian' parents have fallen for these sad teachings and the Church has done very little "build boys rather than mend men" to capture a title from Mr. Truett Cathy of Chick-fil-A!

The Church must begin discipling youth and parents in Godly, healthy relationship and sexuality in line with the Truth of His Word so that disipleship can begin to flourish again where it should begin - in the Home!

Thanks again and God bless in Christ!

In His service

Greg Williams

Response from : disenchanted  

September 2, 2008 1:51 PM're not placing the blame correctly. It is being caused by our government taking the place of the father. A man risks his entire financial life by getting married in a world where women are encouraged to breed, lie about being abused so they can get benefits, and in general acting like vampires on the souls of the walking, hopeless males. We have been sacrificed on the alter of PC correctness. Unfortunately, it appears that Islam is the answer to this PC correct world. As a male, I'd rather live under Sharia than under VAWA.

Response from : Courtney  

September 2, 2008 3:58 PM

Wow, you're right on. This is exactly what's wrong with guys today, and you've certainly pinpointed the source of the problem. C'mon, girls! Make 'em grow up and marry you before you "put out."

Response from : kay  

September 3, 2008 2:37 PM

so, basically, u are blaming the immaturity of the male on the female because she has sex with the male?

Response from : S. Michael Craven  

September 3, 2008 4:18 PM

Dear Kay,

In a word, yes that is precisely what the evidence demonstrates. Marriage domesticates men and one of the most powerful social incentives to marry is the male desire for sex. Increase sexual opportunity beyond marriage and you diminish the necessity of marriage for sex, then children, etc. And throughout history; it has been women who control sexual opportunity and subsequently determine the culture’s sexual ethic (see Pitirim Sorokin, J.D. Unwin, et al). Sorry.


Response from : Christine Tamburello  

September 3, 2008 6:21 PM


Response from : Allyn Hendrixson  

September 3, 2008 10:15 PM

I must respectfully disagree with the theory that the absence of a marital union is the culprit for "perpetual adolescent syndrome." Many married men seem to live in this state of arrested mental, emotional and spiritual development of their own volition. Many theories abound as to why. However, only one appears to make sense of this unprecedented resistance to responsibility and growth: Have you noticed in the developed world the pervasive and intrusive presence of sexual images?? When men fall prey to the lusts and lures of sexual fantasy, they become part of a worldwide epidemic of sexual addiction and distorted thinking. I submit that the multibillion dollar pornography industry has far more to do with our men living in a state of perpetual immaturity than the absence of a Proverbs 31 woman.

Response from : Mliss  

September 8, 2008 5:39 AM

I forwarded this article onto 25 of my female friends. Caught by the ending paragraph, women who are engaging in relationships without marriage should consider the following sentence in the last paragraph of the article,"To young women: if you want men to grow up and become responsible, you must stop giving to men what they should only receive after they have committed their lives to you in marriage." That might make us women become more accountable for our actions and honor the sanctity of marriage.

Response from : Ken  

September 17, 2008 3:45 PM

Being married does not make a guy mature, nor does being unmarried make a guy immature. Immature guys should not marry. Women should not marry them in hopes of changing them into mature men.

A man can be "settled down" and still enjoy being unmarried and playing video games and spending time with his buddies.

Much of the church focuses on keeping guys from committing fornication or indulging lust, but does not do enough to discourage the gals from envy, materialism, or sexual refusal to their husbands. You can't bash the lad mags and ignore the wrongs of mags like Cosmo, or ignore that some women spend too much time wrapped up in soap operas and romance novels that corrupt their thinking.

Legally, marriage guarantees nothing except: 1. The spouse who earns more during the marriage (usually the man) will be obligated to pay alimony in the event of divorce; 2) The husband will have default financial responsibility for any child born to the wife, even if she conceived the child in adultery, divorces her husband, and cohabitates with her lover.

In addition to legally, men have also seen a reduced cultural incentive to marry as the benfits a man usually gets from marriage are the result of voluntary giving on the part of the wife. The law does not compel her to love her husband, and the church has been unable to stop too many wives from failing to hold up their end of the bargain.

So if a man does want to marry, he needs to choose his wife very carefully. Yet there are (ex) husbands who can vouch for the fact that their (ex) wives were very good at hiding surprises or true feelings about something until after eating the wedding cake.

Response from : Aly  

September 18, 2008 8:45 PM

Interesting article. I personally think boys will always be boys and marriage doesn't change them that much. It probably should but it doesn't. Having kids does though, or if it doesn't change them it makes for a bitter woman. I think women today are getting smarter though by not having kids, after all we shouldn't be left with all the work, I wouldn't want to be. Maybe this complex you are talking about is one of the main reasons we are refusing to have children now, and in mass, we are tired of guys getting to have "all the fun". It's my main reason. If a guy isn't responsible to begin with, why marry him? We may do that but we certainly won't have his kids, our gender is getting too smart for that.

Response from : Samuel Tannatt  

September 22, 2008 2:03 PM


I apologize that this response to your article "Peter Pan and the Death of Marriage" is so late in coming to you - I am catching up on a grossly overflowing inbox!

I am writing to you to assert that I have a serious problem with the idea of marriage as a means of "domesticating" men. While I agree with the crux of your article, I would have to argue that a lot of guys my age (28 and happily married) are turned off by the idea of “domestication”. While I agree that the affects of marriage on men as mentioned by Meyers and Nock are overwhelmingly positive, I would hesitate to call them “domesticating”.

I think that the connotations of that word have had detrimental effects on many young men’s perception of the institution of marriage - if you don't agree, I'd suggest looking at the overwhelming popularity of John Eldridge's Wild at Heart. I don't know that the image of God that we, as men, bear even remotely mirrors that of a cow or a chicken or any other farm animal. Biblically, we are urged to put on the Armor of God (Ephesians 6:10), to take up the cross (Matthew 16:24-25), and to defend those who cannot defend themselves (Psalm 10:17-18, James 1:27). These are unique instructions given to us as men.

Eldridge argues this point far better than me, but I believe that he is correct when he asserts that much of the church is dying because so many of its men have been “domesticated”. It is only natural then for my generation (the generation that I feel truly skirts the modern and postmodern eras) to look with suspicion on the practices and the mores that have caused the demise of God’s warrior. How many Christians do you see overturning the money changing tables of our day or tearing open the curtains that make God so unapproachable to many of the folks that wander into a church for the first time?

A man, wired as God intended him, will fight for his country, for his family, for his faith – and he will die (whether literally or figuratively) for causes greater than himself. He will work four jobs to support his family and will stop to help a stranger in need – that is the glorious image of God that we bear! But when we as a society and as a church present marriage or duty or responsibility as a means of taming a man, rather than as an adventure and a challenge and a gift – when we suggest ulterior motives for something that God created and said was good and right – we open the door for Satan to stir up feelings of doubt and suspicion and hostility… and we lose more good men to an idea that God never intended.

In Him,

Response from : S. Michael Craven  

September 22, 2008 3:32 PM

Dear Samuel,

With all due respect to John Eldredge, I’ve probably forgotten more about being “wild at heart” than he has ever known. John romanticizes a Western notion of masculinity that is NOT necessarily biblical. Jesus was the picture of manhood and what Jesus displayed was strength under control or “meekness. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus contrasts the kingdom with the world and He himself displayed the kingdom approach to life, which stands in stark contrast to that of the world. The world craves power, strength, control, and domination; the strong overthrow the weak. The kingdom considers others better than ourselves, seeks peace, and commands those who follow the king to love their enemies. It’s not strength that overcomes the world; it is grace and grace is given to the humble. That’s radical! That doesn’t mean Jesus was a shrinking violet; he wasn’t but neither did he define himself by the culture’s normative view of masculinity, which is what I think Eldridge does. Is his message appealing, yes it is but that doesn’t mean it’s biblical. Additionally, I think you are confusing the domesticating effects of marriage with neutering. Domestication in the sense of marriage is NOT synonymous with the feminization of men that is occurring in our culture. Biblical marriage most assuredly imposes boundaries or limits on men [and women] and it requires the reorientation of our lives to another in mutual submission. This does not emasculate men in the slightest; it directs their God-given design toward His redemptive purpose in the world.

Men still can and should enact justice, defend the weaker, speak the truth boldly and without fear! I think Christians (men and women) should be tough and possess “grit.” However, the source of their strength is not to be found in a culturally induced conception of masculinity or maleness. It is found in Christ and often in humility. As a notorious street fighter and military veteran; I can tell you that deliverance from this kind of “masculinity” is precisely what I needed. It does not honor the King. This is the culture’s conception of manhood not God’s. And you are right, the Christian life is an adventure; the great adventure requiring courage, strength, and fortitude but again these virtues come by means of grace and not by might. So, yes the domestication of men in the sense that their lives are no longer their own; they live for another and they are willing to lay down their lives for their wives as Christ did for the church is a great benefit—both individually and to the society as a whole.


Response from : Rosemary  

February 23, 2009 9:09 AM

RE: Peter Pan and the Death of Marriage. This is one of the best you have written and so important. I would like to see more on this. Thank you for your stand for God and the family.


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