Why do so many young men remain adrift—unsettled into either work or family life—at an age that would have been considered advanced in previous generations?

Kay Hymowitz dubs these folks “preadults”–neither boys nor grown men–in her new book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women is Turning Men into Boys.

Phillip Brand has such an interesting piece ("Women on Top, Men on the Bottom") on Real Clear Politics that uses the Hymowitz book as a starting point that I want to mention it, even though I haven't read the book yet (I am a Hymowitz fan, and it is on my list).

Brand says that Hymowitz's previous book, Marriage and Cast in America, focused on cultural causes for the decline of marriage but that the new book emphasizes economic roots of the male immaturity problem. Brand writes:

Preadulthood, she says, is "an adjustment to huge shifts in the economy, one that makes a college education essential to achieving or maintaining a middle-class life."

Hymowitz points to the lifetime earnings gap separating college graduates from those who have only a high school diploma. But as a changing economy becomes more friendly to the educated, it also becomes "very, very female friendly," offering women more career choices.

Although Brand's piece is ostensibly about the Hymowitz book, it is really a meditation of the value of a college education.

Brand writes:

Conventional wisdom suggests that if men want better jobs, they should seek more schooling to overcome the widening earnings gap between those with a college education and those without. The "knowledge economy," as it's called, shouts, "You earn what you learn." But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong?

Peter Theil, the billionaire founder of PayPal, is skeptical about the benefits of college: "Parents see kids moving back home after college and they're thinking, 'Something is not working. This was not part of the deal.'"

Brand argues that the only reason many of these kids went to college is to get past the initial phase of job screening:

College becomes a zero sum game to the extent that employers use the acquisition of a college degree as a device to screen out prospective employees. Any benefit depends on someone else not going to college. A corollary is that as more workers complete college, the wage premium for a degree shrinks. British economist Fred Hirsch predicted this in his 1977 book Social Limits to Growth: "More education for all leaves everyone in the same place…it is a case of everyone in the crowd standing on tiptoe and no one getting a better view."

One reason that the conventional view may be wrong is that many jobs in the modern economy don’t require college degrees. While many people sense that the college degree isn't what it used to be, they haven't figured out an alternative:  

According to a recent Pew Poll, 57 percent say higher education fails to provide good value for money. However, they recognize that there is no other option: nearly every parent surveyed (94%) expects their child to attend college. Young people are forced to take on potentially crippling debt in order to earn a credential whose value diminishes with each additional new college graduate. The alternative is to opt out of the college pool, be overlooked by employers and thrust into intense competition for low-wage employment. My cousin's ten-year-old son recently told me his solution: "I'm going to college. Then I will work construction with my dad."

I wrote the other day about skilled jobs that don’t require a degree going looking for people to take them. The availability of such jobs may not help the aimless Peter Pans with sheepskins; no doubt they would turn up their noses. But many of these jobs are lucrative and can give willing preadults a basis on which to become adults.   

Not having read the new Hymowitz book, I can't judge his critique. But I can say Brand has interesting things to say about ye old college degree. Discuss among yourselves.