Young Adults Delaying Adulthood Blame Capitalism

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Sometimes, when working with a young adult who is delayed in their transition to adulthood, I’ll hear them attribute their situation to a boogeyman: capitalism. Blaming an ism, be it an economic system or social construct, isn’t the sole provenance of Hikikomori or those with extreme social withdrawal. Lend your ears to the MAGA folks and the boogeyman takes on a hydra-headed beast of socialism, wokeism, and intellectualism. If there is anything that humans from the Balkanized state of today have in common, it’s the abdication of self as the architect of experience and the locus of control.

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But I digress. The point is that folks struggling to attain the professional and social skills needed to transition to an independent adulthood often cite the privatized ownership of capital in exchange for labor as their reason to remain shut-in. This shows up in global research, too, as Muris and Ollendick pointed out in their comprehensive study of this population throughout the Westernized world. Often, this population points to the inequalities, the injustices, the difficulty finding housing, and the treadmill of meaningless work. In a world where the rich get richer and the poor are crushed by debt and medical bills, what’s the point?

Today’s Realities

To which the response should be an acknowledgment. Yes, the world is sometimes unfair and the system currently favors knowledge-based skills, which is harder for those with lower socioeconomic status. Yes, work can be meaningless, especially in a society that places a higher premium on material success. And yes, the nature of early employment and freelance work combined with a housing shortage means that it’s far more difficult for younger folks to find housing, which puts them back in with their parents, a problem older generations should accept responsibility for.

However, while it’s important to acknowledge these realities, it’s also tempting to argue the other truths. For instance, the system may be unfair, but it’s far more fair than it was 100 years ago, let alone at any other point in human history. The very fact that one could be Hikikomori or shut-in is a testament to the wealth generated by society. It’s highly reasonable to conclude that such a presentation would be ill-suited to subsistence farming, child factory work, or mining. The treadmill of meaningless work and striving for material success are external noises, but we all have choices here: turn off your phone, delete social media accounts, and find meaningful work, a luxury by historical standards. In fact, most young people today are flocking to the very materialistic jobs that sap life of meaning; too few are becoming teachers, doctors, or social workers. Even fewer are studying art, literature, philosophy, or history, the sort of disciplines that foster a capacity for critical thinking and what David Brooks refers to as moral reasoning.

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Eternal Recurrence

Pointing this out may not have the desired effect one would hope (like pointing out facts to any ideologue). Rather, a more interesting and compassionate approach would be to take a page from psychologist Irving Yalom’s book, Staring at the Sun. Yalom co-opted Friedrich Neitzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence: If you could do this year on repeat for eternity, would you? Generally, the response is no. Within that, Yalom would ask, of the events of the year, what was in your control? So if capitalism is holding you back, by what amount? What’s your responsibility? Let’s say it’s 10 percent: Well, within that 10 percent, what can you do differently?

Now we have a window through which we can focus on what matters. This is where I focus on values; sorting through these can give folks a compass. Then we sketch out attainable goals, keeping them small so as to build on success.

Normalizing Wealth

It’s important to normalize the experience of wealth: Losing a high standard of living stings more than gaining it. This experience creates a paralyzing fear for those risking status quo. Hence, it’s important to consider how we as a species make meaning. Psychologist Viktor Frankl famously illustrated this with the grieving patient, who placed more emphasis on his wife’s passing than on the sacrifice of sparing her the pain of mourning him. A similar reversal can transpire through a narrative approach, where those with extreme social withdrawal come to see their struggle as a challenge to overcome rather than an existential void. This, as Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung asserted, is the power of myth; by asserting our authority, we gain access to ourselves and find meaning.

Taking ownership of our narrative is among the keys to a life well lived. Accepting the experience of unpleasantness as one of the many experiences of life is a responsibility that makes this possible. Our internal locus of control can cause paralysis as it reveals its paradox of choices and potential failures and regrets, but it is also one of the great gifts of modern society, one that’s often poorly appreciated. It helps to be grateful for that freedom and humble in the face of its responsibility. There’s power in that.


Brooks, David. “How to Save a Sad, Lonely, Angry and Mean Society.” New York Times [New York], 25 January 2024,

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Mythos Books). Princeton University Press, 1972.

Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search for Meaning. Translated by Harold S. Kushner and William J. Winslade, Beacon Press, 2006.

Muris, Peter, and Thomas H. Ollendick. “Contemporary Hermits: A Developmental Psychopathology Account of Extreme Social Withdrawal (Hikikomori) in Young People.” Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, vol. 26, 2023, pp. 459–481.

Yalom, Irvin D. Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death. Wiley, 2009.

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Publish date : 2024-06-25 16:42:12

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Author : africa-news

Publish date : 2024-06-26 00:20:32

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