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Ben Shapiro: Why Millennials Are Falling Behind | Opinion

This week, a study from the Health Foundation, a charitable foundation from Great Britain, found that millennials in the country were likely to be less healthy than their parents. According to the study, young British citizens lack appropriate skills and qualifications, defined as “academic or technical qualifications needed to pursue their preferred career”; personal connections, including “access to social networks or mentors who were able to offer them appropriate advice and guidance on navigating the adult world”; financial and practical support, encompassing “direct financial support from their parents, being able to live at home at no cost with parents, as well as practical assistance such as help with childcare”; and emotional support, meaning “having someone to talk to and be open and honest with, who supports their goals in life.” The impact on the health of British millennials is severe, the study suggests.

And the study suggests solutions, nearly all of which revolve around maximization of governmental involvement. So, for example, the report calls for more “affordable housing,” noting that home ownership has dropped precipitously in the country; more regulation of employment to prevent “zero-hours contracts,” i.e. at-will employment; government aid for higher education.

Each of these policies has been tried and found wanting in areas of the United States: heavy regulation of construction has been the cause of housing shortages in the United States, not lack of government-funded affordable housing; increases in minimum wage have all-too-often been associated with job loss; and government aid in higher education has actually exacerbated the student loan crisis in the United States.

But the deeper and more abiding problems, other than changeable and changing economic conditions, remain social and cultural. Lack of family and support structures have led to the destruction of the social fabric necessary to undergirding a stronger civil society. Lack of cultural focus on meritocracy and effort have led to a decline in performance, and thus in health.

Virtually all of the elements missing from the millennial experience used to be provided by family and church; now nearly all of them are filled with one sort of government program or another. Take, for example, the lack of appropriate skills and qualifications. Educational variances in different communities in the United States can be in large part attributed to cultural differences: Asian-Americans, for example, excel academically because of a widespread cultural focus on education.

A large-scale study from Amy Hsin of City University of New York and Yu Xie from University of Michigan found that income differentiation didn’t explain the academically superior performance of Asian-Americans. The work ethic, they found, was the deciding factor—and that work ethic was inculcated by a family and community support structure. “Asian-American youth,” Hsin explained, “are more likely to attribute intellect and academic success to effort rather than innate ability.” Yet in Britain, as in the United States, heavy focus is placed on supposed institutional barriers to success, rather than on inculcation of a meritocratic mentality and the construction of non-governmental social systems.

GettyImages-845915006 Millennials iStock

How about personal connections? Family and community used to play the chief role in providing the connections necessary to ensure economic wellbeing. The phenomenon of middlemen minorities, as economist Thomas Sowell has demonstrated, relies heavily on the idea that social connections amount to economic connections. Hasidic Jews in the diamond business, for example, have a competitive edge over those who have no such social fabric—they don’t need contracts, they know one another, and they work together, according to Sowell.

Substituting artificial governmental rolodexes for interpersonal connections is bound to be unsuccessful here. The death of family structure and the decline of social clubs, particularly religious institutions, deprives young people of the connections they require.

Then there’s practical support. It’s no wonder that millennials feel abandoned, as though they don’t have the support structure they need: more and more of their parents are divorced, fewer and fewer of their parents are married in the first place, and fewer and fewer of them have siblings. In the past, financial hardship could be alleviated by appealing to family members—and in fact, young people are still seeking help from their parents at record rates. But the decline in family structure isn’t likely to provide the healthiest boost for millennials in the coming years.

Finally, take emotional support. Studies show that social engagement is one of the best predictors of happiness. Yet we associate with each other less than ever. Robert Putnam of Harvard University called this phenomenon “bowling alone”; he said that the decline of private associations, particularly churches, had led to an isolation that was making people poorer emotionally. That pattern has accelerated as we swivel toward a more digital society.

We live in the richest, most prosperous, freest time in human history. That’s a wonderful gift we’ve all been given. But we’ve also shed gifts that are ancient and vital: the gift of solid family structure; the gift of common religious commitment; the gift of a culture and heritage of meritocracy. No government program can fill those gaps—and every effort to do so ends with the exacerbation of precisely the failures government programs are designed to alleviate.  

Ben Shapiro is editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire and host of “The Ben Shapiro Show,” available on iTunes and syndicated across America.​

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​

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