Youthful Freedom from Status Worries and Societal Expectations

Young people are afforded more freedom to develop a cultural identity because they’re free from the "what will the neighbors think" status worries that belittle adults, Herbert Gans says, below, in Pop and High Culture. Granted, young people have status worries in their own worlds — school — and the question is probably "what will the cool kids think?". Still, there is a certain luxury to being able to wear sweatpants around the neighborhood and know that people will just accept it because you’re young, whereas if an adult wanders around in sweatpants there may be a suspicion that he has no taste of fashion, that he can’t afford nicer pants, or that he’s counter-signaling to show wealth.

As people become older — and worry about protecting their property values and status levels as well as discouraging their children from finding mates from inappropriate class backgrounds — cultural choice may be one area in which limits are now set. No one knows whether and at what point in today’s life concern about "what will the neighbors — that is, those of equal or higher status — think" begins, or when people begin to feel that they are too old to enjoy rap music.

In addition to being free from status worries, a young person is also free of most every expectation of society because you are always "learning" and "finding yourself." As you get older you are expected to become more predictable, to fit in a certain box. This affords a virtually risk-free playhouse for a young person. If you try a new job and it doesn’t work out, quit. If you marry someone and it doesn’t work out, divorce. If move to a new city and it doesn’t fit, move again. The consequences of failure in each example are greater by an order of magnitude if you wait 10 years. For now, you’re "learning."

That’s why I think it’s insane for people to spend their 20’s doing something that has a low cost of failure.

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