Bruce Charlton’s new idea

Formal education slows down our process of growing up.  Isn’t that…er…the opposite of what it is supposed to do?  Bruce also notes that this process is more likely to be helpful to women, and harmful to men.  Which may be why, in some big cities, women are now earning more than men are.


Isn't opposite of what it is supposed to do?

Right, which is why it isn't all that efficient at the task it has evolved into. An education specifically designed to create neoteny would look very different from what we've got now.

Actually, formal education is partly designed to remove young people from the labor force for a period of time - it wasn't until the Depression that most children went to high school, and that was a deliberate policy choice - it employed more teachers, and it kept teenagers from competing for jobs with men supporting families.

In some other sense, formal education is designed to slow our process of growing up - we don't require children to show as much responsibility, in exchange for giving them the tools to do better when they do accept adult responsibilities.

Lastly, the paper is buncombe. Psychological Neoteny is not so much a function of increasing higher education, as college students of an earlier generation were expected to show a fairly great amount of responsibility (in a limited domain), and many (most?) would marry shortly after graduation. The increasing wealth of society and the Pill are the factors which allow psychological neoteny to be viable.

I suspect that Dr. Charlton is right about formal education as a contributing cause but I'm not so sure about the benefits. In particular, his identification of certain desirable intellectual traits with childlikeness seems hasty. (That's why I recommended ROTC in Advice on College - inspired by the thread here a few weeks ago.)

PS Anthony, thanks for the new spelling of buncombe.

These changes correspond to different advantages and disadvantages for men and for women. To name an important way modern life disadvantages women compared to men, delayed childbirth (for education and career) means the typical man and woman will go through many more short-term and long-term sexual relationships in their young adult and adult lifetime before finally "settling down" in their 30s or 40s.

But, on average, an increase in both short-term (PDF) and long-term sexual relationships have a negative psychological effect on women and a positive psychological effect on men.

(For more on the plight of the modern woman, see the "two best posts" Dr. Cowen ever read)

The author states "I put forward the hypothesis that the major cause of PN in modernizing societies is the prolonged duration of formal education. Here I present a preliminary empirical investigation of this hypothesis of psychological neoteny"

However, no consideration is given to endogenous effects, competing hypotheses, or how one would actually formalize and test the hypothesis.

It's a nice idea but the article is horribly weak.

Doesn't it seem reasonable that as life spans increase, people will start to remain youthful longer? If increased my life span tomorrow, I'd definitely rather extend my period of youth and take my time growing up as opposed to having a short youth and then tacking on the extra years when I am old and physicially infirm. Why is it a bad thing that people aren't "growing up" at the same rate (whatever that means), when they'll probably have many more years of "adulthood" than their grandparents did and plenty of time to experience what their grandparents did, and more?

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