becoming financially independent,
having a child.
Who says you have to hit these targets in your 20’s? It’s a question posed by a provocative article
in the New York Times magazine.
Young people are pushing back the milestones of adulthood. While in 1960, 77% of women and 65% of men had passed these milestones by age 30, in the year 2000, only one half of women and one third of men had done the same. In a Canadian study, 30 year olds in 2000 were as “adult” as 25 year-olds in 1970. In addition, 20-somethings resist commitment, are transient, and depend upon their parents as one third move to a new residence each year, 40 percent move back home for at least a short period of time, and most average about seven jobs in a decade. Two thirds spend time living with a romantic partner even as the median age for marriage gets pushed farther and farther back: 26 for women, and 28 for men, up from 21 and 23 in the early 1970s.
As these young people are apparently drifting, they exhibit characteristics of extreme optimism about the future and “sense of possibilities” that anything is possible even though they can be frustrated and uncertain about the future at the same time. Another defining characteristic is the ambivalence about their state in life: the feeling that they are both grown up and not grown up. It seems like the entire world can be had but the steps to reach that point are not clear. The generation is also more self-focused at this point than at any other time and concerned with resolving issues of identity, purpose, and place in life and society.
So is this a good thing or not? Are 20-somethings simply more indulgent and lazy, living off the hard work of their parents who to some extent have encouraged this? Or is this a necessary stage in life? Is it part of their self-discovery, part of the process of finding the perfect fit in career, partner, location, etc?
One psychologist, Jeffrey Arnett, believes this is the manifestation of a new developmental stage of life, which he calls “emerging adulthood” and believes it is as essential as adolescence. As Richard Lerner points out that no stage can be called essential unless it is universal, and that emerging adulthood tends to be a mainstay of well-off children in developed countries. Young people in developing countries do not have the time to find themselves when the question of what they will eat that day is more pressing.
It may be heartening to know that this is not necessarily a new phenomenon, but one which was also observed in the 1960s, so perhaps it is just a new look at a common cycle of generations. Regardless, a question we need to be asking is whether our society will be better off waiting for these young people to find themselves while living off of their parent’s dime in the meantime, or whether they should be forced into jobs and roles they are not ready for and don’t want.