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What is it about 20 somethings?

Finishing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, getting married, 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 miles…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Finishing school,
leaving home,
becoming financially independent,
getting married,
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. 

Comments (11)

  • heck if i know…

    a time of intentional searching is good. a time of extended adolescence… not so good.

    as a 20-something myself, it concerns me that we’re becoming known for inability to commit and for our vocational flakiness. not the best type of legacy to leave our children (if we end up having any).

    i want to see more millenials choosing into the hard things in life – learning how to push through the challenges and commit to something, because they understand the fruit of such a decision. i know it’s hard, but it’s also worth the cost.

    especially given that the alternative is floating around without adding much value to anything at all.

  • ugh. i am the mother of two twenty-somethings, and we fall into many of the emerging statistics; and yes, i did contribute to some of the issues by my parenting standards, or lack thereof, especially when they were younger, and my husband worked really, really long hours.

    our older son moved back home in april, after a long term relationship came to an end. he left a job he had been at for three years, and will be completing his degree this fall, although his propensity for putting things off till the last minute (like financial aid forms, etc. because we won’t pay for any more school…that’s another story…) drives me bonkers.

    but then again i am too type a for my own good half the time!

    our other son moved to or and we sought to walk the tightrope of support/without enabling. allowing him to live the consequences of some really bad choices, but when making an effort helping to see him through. but that’s tough…where is that line and does it move? he has had his valleys, but seems to be making it to the mountain top.

    i know that how we parented them does and will continue to affect how we raise our daughters, 11 and 13 and parenting is hard work; the consistency demanded is exhausting, but i believe worth it.

  • this is a tough issue because we have a daughter who is rapidly drifting toward 30 something and this period from age 21 has been open rebellion and she is what is termed a “vagabond.” she “joined forces” over the internet with another “shiftless drifter” and they keep going from one scheme to the next. both ran away from home to their “fairy tale” lifestyle and apparently no feelings are valid except their own. i have laid it all down and offered unconditional love and forgiveness and an open door to help her find her way back to god and a real life but was told that i am “hostile.” anything that questions the vain lifestyle of compromise and drifting is “hostile.”
    she used to love god and want a career and later, home and family but now all she wants is to have no demands and alot of money and things.
    there isn’t a day that goes by that i’m not in prayer for her.
    god has given me tremendous promises and even physical signs that prayer has been answered and that i must wait and see his salvation. i do not know what it will take and sometimes i’ve thought that my prayers for her safety might have been the obstacle.
    i would covet your prayers for her return to the lord and his purpose for her life. this is really the core issue for all of these 20 somethings. they are rebelling against god’ purpose.

  • having just ‘graduated’ from the 20-somethings a year and a half ago and now being blessed with our first child on the way this upcoming january, i feel a bit on the fence with this intriguing generational dilemma. i spent my early 20’s living the life that i can only imagine my parents hoped and dreamed for their first born son. my strive for financial and worldly success seemed to brim to overflow as i purchased my 3rd house, was driving a 325i and was on the verge of buying out my company all at the ripe old age of 24.

    but after all the hard work and back breaking effort i had put in up to that point in my young life, i was overwhelmed by a sense of emptiness.

    and then god showed up.

    i gave my life to christ that following year and the rest, as they say, is history. my wife and i took our honeymoon to kibera, kenya in 2007 and god wrecked us. when we got back to the us we simply couldn’t fit back into ‘normal’ lives. a little over a year later we found ourselves, as two of the ‘old timers’, traveling the globe on the world race.

    we returned from the wr in june. i am settling back in and running my company again. our two houses are rented out for another year so my wife and i, at age 31 and 29 respectively, find ourselves like so many of our generational counterparts, living back at home with my parents.

    i’m not sure what god has planned for us in the days, weeks and years to come but one thing has become sadly clear to me as we continue to reintegrate back into life in the us. there is a general lack of understanding and deep-rooted appreciation from all generations about how unconditionally and completely god loves us. he absolutely adores us in every way. until we come to grips with that simple fact then everything else in our lives is going to seem relatively fruitless.

    i pray for my generation, for the generations who have blazed the path for before us, and for the generations yet to come, that they would know that they know that they know that god is with us, he loves us and he couldn’t be prouder of his sons and daughters.

  • in some ways, there is nothing new under the sun. it is still wisdom to nurture in young adults a balance between privileges/freedoms and responsibilities. does there really have to be a great divide between earthly realities and heavenly realities? one of our aims here at cdm is to stay kingdom-focused in mind and deed, while undertaking the daily responsibilities of work, school, relationships, etc. it is easier to compartmentalize “mission trips seasons” and “ordinary life seasons”. but reality calls for us to see eternity bear upon all things at all times. finding our place is a good thing taken too far…into narcissism. so we are always asking how to help slay this giant. jesus did say that we can only find our lives if we lose them for his sake and the gospel’s.

  • interesting conversation. ultimately, ‘pushing back the milestones of adulthood’ can never really be good. whether ready or not, god has a plan for each of our lives and the longer we postpone his will for our lives, the longer we deprive ourselves and others of the blessings he has for us. he doesn’t call us when we are fully able to do the work he has planned, he calls us when we are weak and broken and when his glory will be manifested through our inability to accomplish his will.

    “therefore, i urge you brothers, in view of god’s mercy, offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to god- this is your spiritual act of worship. do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. then you will be able to test and approve what god’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” romans 12:1-2

    we have to continue to go back to the word and what it says. whatever our age, if we strive for worldly goals and put aside god’s will for our lives, we continue to conform to the pattern of the world, and begin to cease the beautiful work of the lord of transformation through renewing our minds.

    when we reach the two-thirds point in statistics has it not become a norm?

    “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.”

    when we become self-focused, or our god has become self, we cannot serve our god, the father, our creator. we must choose whom we will serve. how can we ever find our identity, purpose or place in life when it all is found in the one most high god and we’ve chosen to serve another master, that of self?

  • this article seems to have touched a nerve with folks.

    all i know is i can’t control statistics, only myself. i’m 27. many of my peers are cast adrift, floating. in the face of that it can be difficult to defy expectations and swim upstream.

    i think my generation can be at least partially typified by:
    looking for a cause worth fighting for: given the 8-5.
    looking for role models: given the morally bankrupt.
    looking for meaning: given entertainment.
    looking for deep community: given facebook.
    looking for god: given a mirror.

    but… the answer for this generation is the same as it was for all previous ones:

    “jesus is the answer, for the world today,
    above him there’s no other,
    jesus is the way.”

  • i’m a 20-something who is living back at home (have been for about 3 years).

    i’m about 4 years older than the average age for a woman to be married from 1970, and about 5-10 years away from even wanting to think about marriage and children. i feel god directing my path elsewhere right now and don’t see those two fitting in for a while.

    from age 18-22 i went through about 5 jobs, but have been where i currently work for almost 3 years. i orginally moved back home to finish college, but have learned a lot that 4 walls can’t teach.

    it’s both a blessing and a curse, the privelage we’ve been born into. we have the ability to not worry about survival and so are free to pursue living. unfortunately too many never really get it and drift through.

    if what we are using to determine how “adult” someone is, are worldy standards of having there own house, etc. then we need to reevaluate. if it’s how spiritually mature they are, and how they are following god then yes, it’s a shame to see many in my generation drifting through.

  • this article caught my eye more than most because it is something i think about daily. i am a 20-something and i cannot agree more with nick. my wife and i graduated from college, got married, had two typical 8-5 jobs and spent about a year or so going through “life”. but whose life were we living? we reached a point where we thought it was time to start to look for a house, because that’s what we were “supposed” to do right?

    luckily we didn’t purchase a house. we stopped, took a deep breath and asked ourselves what we were doing. we didn’t want to just go through the motions, life a life that society puts on us all. so thankfully we sold everything and went on the world race. now we are back, but there is still that feeling inside of me. i yearn for so much more, to make a difference, to not settle for some job. i want god to use us for his kingdom, i want to see his dreams and attempt to fulfill them. i don’t want to look back at my life at 30, 40, 50 and wonder what happened, where did it go? no living for the weekends. no saving a for a big retirement. i want to live the life god has for me now. we were made for something more and know it, so were not settling till we figure out what that looks like.

    now back to what nick said: i think my generation can be at least partially typified by:
    looking for a cause worth fighting for: given the 8-5.

    (hit the nail on the head. we have 7 or more jobs in a decade because we haven’t found the job or company worth fighting for. therefore, i will keep looking, or now i will create my own)

    looking for role models: given the morally bankrupt.

    (again, so true. as i see the news, i wonder if any kids have someone to look up to because a lot of faces in the news reveal a bleak picture. when i was a kid, i “wanted to be like mike.” but from what i see now, i don’t want to be like [insert celebrity here]. my wife and i have been praying for a role model or mentor for our lives. someone who is a christian that is willing to invest their time into us as people and fellow believers. push and motivate us to step out in faith and make a difference, strive for change. we want someone willing to invest in us, as god did, and not focus so much on their nest egg. after all, do you want a pile of money, a balanced and diversified portfolio, a nice estate and trust when you pass or would you rather die knowing you invested in someone who saved thousands of girls from prostitution in thailand, or helped bring clean drinking water to young children in africa? what is worth more to you, to god?)

    looking for meaning: given entertainment.

    (i have read ecclesiastes on more than one occasion. all is smoke, smoke in the wind. no thing will satisfy us like god. let’s give and receive god, not entertainment that is temporary. as long as were fed entertainment, we will continue in our hunt for meaning)

    looking for deep community: given facebook.

    (how many families do you know who are sharing a house? i don’t know of many but i know i long for some true community. living with or next to a group of believers sharing what we have, encouraging one another, praying, and having fellowship together. just like in the book of acts. would society think we are weird? yes. would it be difficult? very. would it be worth it, when your other neighbors wonder what your up to and come by and you pray for them, invite them in for dinner, and they begin to really see what god’s love looks like? yes.)

    whew, alright glad to get that off my chest. come on everyone, let’s live a life that matters!

  • johnny,
    your insight as a 20-something is legendary. while you may be farther down the road than most, you have a lot to learn and continue to share with your peers. please continue to share your views and experiences with us, we desperately need them.

  • Interesting. I wasn’t a drifter, I didn’t live with my parents, and I was committed to my professional career…all until I joined this program called the World Race.

    During the trip I realized I wanted to exchange “Adulthood” for “Kingdomhood” Not that it is one or the other or that they are very different but the direction of “Adulthood Earth” is different than “Adulthood Heaven”.

    So now I find myself living on Faith. Which sometimes I end up staying at the folks for a while. My parents think I am drifting, from one God thing to the next that is. But I am committed non the less to seeing some Kingdom come to earth. I got some Holy Spirit in this sail, where he blows I go.

    Do I have extreme optimism? Yep, why not I got Jesus living inside of me. I carry his promises and his authority.

    Identity and Purpose? Son of God and Bringer of Life. How can one not pursue and answer these questions? Maybe our generation is in a prime spot for God to show up and be the answer everyone is looking for. You have to look to find right? At least we are looking.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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