There is much buzz in the blogosphere this week about the New York Times article: “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” published in Sunday’s edition. The author, in a well written and articulate piece, asks: “Why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up?” Surprise, surprise: this 20-something disagrees with her views.
Apparently, “adults” are concerned about today’s youth because they are
- “remain[ing] untethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes,
- going back to school for lack of better options,
- avoiding commitments,
- competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs”
She backs it up with some pretty solid statistics:
- “One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year.
- Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once.
- They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch.
- Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. And marriage occurs later than ever.”
Okay, fair enough. I agree with all of the above – in fact I am guilty of half of those awful behaviours. So what exactly am I supposed to be doing differently?
Henig explains there is an “expectation of an orderly progression in which kids finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and eventually retire to live on pensions supported by the next crop of kids.” What do the stages of this “orderly progression” have in common? Well from what I can see, they benefit the generations of adults who have already completed them. They keep things on track; they keep society on the same path it has been. Question: how’s that been going?
According to Henig’s research, over half of the population is still heading that direction. So what is the problem, an increase in those who aren’t? A “trend” so to speak? Imagine what would happen if nothing ever changed…imagine the things we could accomplish with all the time we currently spend talking about how things were. Oh, the possibilities. If only…
Guilty as charged
I recently introduced my boyfriend to my family and friends. Among several entertaining (but anticipated) reactions to meeting him (the only serious relationship I’ve introduced to them and a foreigner no less), my favourite was an offering of congratulations to my mother on her daughter finally having found success. It is nice to know that I’m on the right track after years of misguided and selfish attempts to better myself.
I’m a picture of all the things wrong with today’s youth. Since leaving home I have lived in four cities in three countries. I thought I was gaining perspective and becoming a global citizen – in fact I was essentially stealing from America by not purchasing a home and contributing to a local community. I’m not married and I don’t have children. I didn’t know who I was at age 21, but I probably should have committed to raising a family and nurturing a marriage while I figured it out. And worst of all: I travel. Where to even begin? It is wrong on so many levels.
Luckily I do have one redeeming quality: I’ve worked for the same company in a highly profitable industry since I graduated with a business degree. Thankfully I have not sacrificed a comfortable lifestyle and financial independence to help others. Lord knows those Not for Profit Organizations are a selfish bunch who take advantage of naïve and idealistic youth who are willing to work for nothing. I’m glad I didn’t join all the other lazy hippies who pursued their passions – that would have been just dreadful.
Let’s move forward
According to Henig, “we’re in the thick of what one sociologist calls ‘the changing timetable for adulthood.’” She suggests we should “[rethink] our definition of normal development and… create systems of education, health care and social supports that take the new stage into account.”
To slightly contradict myself and momentarily ditch the sarcastic tone – I completely disagree (again). I think we can go too far in embracing change.
For almost every young person who “avoids commitment” and rejects the traditional path, one follows it because it is the “grown up” thing to do – that’s why it works. Both are difficult journeys, and they should be. By choosing we are growing, we are asserting our independence and learning about ourselves. If we eliminate the struggles that come with one option, no one will choose the other; and these fears about the future of society will come true.
“Every generation needs a new revolution.” — Thomas Jefferson
Bottom line: if my generation can offend my mother’s generation as much as hers offended the one before, I will be proud.