What Is It About 20-Somethings?
August 18, 2010 1:51 PM   Subscribe

Twenty-somethings today don't quite fit the definition of adolescence or adulthood. This has thrown the human development gurus for a loop.

With the past couple of generations taking longer to become "adults", social scientists are trying to decide whether or not this period in a person's life needs to have a separate classification.
posted by reenum (136 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Doofuses?
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:52 PM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Hipsters.
posted by mattdidthat at 1:52 PM on August 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


social scientists are trying to decide whether or not this period in a person's life needs to have a separate classification.

Calling it "grad school" isn't descriptive enough?
posted by felix betachat at 1:53 PM on August 18, 2010 [16 favorites]


Seeing that I probably fit the definition of adulthood even less in my 30s than I did my 20s, I bet I'd really screw with their conclusions.

That being said, I haven't lived with my parents since I was 15, so I'm not sure maturity and adulthood is something that can really be measured by where you hang your hat.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:55 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


The 20s are a black box, and there is a lot of churning in there. 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.

Who are these people? I live in NYC, and I swear, I don't know any of these people. The people I know have apartments and jobs and move every once in awhile, but not every year. Even the people I knew from high school who stayed in Florida have jobs and their own apartments. Is there a geographical region where this is more prevalent, or am I just running in the wrong circles?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:55 PM on August 18, 2010


social scientists are trying to decide whether or not this period in a person's life needs to have a separate classification.

It's as simple as "You Adults Have Wrecked Everything, So Why Bother?"
posted by nomadicink at 1:56 PM on August 18, 2010 [25 favorites]


Hipster doofuses?
posted by the painkiller at 1:56 PM on August 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


Facile, deliberately goading article that's effectively ripped apart in the NYT comments - not sure that we need to rehash it here.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:57 PM on August 18, 2010 [10 favorites]


TLDR; Baby-boomers are upset that we don't even think their lawn is worth standing on?
posted by public at 1:57 PM on August 18, 2010 [37 favorites]


And the tough part for women is that the window in which one can have biological children is sociologically shrinking.
posted by amro at 1:57 PM on August 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


oh for fuck's sake.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:58 PM on August 18, 2010


When I was a kid I was deathly afraid of growing up. Things haven't changed for me much in the last 40 years.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:59 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Who are these people? I live in NYC, and I swear, I don't know any of these people. The people I know have apartments and jobs and move every once in awhile, but not every year. Even the people I knew from high school who stayed in Florida have jobs and their own apartments. Is there a geographical region where this is more prevalent, or am I just running in the wrong circles?

Congratulations on being rich.
posted by codacorolla at 2:00 PM on August 18, 2010 [39 favorites]


When two of your definitions of adulthood are "get married" and "have children," I'd argue that the bigger problem is your methodology, not the behavior of 20-somethings.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 2:01 PM on August 18, 2010 [62 favorites]


This may be the most condescending article I've read in my life. Impressive accomplishment.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:01 PM on August 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


xkcd said it best.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:02 PM on August 18, 2010 [10 favorites]


Who are these people?

Me and my friends! I just counted it while reading that article. In my twenties, I changed residences 8 times, had exactly 7 jobs, and moved back in with my parents twice (god bless them). It sounds like a lot, but it's really not uncommon in my social group. I work in politics/advocacy, which is an extremely transient field full of people with ADHD, so maybe we're skewing the curve?
posted by lunasol at 2:03 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


The scientists found the children’s brains were not fully mature until at least 25. “In retrospect I wouldn’t call it shocking, but it was at the time,” Jay Giedd, the director of the study, told me. “The only people who got this right were the car-rental companies.”

1. The study didn't find any such thing; it found that brains continue to develop until age 25, and did not really address whether they continue to develop beyond that point, as the article itself points out a few paragraphs beyond:
Among study subjects who enrolled as children, M.R.I. scans have been done so far only to age 25, so scientists have to make another logical supposition about what happens to the brain in the late 20s, the 30s and beyond. Is it possible that the brain just keeps changing and pruning, for years and years? “Guessing from the shape of the growth curves we have,” Giedd’s colleague Philip Shaw wrote in an e-mail message, “it does seem that much of the gray matter,” where synaptic pruning takes place, “seems to have completed its most dramatic structural change” by age 25. For white matter, where insulation that helps impulses travel faster continues to form, “it does look as if the curves are still going up, suggesting continued growth” after age 25, he wrote, though at a slower rate than before.
He's "guessing" that certain changes are complete at age 25 even though other changes continue to take place after that. Even if he's guessing correctly, that's a dramatically different claim than the claim that before 25, people are undeveloped but after 25 their development is complete.

2. I know this is supposed to be a LOL-kids-these-days thing but scientists "guessing" that certain people's brains are inferior to others' and then calling in the media for policy changes to address this putative inferiority (by saying that car rental agencies that don't rent to people under 25 have "got it right") is seriously offensive and inappropriate for a scientist speaking in his professional capacity.
posted by enn at 2:04 PM on August 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


or am I just running in the wrong circles?
Yes. I assume you live in a nice neighborhood in a studio apt and have a steady job. There is a whole nother world of baritas/artists/odd jobbers living packed in tiny Bushwick apartments.

The weird thing is being in between these worlds and having to tell friends that no, you can't go out for Karoke on a Tuesday night.
posted by melissam at 2:04 PM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


welcome to a world where janitors need to go deeply in debt to get a bachelor's degree before they can score a sweet job scrubbing the shitter.
posted by TrialByMedia at 2:05 PM on August 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


> Why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up?

It ain't all it's cracked up to be. 40 years ago my father could walk off the street, armed with nothing more than a high school diploma, and into a solid job that paid enough to buy a (small) house and raise a family. Good luck finding a job like that in your 20s these days, especially without a college degree.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:05 PM on August 18, 2010 [38 favorites]


Also, the hand-wringing is just hilarious. No, NY Times, it is not the 1950s anymore!* I know, right? When did that happen?


*Actually, I suspect that, even in the 1950s, it wasn't really "the 1950s."
posted by lunasol at 2:06 PM on August 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


People haven't changed very much in the last 5,000 years. I wouldn't worry about the "next generation".
posted by Xoebe at 2:06 PM on August 18, 2010


When two of your definitions of adulthood are "get married" and "have children," I'd argue that the bigger problem is your methodology, not the behavior of 20-somethings.

Oh I so look forward to the findings of your critical study, in which those variables are replaced by "hustle for threesomes" and "pull bongs."
posted by felix betachat at 2:07 PM on August 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Hipster doofuses?

sure, here ya go!
posted by mannequito at 2:09 PM on August 18, 2010


The NYT has published a vague, badly-argued and somewhat condescending article about a group of people that they don't really seem to understand in an attempt to be relevant? Well, consider me... aw, man, I can't even snark about this sort of thing any more. I'm burnt out.

/needs a hug
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:09 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh I so look forward to the findings of your critical study, in which those variables are replaced by "hustle for threesomes" and "pull bongs."

I'm sorry, you seem to have found your way here from some discussion where this comment makes sense. Unless you're really trying to say that anyone who is unmarried or childless can't be an adult? That must earn you some points with your gay friends.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:10 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh I so look forward to the findings of your critical study, in which those variables are replaced by "hustle for threesomes" and "pull bongs."

Me too!


wait
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:11 PM on August 18, 2010


Isn't this exactly how we got "adolescents" in the first place?
posted by DU at 2:15 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Adolescence is a pretty new phenomenon, in and of itself, so it's not like anyone has the market cornered on the proper way to develop.
posted by absalom at 2:16 PM on August 18, 2010


Hmm, my early twenties could best be characterized as "trying to live down the stuff I did as a teenager."

And my thirties could be described as "trying to downplay my twenties..."

So I suspect I see a trend here, at least as it relates to my personal life. But then, my teens were... explosive, my twenties were chaotic and my thirties have been, well... spent here.
posted by quin at 2:17 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am married and unchildless and I find it almost impossible to be adult.
posted by tigrefacile at 2:18 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


People haven't changed very much in the last 5,000 years. I wouldn't worry about the "next generation".

If we don't worry about it now, we're going to be stuck in this weird place where warp speeds don't really make any consistent sense from episode to episode, to say nothing of how stardate is calculated. Plus, if we can't even put an entry into our show's bible for Andorians, we'll be stuck with the comparatively uninteresting Bolians as a fallback blue-skinned race. These things require careful planning, and I'm happy that the New York Times is willing to give it some thought. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to continue drawing up detailed sketches about the exact actions that take place within a standard "jamaharon" session.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:19 PM on August 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


As the type of person described perfectly by this article, I find the preceding flood of snark baffling.

I was almost moved to read that other people are experiencing the same whatever-the-hell-this-is as I.
posted by jefficator at 2:19 PM on August 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


When two of your definitions of adulthood are "get married" and "have children," I'd argue that the bigger problem is your methodology, not the behavior of 20-somethings.

A-fucking-men. Additionally, I'm 26 and this crappy 2b/2br apartment is the first place I've lived in for more than a year since I was 18. Does that finally make me an adult? Even though I've been living without parental assistance for 8 years?
posted by muddgirl at 2:19 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


“In emerging adulthood, if you spend this time exploring and you get yourself on a pathway that really fits you, then there’s going to be this snowball effect of finding the right fit, the right partner, the right job, the right place to live. The less you have at first, the less you’re going to get this positive effect compounded over time. You’re not going to have the same acceleration.”

This phrase really spoke to me for some reason or another.......as a child of parents of very moderate (more like poor) means, who later attended NYU and its now in the process of going to grad-school I always keep on wondering why some things are so damn easy for other folks........the end effect being that no matter how much I try nothing really is quite the right fit and I find myself trying to choose whether to live a semi-bohemian life where I am broke but at least I am following my dreams or a boring/adult life where even though I work 60 hours a week and supposedly I am financially better I still cant afford to have my own place in manhattan (I have roomates), could barely save money, but have to get in more debt to get ahead.
posted by The1andonly at 2:20 PM on August 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


Since a lot of college students are technically in their twenties, how is it especially exceptional that people in their twenties have short term (semester? summer?) jobs, move back in with parents (again, is this in the summer? short term?), and move to new residences every year?
posted by amber_dale at 2:20 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is probably secretly a relief for development gurus, who had everything figured out and were mostly just twiddling their thumbs in between epic lunch breaks.
posted by Wolfdog at 2:21 PM on August 18, 2010


ThePinkSuperhero: “Who are these people? I live in NYC, and I swear, I don't know any of these people. The people I know have apartments and jobs and move every once in awhile, but not every year. Even the people I knew from high school who stayed in Florida have jobs and their own apartments. Is there a geographical region where this is more prevalent, or am I just running in the wrong circles?”

It's probably both. Up until ten months ago, I would've said the same thing. Then I moved in with some (I must say, very good) people, mostly from Michigan, among whom this seemed to be the norm: one worked night shifts at Wal-Mart while struggling to find a better job; one still works only a seasonal job wrangling tents for a party supply company, a job that he's had for two years now, which is the longest he's ever been employed at age 26. At least half of us have gone a year or more unemployed; and very few of us have even the vaguest ideas in mind about "careers" or "callings" or anything like that. We're just trying to get by.

Of course, I think that also has something to do with the mindset they inherited in Michigan, which has had massive unemployment since before they were born. (The fellow who works at the party supply company still talks about why he left Michigan: because he realized one day that he'd been trying very hard for months to nab one of the two open summer positions at the local McDonald's – and failed.) Still, there are a slew of midwestern states in the same situation, and it's easy to get that point of view. It's certainly a very different way of seeing the world than the outlook I took on during six years of liberal arts.

The thing to notice, I think, is that this has less to do with the 'cultural' stuff than people realize. Yeah, I'm an old man and a curmudgeon, and it'd be easy for me to ascribe their lack of ambition and drive to the fact that all of them love video games. But I realized before long that that would be silly, completely silly. And people have been complaining about the death of 'adulthood' for decades; I think there's something to it (there was an actual mystique to adulthood in the 1930s, and there is a certain lack of respect and dignity granted to elders today) but it's not the central thing that drives people to live this way.

Mostly, it comes from having parents that were laid off multiple times during our childhoods, I think. And friends whose parents couldn't ever find work. And a youth spent constantly aware of the massive pressure that economic hardship puts on your family. Any drive this generation may have felt to find a career or employment that lasts more than a year or two or even housing that's semi-permanent goes out the window; the point is to get by, to make money in a comfortable and immediate way, and to live.
posted by koeselitz at 2:22 PM on August 18, 2010 [10 favorites]


melissam: The weird thing is being in between these worlds and having to tell friends that no, you can't go out for Karoke on a Tuesday night.

That's funny. Because I did that very thing just last night. And I'm pretty sure I know what place you're referring to. :)
posted by functionequalsform at 2:24 PM on August 18, 2010


Traditional societies have rites of passage that mark a specific transition from childhood to adulthood. Many of these rites involve some form of ritual or actual suffering. Our society, on the other hand, "spares" the adolescent from any such severing of ties to childhood. Parents need to take it upon themselves to arbitrarily pick a point at which they formally and effectively refuse to ever again act as parents.
posted by No Robots at 2:28 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


At 26, I satisfy all of their criteria for adulthood except having children. That being said, I think about my grandparents--my grandmother, who was accepted to a fashion-design school on a scholarship but wasn't allowed to go because her father thought girls shouldn't go to college, and my grandfather who was forced by his father to leave school at fifteen in order to go work at a cigarette factory, and I can't help but think that it's good that we've come this far.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:29 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


The idea that one should be self-sufficient at age 18, in college or working at a stable job and supporting your own family is a recent and Western development. Humans have lived in multi-generational family units for most of recorded history, with 3 or more generations under the same roof for thier entire lives. Most places in the world this is still a common arrangement or the norm.

The concept of retirement itself is a 20th century invention, and isn't more than maybe 3 full generations old. If "retirement" turns out to be an unstainable fairytale which sounded good in theroy, but in practice results in a cycle of diminishing returns for all but the "early adopters" and increasing economic opression of later born generations...this is about the time it would start showing up.
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:29 PM on August 18, 2010 [29 favorites]


You know:

The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain un­tethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.

Frankly at least half of those developments sound pretty awesome. Who wouldn't want a more extended phase of life to just dick around and have fun before they get so bogged down with commitments that they simply don't have time anymore? I love how our society fetishizes "childhood" and the idea that children need to be coddled with safe, supporting environments so they can play and learn and revel in their wonder of the world, and then at some arbitrary point after high school or college or whatever it's BAM! Get to work! No more marveling at the world for you! I agree with coddling children this way, btw, I just wonder why people should be expected to give this up completely when they turn X years old.

Plus, I question the characterization of people going back to school "for lack of better options"; everything you do, it's because you can't find something better, innit?
posted by rkent at 2:30 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


So this article is about how it's hard to live comfortably if you're young and poor? Awesome. Thanks NYT, I was about to start getting desperate.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 2:31 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Remind me again, what's so great about "adulthood" that makes it so desirable, and makes twentysomethings (or anyone born from the late 70s on) so deviant for not giving a damn about it? Is it the marriage (which is basically a 50/50 shot at a clusterfuck divorce), the job (with near-guaranteed layoff), the kids (to soak all free time and income, then be fought over savagely in aforementioned divorce), the house (to be foreclosed on thanks to aforementioned layoff, if it's not already underwater)? Sorry, I guess I don't see it.
posted by mullingitover at 2:34 PM on August 18, 2010 [13 favorites]


And this!

None of this is new, of course; the brains of young people have always been works in progress, even when we didn’t have sophisticated scanning machinery to chart it precisely. Why, then, is the youthful brain only now arising as an explanation for why people in their 20s are seeming a bit unfinished? ... Maybe it’s only now, when young people are allowed to forestall adult obligations without fear of public censure, that the rate of societal maturation can finally fall into better sync with the maturation of the brain.

Yes, or maybe it's that the political and economic interests of young people and old people are further diverging and all of a sudden it's convenient to come up with excuses for not treating young adults like real people.

I'm flabbergasted by the irresponsibility of the neuroscientists here. There is no shortage of people out there looking to find scientific research to legitimize the treatment of certain groups as inferior; these scientists should know better than to be so fucking cavalier about "guessing" whose brain is fully developed and whose isn't.
posted by enn at 2:34 PM on August 18, 2010 [9 favorites]


A friend of mine and I were recently talking about this and came to the conclusion that there is no longer a positive reason to be an "adult".

Back in the times of our grandparents, there were sectors of society (lodges, etc.) that one could only gain entry to if one was deemed an adult. It was an exclusively adult realm and thus may have made getting a wife to keep up appearances more desirable.

Since the times of the boomers and trend of making almost every aspect of society "family friendly", those exclusively adult realms have essentially ceased to exist.

So, what is the real draw in having a soulsucking 9 to 5 job, wife who hates you, kids who drain all your cash, and an avalanche of societal obligations? The alternate, which is staying single longer (i.e. "not growing up") becomes a lot more attractive.
posted by reenum at 2:34 PM on August 18, 2010 [10 favorites]


From the article:

It’s a development that predates the current economic doldrums

Yes, and it isn't happening because of "OMG lazy kids these days!!11!" like the NYT would have you think. The wholesale destruction of this country's manufacturing base in favor of completely unregulated "free market" fairy tale economics and our wonderful new "knowledge economy" (where credential inflation means that you now need a bachelor's degree to sweep the floors) has been the driving force behind this trend, and it will continue. But rather than placing the blame where it belongs, articles like this focus their condescension on the young. Ridiculous.
posted by Despondent_Monkey at 2:35 PM on August 18, 2010 [10 favorites]


In first century Corinth most people preferred to keep hold of their childish things thankyouverymuch.
posted by tigrefacile at 2:35 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


The weird thing is being in between these worlds and having to tell friends that no, you can't go out for Karoke on a Tuesday night.

Thinking about this further, I think NYC has several types of 20-somethings from middle class backgrounds:
Conventional: Graduated college with practical major or had good connections then got a job at a company with steady income and insurance. They live in good neighborhoods, mostly in well-maintained studio apartments.

Freelancers: Graduated college, floundered about for a bit, became a freelancer in a middle class trade like web development/design/art etc. Their income is irregular and hours are odd, but manages to afford some nice things and to share a decent apartment in a decent neighborhood. Some end up creating a startup and make it big, but most don't.

Starving Artists: Dropped out of college or desires to work as artist/writer/playwright. Forced to works as a waiter/bartender/mover/barista and does their passion as time permits. Usually lives in ramshackle share in a questionable neighborhood.

Trustafarians: Graduated college, but didn't land a good job for some reason. Lives in a great neighborhood in an awesome apartment, eats out for every meal, and parties all the time. No one can understand how they can afford it until they realize that they hail from ritzy neighborhoods and their parents are funding them. Often works at a non-profit or has an unpaid internship.
posted by melissam at 2:36 PM on August 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


In first century Corinth most people preferred to keep hold of their childish things thankyouverymuch.

Thus the need for circumcision of the soul.
posted by No Robots at 2:41 PM on August 18, 2010


This is me. Thank god young adulthood lets me be like this until 45. I was seriously thinking maybe I had some cognitive developmental challenges my parents hadn't had the heart to tell me about.
posted by anniecat at 2:42 PM on August 18, 2010


I believe the best description from other cultures is that of the "time of ashes". During this period, a young adult would be free of the restrictions of childhood, but not yet integrated into adult society, having not yet chosen to take on the responsibilities that accompany it. They would live near the fire, sleeping in the ashes, to stay warm. I heard about this from Robert Bly via Joseph Campbell.

The Amish send their kids off for a year to see the world, and to decide if they wish to remain in the society or not. It's called Rumspringa.

The Australian Aborigines have the walkabout.

I believe that the first year or so of College fills that same need, but the economics of wasting a year of what could be productive learning time is not something that can be sustained in these hard times.

What we need as a society is to have the same period of contemplation, and acceptance of the adult role, with its attendant rights and responsibilities. I think this was lost in the industrial revolution, and perhaps it's time to reverse that loss.

There should be some ceremony for this... and some symbol that goes along with it... ideas welcome.
posted by MikeWarot at 2:42 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thus the need for circumcision of the soul.

Little known fact: Paul's first draft spoke about "declawing the yetser hara.
posted by felix betachat at 2:43 PM on August 18, 2010


I wouldn't object to all of this so much if there wasn't a judgment entailed in the notion that we're not becoming adults. The implication is insulting- that we're immature, that we're rejecting responsibility.

Marriage? Childrearing? Redefining ourselves in terms of our jobs and relegating those parts of ourselves which we formerly defined ourselves by to the moments we can squeeze out? Fuck 'em. I don't want them, and I don't understand why every metric of "adulthood" that these assholes claim my generation fails at is suspiciously focused on self-negation.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:44 PM on August 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure how to respond to this, so I'm going to go home and play Team Fortress 2.
posted by hellojed at 2:44 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


ThePinkSuperhero: Who are these people? I live in NYC, and I swear, I don't know any of these people.

I live in NYC and that actually fits me pretty well. In my twenties so far—I just turned 26, last month—I've lived in three states, in five different apartments, had five jobs, and moved back home twice (for short periods of time) to save some money and plan out my next move.
posted by defenestration at 2:45 PM on August 18, 2010


Everyone younger than I am is lazy and everyone older than I am is greedy.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:47 PM on August 18, 2010 [29 favorites]


I tried following the plan with all the milestones and whatever. the baby-boomer generation broke the world, and it didn't work out.

this.
posted by ninjew at 2:49 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Starving Artists: Dropped out of college or desires to work as artist/writer/playwright. Forced to works as a waiter/bartender/mover/barista and does their passion as time permits. Usually lives in ramshackle share in a questionable neighborhood.

Don't pigeonhole me, dammit!


...I live in Park Slope.
posted by defenestration at 2:49 PM on August 18, 2010


Jobs provide no security, marriages provide no security, the house is no longer seen as an asset. The contract has been broken by society, is it a wonder the individual no longer keeps their part of the deal?

For example:

It’s a development that predates the current economic doldrums, and no one knows yet what the impact will be — on the prospects of the young men and women; on the parents on whom so many of them depend; on society, built on the 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 who finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and on and on.

What damn career? And pension? Who the hell is giving out a pension these days? And the real worry?

As the settling-down sputters along for the “emerging adults,” things can get precarious for the rest of us. Parents are helping pay bills they never counted on paying, and social institutions are missing out on young people contributing to productivity and growth.

Why can't young people be good little cogs? We need them for social security.
posted by zabuni at 2:49 PM on August 18, 2010 [20 favorites]


The weird thing is being in between these worlds and having to tell friends that no, you can't go out for Karoke on a Tuesday night.

Oh yeah, god, that. I stuck around my grad school town for a year after graduating, and my classmates who were still there did not understand why I couldn't just leave work at two to go barbecue or go tubing with them.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:49 PM on August 18, 2010


At first I thought this new category did not include me. Then I realized that between the ages of 20 and 29 (inclusive) I bounced between 6 different places of residence, spent about 1.5 months living at home, was not married and had no children. Maybe I was a hipster doofus after all.
posted by redyaky at 2:51 PM on August 18, 2010


Congratulations on being rich.

Here's the thing that irks me about (what I read of) the article, though: They throw a bunch of stats at you about the percent of 20somethings living at home/moving all the time/unable to find a job/whatever. These are percentages of ALL 20somethings, not just upper-middle class 20somethings, and yet it seemed like most of the human examples NYT used to support the data were disillusioned Wall Street types, PhD students, etc. - very much NOT the average 20something. There's a disconnect* between the numbers and their analysis of what the numbers mean.

*Guh, sorry.
posted by naoko at 2:53 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Another reason so many young people have trouble finding decent jobs these days is due to the increasingly outrageous demands of their potential employers. Everybody wants a 20-year old with 10 years of experience and a degree, and they don't want to have to pay them. Businesses aren't even willing to train anymore - they want everyone to take an unpaid internship and essentially pay for their own training.

And yet everybody acts so surprised when young people say, "Fuck that shit" and choose to stay in school, live with their parents or friends, and wait for the prospect of something better.
posted by Despondent_Monkey at 2:53 PM on August 18, 2010 [20 favorites]


I can somewhat relate to and agree with the overall idea: that, in the post-industrial West, the 20s are no longer the definitive Age of Settling Down. I disagree with most of the reasons given.

Personally, I fit this demographic very well, so here are my Special Snowflake details.

I turn 27 in a week. I've been studying at universities on and off since I turned 20. I've dabbled, failed, excelled and learned things I had no idea would become important to me. I have one bachelor's degree, and most of a second one as well. However, to me, the degrees themselves aren't nearly as important as the fact that I learned how to think about and approach things.

In my immediate future (and present), I am attempting a full student load while working full-time. In 1-2 years' time I'll be abroad studying some more. I have a relatively specific plan of what, where and by what means I want to achieve this, but my plans are short term and flexible by design.

I'm responsible with money and have had a job of some sort since I was 13. I never lean on my parents.

Enough exposition. My point is this: fiscally I am independent. In all ways that matter, I am mature and skilled enough to assume the role of a an adult, in the sense of a long-term productive member of society.

But I've chosen not to settle down. It has dawned on me in the last year that while I've outwardly been dismissing the idea flippantly, my reasons run deeper.

It's not that I feel like I'm immortal, or that I've got all the time in the world. It's not that I fear commitment or responsibility, or dismiss the life of settled people as a monotonous rut.

The mixed feelings of uncertainty and opportunity haunt me at times, sure. Who wouldn't have that strange feeling of anticipation and fear? People regularly change careers these days (japanese salarymen notwithstanding), and the mill of society, as it were, is much more flexible.

(forgive me this platitude): if life is what happens while you're busy making other plans, I'd rather not spend that much time planning. Though setting professional goals and working toward them would make me a financial success eventually, I would rather work toward things I am and will be intrinsically motivated to pursue.

Being happy. Being challenged. Learning. Exploring, not just in the sense of locales, but the myriad things that often get lost in the hustle and bustle of getting by.

Shit, I sound like a hippie.
posted by flippant at 2:54 PM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Remind me again, what's so great about "adulthood" that makes it so desirable, and makes twentysomethings (or anyone born from the late 70s on) so deviant for not giving a damn about it? Is it the marriage (which is basically a 50/50 shot at a clusterfuck divorce), the job (with near-guaranteed layoff), the kids (to soak all free time and income, then be fought over savagely in aforementioned divorce), the house (to be foreclosed on thanks to aforementioned layoff, if it's not already underwater)? Sorry, I guess I don't see it.


So, what is the real draw in having a soulsucking 9 to 5 job, wife who hates you, kids who drain all your cash, and an avalanche of societal obligations? The alternate, which is staying single longer (i.e. "not growing up") becomes a lot more attractive.

You know that people can actually have a fufilling job and love their spouse and kids, right? Life doesn't have to be as grim as you've described it. Life might turn as you've described it, but "adulthood" can also be great.
posted by Hop123 at 2:57 PM on August 18, 2010 [9 favorites]


Well, maybe this is a factor: There just aren't enough slots in the shrinking middle class to replace the ones being left by our parents. It may be selection bias based on my tastes of people I like or the place I live, but almost all of my friends come from well-to-do middle-class suburban backgrounds and find themselves in a lower income bracket than their parents when they were the same age.

Wage increases have been for shit lately. Now, I don't have any non-anecdotal figures, so grain of salt, please, but in my time in the workforce (2000-2010), I've more or less flatlined with a couple of small, lucky income spikes here and there. I've also had eight different employers, nine if I count freelance work. Compare that to my parents' generation, their twenties spent in the 1980s, and you can see why a lot of us are still bumming around, getting fun where we can find it, and putting off having to feed another mouth.

(I'm actually going to be a dad soonish, but it wasn't really planned- we're making the best of it, though, and I'm going back to school as a way to get myself a pay increase)
posted by maus at 2:57 PM on August 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


I remember hearing about this hot new phenomenon in the early '90s, just as I was becomming a 20 something. And every five years or so, it comes around again.

It's largely bullshit. Some people take longer to find their feet than others, and rely on family to help them out, and this is especially true during economic downturns. It's not a "new" sociological trend as flappers, beatnicks, hippies, punks, slackers, permateens and hipsters can all attest.
posted by Slap*Happy at 3:00 PM on August 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


I decided to skip the article and look at all the beautiful pictures of young people.

Looks like I made the right choice.
posted by poe at 3:03 PM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


...there is a certain lack of respect and dignity granted to elders today...

Want to know why? Because elders today are the ones who have fucked up our world and our futures in a pretty big way. Respect is good, but membership in a generation that has made many, many terrible mistakes is no longer a good way to earn it. Most "kids these days" (or at least the ones who are politically aware/involved) have realized that it now falls to them to pick up the pieces of this dying planet, so pardon me if that dignity and respect isn't automatic.

Disclaimer: I actually believe in giving everybody the benefit of the doubt and trying to be civil with and respectful of everyone, not to mention that those who have come before also built this world. Most of my peers are also way more polite than a lot of elders. I'm just saying.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 3:04 PM on August 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


During my 20s:
I worked the following crappy jobs: waitress, bartender, temp, receptionist, secretary

I moved 18 different times and usually lived with a combination of roommates that included co-workers, boyfriends and friends.

During most of my 20s, I didn't have any peers that had professional type jobs, own property or who had gotten married and stayed married for more than a few years. The majority of my friends lived below the poverty line, despite working full time jobs. If people had children, it was from a broken relationship and they'd do joint custody, with little Joey sleeping every other weekends on a cot in dad's room in the house that he shared with 3 roommates.

It wasn't until our 30s that a lot of people started getting their shit together and acting like grown ups.
posted by pluckysparrow at 3:09 PM on August 18, 2010


> Because elders today are the ones who have fucked up our world and our futures in a pretty big way.

Back in their day, that's what the Boomers were saying about their parents. Their parents probably said it about the WWI generation. And so on and so forth. One day your kids will be saying it about you. 'Twas ever thus and ever thus shall be.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:11 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was in my early 20s in the 90s and my life trajectory fits Arnett's research. I am also from Michigan, and koeselitz is right on the money (or lack thereof) about why this "stage" of life is so prevalent among Michiganders. Thanks for the validation, man!

That said, I found the tone of the article quite condescending, more of the "Baby Boomers can't understand Gen-X-and-Y-ers" I've been hearing since I was a college student 20-ish years ago.

I'm in my early 40s and my life, thank cultural evolution, is not this:

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 who finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and on and on.

I don't burden my folks with requests for money, but I don't have the lifestyle they had at my age. I never wanted it. Every time I thought about "settling down" I would feel depressed. They weren't happy that way; why did they want me to become like them?

I used to feel like a failure because I didn't have that "traditional" lifestyle (if we can really call something traditional that only occurred in prosperous, postwar America). But when I think of the sense of possibility that is still inherent in my life, and the fact that I've designed my life for maximum freedom at minimum expense, I feel an almost guilty pleasure akin to joy.

What NYT doesn't get is that the formulaic progression italicized above is now one of many lifestyle choices. Oftentimes the choice of an unconventional life is driven by a lack of options for fulfilling work and financial security. I don't think the main fulfillments of my life are going to come from a job, and I was always highly skeptical that motherhood would fulfill me as a woman, based on the stress and sacrifices I saw my mom deal with. A job that pays enough, that I don't hate, that gives me the freedom to pursue music, art, and writing in my spare time is ideal for me. If any company I work for get the freedom to lay me off whenever the fuck they want and never pay benefits, why should I devote myself to that company, or even a "career path" with different companies, all with the same bottom-line philosophy?

And I'm sick to death of seeing young folks get scapegoated in the media. If I ever blog a these-kids-today-get-off-my-lawn post, please just put me on the ice floe!
posted by xenophile at 3:12 PM on August 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


One day your kids will be saying it about you.

Maybe. In the meantime I'm going to be working to try to make sure that doesn't happen.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 3:17 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


So this is my mental image of The New York Times.

An older woman awakens in a well-appointed room. The furnishings are all solid and gilt, but the windows have been boarded-up and small birds nest in the corners. A huge mirror vanity dominates one corner of the room. The woman goes to the vanity and greets her reflection like an old friend. She discusses last nights sleep with her reflection and slowly begins to apply makeup. Her eyes never leave the reflection as she keeps talking, chatting, voice carefully polite and rounded. Once the makeup reaches roughly Joker-levels of application she pulls out a newspaper. A newspaper from September 1968. It is the only reading material she has and she's had it since 1968. She reads each and every article aloud to her reflection, pausing for questions and discussion - She remarks how wonderful it is to have friends, friends that really understand, how difficult it is to have friends when you are as important as she is. The paper finished, she folds it away and carefully removes her makeup. She then gets back into bed, wondering what exciting thing will happen tomorrow and how wonderful it is to have the most perfect of lives.
posted by The Whelk at 3:19 PM on August 18, 2010 [28 favorites]


My twenties were like this. Unfortunately, so have been my thirties (except that I'm married, have kids, and have not lived with my parents).
posted by KokuRyu at 3:19 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I posted this article on facebook this morning to make fun of it. God do I hate it.

Others already mentioned the marriage/kids /= adulthood issue. I will add that conflating homeownership with adulthood has given us such things as the subprime mortgage and the suburb.
posted by millipede at 3:22 PM on August 18, 2010


Kids: still crazy,mixed up.

Film at eleven.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:22 PM on August 18, 2010


There's only one elder I look up to: homo erectus.
posted by vertriebskonzept at 3:29 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Shit, I sound like a hippie.
posted by flippant


Pray you don't. The Baby Boomers were responsible for the Hippies and the overall self-centeredness of their generation has f-ed us, localized exceptions of course exist.
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:35 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, I love how shit that isn't a white-collar job is somehow unserious or unadult. So the blue-collar, working-class people, the folks that don't go to college and work in factories and retail and so on their entire lives, I suppose they never actually grow up, either?
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:38 PM on August 18, 2010 [9 favorites]


posted by The Card Cheat One day your kids will be saying it about you.

Not the ones I've abandoned at various rest stops across the country.
posted by mattdidthat at 3:43 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


TO ALL YOU OLD PEOPLE:

I speak only for myself. I am exactly the kind of 20 something this article is talking about. But I don't have any reasons for it, I'm just as clueless as these "social scientists" are about why we are the way we are, only I can admit it because I'm young enough to know that I don't know anything.

This "older generation", like the ones referred to in this article, are the ones telling me about the way the world works, and this is how life should be like. See, here's the thing, I don't like The Way The World Works. And I don't know why I am the way I am, but I want to change TWTWW. That means that I have to disrupt something. My social expectations, my parent's expectations, the expectations of my neighbors and just people in general. It's not that the way the the world works now is bad. It just doesn't work. So I gotta try something else. Doing the same things that my parents did isn't going to change anything. I'm thinking that getting married and having kids and getting that degree aren't all that they're cracked up to be, not because of inflation and the mortgage and the loans, but because it didn't seem to work for most people older than me. I'm just playing a different game, is all. Different rules, and different measures.
posted by bam at 3:50 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


If "retirement" turns out to be an unstainable fairytale which sounded good in theroy, but in practice results in a cycle of diminishing returns for all but the "early adopters" and increasing economic opression of later born generations...this is about the time it would start showing up.

Yeah it's that goddamned Roosevelt motherfucker how dare he think we would have no problem affording to pay for retirement with all the money our country's made over the past hundred years! You can't expect us to just keep doing well and it's not like Capitalism is naturally a better system of economic growth, right? Ha! Well, all I can say is it's a damned good thing we let the really wealthy people drive us like slaves and hide their dirty gains in foriegn banks otherwise we might be able to afford a whole bunch more stuff, and you know how entitled people start to get when you give them anything… Christ. It's like, "Dude, I gave you a dollar yesterday! What the fuck did you do with that dollar? Stop using all my fucking air, you social-non-contributor!"
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:57 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


what Slap*Happy said. In 1990 they called us all "slackers"; IIRC there was a big Time Magazine article going on about how it was the End of Civilisation As We Know It (or something like that).

You mean to be considered "adult" I have to be saddled with kids, a mortgage and a job I hate? Fuck that noise. I'm 42 years old, I've moved 12 times in 8 years, mostly lived with college students for the past five of those, been unemployed, underemployed, temping or plain dead broke for most of the past 2 decades, and last weekend the mister and I FINALLY managed to "get our shit together" enough so as to buy bedroom furniture that doesn't involve 1) Tupperware bins; 2) items picked up off the kerb; 3) milk crates / cinder blocks; or 4) stuff our ex-roommates abandoned. And before you assume we're just your average underpaid hipsters with liberal arts degrees working in nonprofits... actually, no. He's a well-paid MechE who designs Spacely Sprockets type gizmos, and I'm a legal assistant at the top of my pay grade after 22 years' experience in my field. Our combined salaries are probably almost three times the national average for a 2 person household. Sure we could have more nice things if we wanted to rent a shitty condo in a complex full of grad students instead of trying to afford our own house, but whatever.

Screw these people, I say.
posted by lonefrontranger at 4:08 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


what Slap*Happy said. In 1990 they called us all "slackers"; IIRC there was a big Time Magazine article going on about how it was the End of Civilisation As We Know It (or something like that).

I was hoping to hit gold on your behalf, but instead found two recent articles that re-cast the "slacker" Gen-Xers as hard-working. Some of it is amusing, post Dot-Bomb, but still interesting to compare the fear of a generation of Eternal Children.
Who would have thought the kids would start taking over so soon? Or that they would even want to? They were supposed to be slackers, cynics, drifters. But don't be fooled by their famous pose of repose. Lately, more and more of them are prowling tirelessly for the better deal, hunting down opportunities that will free them from the career imprisonment that confined their parents. They are flocking to technology start-ups, founding small businesses and even taking up causes--all in their own way.
"Great Xpectations of So-Called Slackers" -- Time Magazine, Monday, Jun. 09, 1997
When it comes to fiscal responsibility, members of Generation X have a bad reputation. Credit movies like Reality Bites, TV shows like Sex and the City and statistical gems like the recent survey from Oppenheimer Funds in which most Gen X women said they'll accumulate 30 pairs of shoes before they rack up $30,000 for retirement. But some newer research has emerged to show that Gen Xers--the 46 million Americans born between 1965 and 1977--don't deserve their slacker image.
"Gen Xers Aren't Slackers After All" -- Time Magazine, written by By Jean Chatzky With Reporting by Cybele Weisser Monday, Apr. 08, 2002
posted by filthy light thief at 4:27 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


and yet it seemed like most of the human examples NYT used to support the data were disillusioned Wall Street types, PhD students, etc.

Yeah, this is a general trend that I think tends to happen in these articles about Young People, my best guess is that to the person writing at the New York Times, they assume that this is still in the realm of the middle class. Class-based social exclusion does weird things to people's understanding of wealth. Whenever I'm talking to someone and this kind of thinking comes up, I try to ask them how many Americans they would guess have a bachelor's degree. The guess is usually about double the actual number.
posted by Subcommandante Cheese at 4:39 PM on August 18, 2010


And as a young 30-something, I'm happily married and we're looking to have a kid, though this whole "structured office job" is something I could leave behind some days. Karaoke (the good local karaoke) is on Friday and Saturday night, so I'm doing fine, though the mid-week hiking and backpacking trips always taunt me.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:39 PM on August 18, 2010


Argle-bargle - 1997 Time article link, and 2002 Time article link.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:40 PM on August 18, 2010


yea filthy, funny how most of us had to "settle down" and enter our thirties before we were no longer viewed as a threat. You'll notice that in the early 2000s the popular press dropped us as a threat, and instead started harping on how "entitled" and "immature" GenYers were, oh and right about then their tendency for "job-hopping" became a big concern. Rinse, repeat with the Millennials, ad nauseam. Bah.

I agree with the others. This is just more of the same "kids these days" bullshit that's been going on since the dawn of time. I moonlight as a cycling coach, and most of my clients are college kids. They're inexperienced at life, okay, fine, and that's to be expected. However, I submit that they are no more, nor less fucked up than all the rest of us, and many of them are a hell of a lot more savvy about things that might actually help them succeed in life than the bulk of my Boomer/GenX/whatever colleagues.

or what xenophile said.

*gets hose, chases clueless media curmudgeons off her goddamn lawn*
posted by lonefrontranger at 4:43 PM on August 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Group of multiple millions of people dosen't fit glib definition. Leads to dumbass article and pointlessly antagoistic MeFi thread.
posted by jonmc at 5:04 PM on August 18, 2010


My dad always says that we should be 'retired' until we're 40 - traveling and having adventures while we're energetic and healthy, and then settling down and working until we die.
posted by twsf at 5:11 PM on August 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


me: “...there is a certain lack of respect and dignity granted to elders today...”

OverlappingElvis: “Want to know why? Because elders today are the ones who have fucked up our world and our futures in a pretty big way. Respect is good, but membership in a generation that has made many, many terrible mistakes is no longer a good way to earn it. Most "kids these days" (or at least the ones who are politically aware/involved) have realized that it now falls to them to pick up the pieces of this dying planet, so pardon me if that dignity and respect isn't automatic. ¶ Disclaimer: I actually believe in giving everybody the benefit of the doubt and trying to be civil with and respectful of everyone, not to mention that those who have come before also built this world. Most of my peers are also way more polite than a lot of elders. I'm just saying.”

I think those feelings go away after a while, to be honest. Our generation might not realize this yet – particularly those of us whose parents are still under 65 – but all that stuff about mistakes made and the world fucked up go away. It's easy to say that our parents' generation "fucked up our world and futures in a pretty big way," but they didn't exactly recreate Germany in 1933; how can you really say the generation of the 60s "fucked up the world"? I know they felt the same way about their parents way back then, and I'm intimately familiar (as are we all) with the mistakes they did make, but... after a while, those mistakes fade, and we start to see them for what they really are: human beings, sometimes flawed, sometimes fallible, with whom we have a real connection.

Maybe that's just my own sense after watching my mom take care of her mother, who died a year and a half ago at 94. Every kid remembers the painful things from her childhood, and harbors some resentment toward her mom for hurtful things said; but now, here was the lady who said that stuff – a frail little old lady who couldn't really find the energy to be truly hurtful if she'd wanted to. (My grandmother wasn't by far one of the worst of her generation – her faults mostly lay in allowing my grandfather to say hurtful things himself – but my mother remembers the pain viscerally; who doesn't?) What I mean is: as you get older, these older people who once held these positions of power over you stop being threatening and start to need help, support, and comfort themselves. At that point, the worst, most hurtful things they can say or do stop being actually hurtful – and just become pathetic.

I don't really harbor any ill will toward my parents' generation, even if I disagree powerfully with them on many things. I understand the point of the 60s, I think, and I sympathize with what they were trying to do. I don't think those things were necessarily terrible. (I guess part of me wants to ask what exactly you mean when you say they "fucked up our world and our futures in a pretty big way.") And aside from all that – their turn is over, anyway. It's our turn now.

Because honestly, what I'm most concerned about is this: when I look at the lives old people live right now, it seems pretty damned wretched to me. It seems cut off from society, and it doesn't seem like a fine place to relax or have some true human comfort. And I find that disturbing primarily because I intend to be an old person in a few decades.
posted by koeselitz at 5:12 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


How'd that lazy asshole in the first paragraph end up with a PhD? By lollygaggin' around and blowin' the righrt advisors, what? Only children and 24-hour party people get doctorates.
posted by raysmj at 5:36 PM on August 18, 2010


As others have noted upthread, this is not so much a cultural/personal phenomenon as an economic one. Our system has been squeezing those beneath the very top more and more since the 1950s. My parents raised four kids comfortably--meaning college, cars, good birthdays and Christmases, vacations, decent house--on one steady salary and one part-time salary.

On the same money, I can barely afford to rent a home, pay bills, and raise one child.

My priorities are not what theirs were, because they can't be, because keeping out of debt, paying bills, and buying my one child what he needs (and we're not talking fancy stuff either) takes every resource I have. I have time off at work, but no money to go anywhere. My furniture is secondhand, we have one car, we eat at home mostly, and we are straining to keep going.

This article is almost a propaganda piece, to me; whether intentional or not, it operates as a form of disinformation, positing hardship and frustration as bizarre lifestyle choices of the young, not as a symptom of a sick economy that is narrowing their choices more and more. People making the best of their situation is not news; the fact that they need to is.
posted by emjaybee at 5:39 PM on August 18, 2010 [34 favorites]


The "boomerang kids" thing makes me want to tear my hair out, so I was prepared for this article to really piss me off. It kind of didn't. I can't say that I entirely, or in some cases, even slightly, buy all the causation and conclusions the article puts forward, but:

Among the cultural changes he points to that have led to “emerging adulthood” are the need for more education to survive in an information-based economy; fewer entry-level jobs even after all that schooling; young people feeling less rush to marry because of the general acceptance of premarital sex, cohabitation and birth control; and young women feeling less rush to have babies given their wide range of career options and their access to assisted reproductive technology if they delay pregnancy beyond their most fertile years.

That seems like a decent summary of a lot of the issues that I think have shaped me and my (early 20s to early 30s) peers.

And you know what? While the shrinking of the middle class, the devaluation of a college degree as a means to get a secure job, and the potential collapse of our economic support system all really, really suck, a lot of the rest of those factors aren't bad things. I am so thankful I've never felt the pressure to get married and have babies that my mother did. I've been free to make my choices, even if they weren't always great ones, and that's been a blessing. Societal norms being based around not having those choices aren't norms I'm much willing to get behind.

I also feel like I know a surprising number of people in their 50s and 60s who are going through "What in the hell do I want out of my life and how do I go about getting it?" phases that are awfully similar to the ones my peers are going through. Sure, they got married and established careers at 22, but maybe they were just postponing the inevitable.
posted by mostlymartha at 5:54 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am 23, just got my undergrad degree, and living in Michigan with my mom.

Many of my friends from home fit this category; a lot are going back to school, others are drifting from job to job, many are doing under-the-table work/drug dealing; sometimes a mix of all four. I went to school in NYC - the people I know that are living there are either a) struggling to make ends meet and not really able to enjoy $$$-NYC, or b) getting a fat subsidy from their parents.
posted by ofthestrait at 6:01 PM on August 18, 2010


I am twenty-five. I would like to be happy. I prioritize being happy.
posted by thejoshu at 6:12 PM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


The NYT has published a vague, badly-argued and somewhat condescending article about a group of people that they don't really seem to understand in an attempt to be relevant?

That's their MO nowadays.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:23 PM on August 18, 2010


The concept of retirement itself is a 20th century invention, and isn't more than maybe 3 full generations old.

I don't think that's really accurate. Hinduism, for example, specifically denotes 4 stages of life - the student, head of household, retiree, and finally the hermit or ascetic. BUt the notion that you stop running things so the next generation can take over is no new thing.
posted by mdn at 6:46 PM on August 18, 2010


You'll notice that in the early 2000s the popular press dropped us as a threat, and instead started harping on how "entitled" and "immature" GenYers were...

Yeah, that "Entitled" crap drives me right up a wall. There is a vast and profound difference between spoiled-rotten brats and overeager, overconfident and naive. It enrages me that otherwise intelligent people can't see it, or can't remember far enough back to their own early careers where they thought a mastery of HTML meant they deserved a corner office.

Newbs need to be brought down a peg, sure, but this is different, this is sick, this is demanding a young generation of go-getters bow and scrape before you. Fuck that noise. I want to interview someone who thinks ten thousand followers on Twitter means something and that their iPhone fart app qualifies them for the senior test engineer gig, because it means they're ambitious and energetic. Growing up and figuring out how the real world works will come with experience, and that's why n00bs are a bargain... making sure they develop into top-flight employees requires time and effort, and it's damn well worth it, and it's absolutely part of the social contract between young and old workers.

I want to work with excited and cocky kids, not groveling wallflowers grateful for a crust of bread tossed their way.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:47 PM on August 18, 2010


I want to work with excited and cocky kids, not groveling wallflowers grateful for a crust of bread tossed their way.

I'm sorry, then, that some of us boring, scared, battleworn 20-somethings fall into the latter group. You know why that is? Because pragmatism and understanding what the would actually requires from us has this way of undercutting optimism.

I want to interview someone who thinks ten thousand followers on Twitter means something and that their iPhone fart app qualifies them for the senior test engineer gig, because it means they're ambitious and energetic.

No, it means they don't get it.
posted by thisjax at 7:00 PM on August 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


s/what the would/what the world/g. Maybe that's why I'm underemployed.
posted by thisjax at 7:04 PM on August 18, 2010


Yeah, that "Entitled" crap drives me right up a wall.

Especially when the people tossing it around are the ones who won't hire a 20-something unless it's for an unpaid internship. Man those millennials sure are uppity!
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:06 PM on August 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


I never understood "entitled" Almost everyone I know is two paychecks away from homelessness. How is it entitled to expect a semi-decent living from your labor?
posted by The Whelk at 7:16 PM on August 18, 2010 [8 favorites]


You know why that is? Because pragmatism and understanding what the would actually requires from us has this way of undercutting optimism.

And that is a fucking shame. It's a disgrace, and a severe disservice to you and your potential. I am sorry, and don't for a minute think I believe it's your fault. It's ours... we're the "grown ups" and we really should know better.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:23 PM on August 18, 2010


related: The problem is that each successive generation is being raised in less gravity, so the bones are weak. The grandfather says, "my son's a bit of a wimp, but at least there's no war so he'll probably be okay." Then that kid becomes a parent and says, "my kid's an idiot, but at least he can get a college degree and that will protect him." Then that kid grows up and becomes a parent, and you know what he says? "My kid needs a bike helmet."

posted by r_nebblesworthII at 7:41 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Those complaining that the milestones are anachronistic and the NYT therefore has no idea what it's talking about may not have bothered to read two paragraphs further:

The whole idea of milestones, of course, is something of an anachronism; it implies a lockstep march toward adulthood that is rare these days. Kids don’t shuffle along in unison on the road to maturity. They slouch toward adulthood at an uneven, highly individual pace. Some never achieve all five milestones, including those who are single or childless by choice, or unable to marry even if they wanted to because they’re gay. Others reach the milestones completely out of order, advancing professionally before committing to a monogamous relationship, having children young and marrying later, leaving school to go to work and returning to school long after becoming financially secure. Even if some traditional milestones are never reached, one thing is clear: Getting to what we would generally call adulthood is happening later than ever.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:57 PM on August 18, 2010


People, of any age, haven't changed.

In steps tiny and large, the contract that worked so well for the Boomers and their parents is changing, and people are reacting. Maybe the change is due to the (really very young) internet, or the loss of traditional stabilities in marriage and career.

Corner office? Senior title? Nah, Starbucks or McDonalds will do, if it lets me work on what I want.
posted by underflow at 8:20 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think that's really accurate. Hinduism, for example, specifically denotes 4 stages of life - the student, head of household, retiree, and finally the hermit or ascetic. BUt the notion that you stop running things so the next generation can take over is no new thing.

The concept of a formal "retirement" backed widespread or mandatory social insurance programs is unquestionably a recent invention. This NYT article has a nice summary, which boils down to "By 1935, it became evident that the only way to get old people to stop working for pay was to pay them enough to stop working." Increasing prosperity ever since then has made this idea basically work. The modern construct has yet to face a prolonged, deep and widespread economic depression. The current economic environment could be the greatest test so far, to say nothing of the impending babyboomer demographic problem.

To be sure, the elderly have held idle positions throughout history, as caretakers or "wise ones" or village elders, positions where they benefited from the support of their family or other social structure. But these historical positions can't really compare to the modern notion of formal retirement, in which old people are shuffled out the door of the productive labor force to either (a) play with their accumulated expensive toys or (b) politely get busy dying. (assuming we are speaking of someone outside the ruling media-political class, who are effectively immune from the effects of age, see David Broder and Robert Byrd).

The article is a symptom of more than just lazy "get off my lawn"-ism, the economic and political interests of the younger generations and the older one are coming under increasing strain as economic growth stagnates. Promises to one generation must be fulfilled by the next, either in the form of a direct commitment or through indirect sacrifice of their own present economic outlook. If the resources to sustain the promised level of benefits simply are not available, one generation must pay the price of the shortfall, either the current workers or the previous ones. At least in my view, it's not at all clear that the notion of widespread retirement on a sociatial level is sustainable above the level of individual family units.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:52 PM on August 18, 2010


Don't throw your kids out like stale bread regardless of how old they get. The same applies to your parents. Family is all you will ever have of any value in this world. If your parents are abusive or other exceptions apply I hope you can find a tribe to take you in.
posted by humanfont at 9:05 PM on August 18, 2010


the world is one big confidence game. and i think the younger generations just don't have the same confidence in it that our parents did when they were our age. this is the result. whether that's true or not for them when they were in their 20s, is kind of beside the point. there's no getting around how badly things are going right now. and we're not the only age group that's seeing it that way.

it just doesn't feel like its going to be like it used to be. we've been taught by this whatever-Depression-recession-catastro-f that we can't build the world on infinite amounts of credit, so we're trying to figure out, sometimes forcibly, how to do without the luxury of endless years of fake prosperity.
posted by ninjew at 12:38 AM on August 19, 2010


They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch.

You know, just before I graduated from college, I was talking with my parents about this, that I've become a throw-away commodity in the work force, that I can't get a job at a company and work there for decade long stretches, knowing that I had security.

Their response: That's the way the world works now. Deal with it.

So yeah, nomadicink hits it right on the head. We didn't do this. We inherited it.
posted by gc at 3:53 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Eyebrows McGee (love you name, BTW), the complaint that I have with bringing up milestones is that the NYT still relies on an ill-defined idea of "adulthood" that still belittles the younger generations. Showing that the old system doesn't work but still relying on an idea of proper "adulthood" and "maturity" doesn't work well when those terms are nearly meaningless!

Now, how about asking we who are between 20 and 30-some winters what we think adult traits are?
posted by SallySpades at 4:32 AM on August 19, 2010


I just figured that since I was probably going to live until 80, I might as well stretch my childhood out as long as possible.
posted by Theta States at 6:12 AM on August 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm weeks away from 27. I graduated with an undergraduate degree that I didn't care about when I was 20 from a respectable state school and with a good GPA. Like many of my peers, I worked over 40 hours per week during school to live somewhat comfortably. Grew up in an upper-middle class family with boomer parents (born in '46 and '50) in various suburbs (my dad was military and then worked in the banking industry - not so much these days).

Since graduation, I've moved over a dozen times. I've lived with various roommates, lovers, my parents, alone, and with my now ex-husband. I worked dead-end retail jobs, worked in my field, and made extra money house-sitting, baby-sitting, landscaping, helping people move, any odd jobs I could find. When I decided what was right for me, I went back to school. I'm a career fireman for a municipal department, and I work part-time as a fireman and EMTI for a smaller department as well. I work almost 100 hours per week, and I live with 3 roommates in the most expensive county in North Carolina. I have a truck (that I'm still paying for) and 2 bicycles (that I bought whilst I was in college) to my name. I'm only in debt because of school loans and my vehicle payment, so I'm VERY fortunate.

I have $1000 in savings and retirement, health insurance (that I pay out the ass for), a nice rental house, and a truck that runs without too many problems. I'm financially independent. I love my work; there is nothing I'd rather do, and it makes me HAPPY.

People argue that I need to go back to school, or find a job that makes more money, places me in higher social status. Because I'm the one person in my entire family to work a blue-collar job; because I didn't fall in with the right people and make the right connections; because my marriage didn't work; because what am I going to do now that I'm approaching 30 and I'm divorced and I need to settle down and have kids OMG THE WORLD IS GONNA END BECAUSE I WON'T FALL INTO LINE LIKE I'M SUPPOSED TO!

My folks, and maybe many from their generation, have yet to understand that the world is extremely dynamic and not everyone is interested in reaching those "benchmarks of adulthood." I spent my entire childhood seeing that my parents, and those around them, were miserable. Why the fuck do I want to live my life like that?!
posted by sara is disenchanted at 6:45 AM on August 19, 2010 [9 favorites]


Sigh, ETA that I have $1000 in my savings, and CONSIDERABLY more in my retirement accounts.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 6:47 AM on August 19, 2010


My folks, and maybe many from their generation, have yet to understand that the world is extremely dynamic and not everyone is interested in reaching those "benchmarks of adulthood." I spent my entire childhood seeing that my parents, and those around them, were miserable. Why the fuck do I want to live my life like that?!

I don't know if you read the NYT comments, but there was a really funny one from a woman complaining about how she sees 20-somethings go to work in suits on Mad Men, and that's how it was till the 80s, and why can't today's kids just get their acts together??

I don't know why on earth she thinks anyone would want to model their lives on the characters from Mad Men, who are all absolutely miserable. I think some people are really missing the messages behind that show.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:20 AM on August 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Here's the thing that irks me about (what I read of) the article, though: They throw a bunch of stats at you about the percent of 20somethings living at home/moving all the time/unable to find a job/whatever. These are percentages of ALL 20somethings, not just upper-middle class 20somethings, and yet it seemed like most of the human examples NYT used to support the data were disillusioned Wall Street types, PhD students, etc. - very much NOT the average 20something. There's a disconnect* between the numbers and their analysis of what the numbers mean.

Agreed, this was my confusion. Perhaps it's just a flaw of the article- it doesn't seem fleshed out as well as it could've been.

In other news, I'm rich! Woohoo!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:26 AM on August 19, 2010


My folks, and maybe many from their generation, have yet to understand that the world is extremely dynamic and not everyone is interested in reaching those "benchmarks of adulthood." I spent my entire childhood seeing that my parents, and those around them, were miserable. Why the fuck do I want to live my life like that?!

This. Except my parents did and do understand and pounded a "fuck the man," get yours sensibility into me at an early age. Which seems somewhat ironic in retrospect.

My Dad wasted 17 years of his life at a job that mistreated him, he'd disown me if I made the same mistake.
posted by edbles at 7:57 AM on August 19, 2010


Half of this is unemployment, half of it is not wanting to be committed to house/job/family/bills like their parents. I actually see it as social progress... except for the unemployement part.

Life should be fluid, flexible and full of adventure. Honestly what is the point of holding the same job for 40 years if at the end of it all you can show for it is paid-off mortgage and another generation of kids; you have no memories of anything at all other than ticking off another day on the calendar and paying the same bills 480 times in a row, and maybe a couple stand-out vacations.

Fuck that noise. Yeah, I'm 43, but you know what? I'm doing different shit this decade than I did the last, and that decade was different as hell from the one before it. And I sure as shit am going to do different stuff than I am right now in 10 years. I have adventures, I have memories, I have experiences, and I will be fucking pissed when death comes knocking because I won't be able to see what comes next in the story of the world.

So, just because I'm not a square peg in a square fucking hole doesn't mean that I'm some kind of hipster douchebag failure fucking bozo loser.

I prefer to think of it as having a life.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:10 AM on August 19, 2010 [9 favorites]


As others have said, man, this has been to DEATH, it's a story that happens about every 5 years or so, with always the same pat sky-is-falling get-off-my-lawn self-congratulatory tone. This was my response the last time we did this. That said, all the economic and sociological motivations specifically at play here--the Pill and the laxer attitudes toward cohabitation and premarital sex, women with career paths, the housing mess, the way--YES!!--younger applicants are somehow supposed to be chomping at the bit to do unpaid internships in expensive cities or go without healthcare or move cities to find a job all the while while drowning in student debt, etc.--are worth discussing, for sure. Not quite related but touching upon some of how things have changed economically there's Elizabeth Warren...I know I've seen great lectures she's given online about how the safety net just is not there the way it was (healthcare, insurance, needing 2 cars, childcare, mortgage) which is why people who are two paychecks away from homelessness still have iPhones, which makes people think we're all lazy and stupid and immature. I can't for the life of me find the Mefi post on it though right now...
posted by ifjuly at 8:23 AM on August 19, 2010


Family is all you will ever have of any value in this world. If your parents are abusive or other exceptions apply I hope you can find a tribe to take you in.

I'm 25 and about six months to a year from literally being the sole and terminal (for the time being) point of my family tree so god damn do you have any tribe recommendations? Or has the grim specter of death stripped me of all worth?
posted by griphus at 8:27 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


griphus: I think you're pretty funny sometimes. But I can't tell if my opinion counts unless you impregnate someone or engage in a heteronormative monogamus coupling. Sorry wish I could help more!!
posted by edbles at 8:35 AM on August 19, 2010


I'm 25 and about six months to a year from literally being the sole and terminal (for the time being) point of my family tree so god damn do you have any tribe recommendations?

Never forget that chosen family can be just as important as biological family.
posted by Theta States at 8:56 AM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Very, very true, Theta, although I believe he was referring to the parent/child dynamic specifically. And, to his credit, in a manner with which I tend to agree. I think once in a while some snarky statement turns me into MeFi's own PvP Batman. And thanks, edbles (I think?)
posted by griphus at 9:03 AM on August 19, 2010


Arnett and I were discussing the evolution of his thinking over lunch at BABA Sushi,

Milestone.
posted by iamck at 9:32 AM on August 19, 2010


You know, I really wish there'd be a _real_ story about real lifestyle thing so I can tell my grandkids many decades hence that back in the day, when the world was wilder and younger, I was right there when crazy folk who did $CRAZY_ICONIC_THING and all that. You know, like the baby boomers do to us with their stories of being hippies with LSD and Woodstock and all that.

This shit is not one of them though. Absolutely not.
posted by the cydonian at 9:40 AM on August 19, 2010


Why is this seen as a bad thing? As a soon to be middle aged man (I turn 40 this year), it seems to me that it means our society is wealthy enough to allow twenty somethings to take some time off to assess where they are in life.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 10:24 AM on August 19, 2010


The folks who say, "Stop holding out for a decent job, just take anything, even if it's a dead-end trap," remind me of the folks of their parents'/grandparents' generation who felt the same way about marriage. What are you waiting for? Someone you actually love? Just grab the first halfway reliable thing you can. You're not getting any younger, you know. You're almost 20 and still single! You kids with your crazy romantic notions about "romance."
posted by Eideteker at 4:07 PM on August 19, 2010


Okay, so I'm too old to count for this article, but I just want to say: If I had the opportunity to take a reasonable job with a good defined benefit pension I'd jump at it. Just show me the career path available to twenty somethings where they can rely on thirty plus years of employment and a good pension when they retire. I bet that you'd find folks taking jobs like that if they were out there.
posted by meinvt at 7:41 PM on August 19, 2010


That sounds like my job, meinvt. Not very inspiring or coveted, but it's a decent challenge, extremely secure, decent pay, and gives a great pension. It also isn't overly demanding of me, giving me plenty of extra energy to focus on other things in my life that give me accomplishment and satisfaction.
Definitely not the path for everyone, but it's a still a damn fine path.
posted by Theta States at 9:02 PM on August 19, 2010


I still don't really get the point of this article. Priveleged 20 somethings take on traditional adult responsibilities later than they used to? People are living differently than their parents lived? So Fucking What? Why is this an article I'm seeing linked everywhere as if it's revelatory? As if it isn't just this same song and dance we see once every 5 years. At least the article didn't use the word millenials, for once.
posted by edbles at 5:28 AM on August 20, 2010


Wow, I really lucked out. Me and all my friends dropped out of school and scrape by with customer service/tech/design jobs. That kid looks miserable waiting for a “Real Job”.

On a related note, I jumped at the shitty job and might be getting hired on fulltime soon. YEEEEE.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 8:37 AM on August 20, 2010


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