What Is It About 20-Somethings?

Following is an article from the New York Times on August 18, 2010 by Robin Marantz Henig.  It’s about how the transition to adulthood is now collectively being pushed back to later ages.  Psychologists are now defining a new phase in the maturity process that takes place during the twenties.  It’s a phase characterized by moving around more, changing jobs at a higher rate, and getting married later.  Critics of this new transitionary phase say that it’s simply kids coming out of college and pushing off responsibility.  However, psychologists answer by pointing to the fact that 100 years ago, the transitionary phase we know as adolescence wasn’t generally accepted either.

At least in my opinion it’s an incredibly interesting article about how environment and culture affect how we mature and how “childhood,” “adulthood,” and other “natural” stages of development are not fixed at all.  Here are a few teaser paragraphs, with a link to the full article.  It’s well worth the read.

Click here for the full article

“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. Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. And marriage occurs later than ever. The median age at first marriage in the early 1970s, when the baby boomers were young, was 21 for women and 23 for men; by 2009 it had climbed to 26 for women and 28 for men, five years in a little more than a generation.

We’re in the thick of what one sociologist calls “the changing timetable for adulthood.” Sociologists traditionally define the “transition to adulthood” as marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had, by the time they reached 30, passed all five milestones. Among 30-year-olds in 2000, according to data from the United States Census Bureau, fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so. A Canadian study reported that a typical 30-year-old in 2001 had completed the same number of milestones as a 25-year-old in the early ’70s.

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. But why?”

The New York Times article (link above), references the cover of the May 24, 2010 edition of The New Yorker magazine.  Below is the image, which is titled “The Boomerang Generation” by it’s author, Daniel Clowes.

For me, a student working on a Ph.D. in History (of all things), the image of a young man hanging his doctoral degree on the wall of his childhood room is cause for more than a little worry.  I just hope that by the time I graduate, the economy will be back on its feet…

Categories: History, Ideas & Philosophy, Politics/Current Events | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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