From the New York Times to Fox News, the common conception surrounding millennials is that they are collectively refusing to take the step into adulthood.
Millennials, whose ages range from 18 to 33, are less likely to own homes, have families or hold jobs — choices that recently inspired a debate among columnists at the NY Times. These shortcomings appear as obvious rejections of pleasant, suburban hallmarks of adulthood.
However, despite these uninspiring realities, the Pew Research Center shows that millennials are also the best-educated generation to date, as a third of older millennials have a four-year degree or higher. Additionally, it must not be forgotten that the pursuit of higher education often comes at the price of a delayed entrance to the real world.
With that in mind, one must take into consideration the number of millennials in higher education and the effect that has on their maturing.
For instance, having a family while young was not only practical, but acceptable in the past because it was also common for Americans to enter the job force immediately after high school.
Now, as an effect of seeking higher education, millennials live in the new reality of a buffer zone between the harshness of the job force and the immaturity of high school. This buffer zone, for the most part, is not conducive to having children or even being married. Most of young adult life is now spent in academia, as seen in the Pew Research findings, alongside the hope of eventually acquiring a high-paying or stable job.
Education, however, also comes with the burden of student loan debt, which can amount to as much as $30,000 in some states, as reported by the Project on Student Loan Debt, an initiative of The Institute for College Access and Success.
Homemaking and family life is hard to achieve without a living space, and massive student loan debt makes a mortgage seem much less attractive, as reported in a Money News article. Critics need to remember millennials came to age surrounding the last days of the “housing bubble” that preceded the Great Recession, an event which stirred less confidence in the housing sector for young people, according to the article.
Also, even though 69 percent of unmarried millennials would prefer to be married, falling short of good economic standing can keep many from doing so, per the Pew research.
It is only understandable, then, that millennials are forced to put off homeownership, like marriage, because of student loan debt and the impracticality of managing a household while in college.
Knowing this, it is easier to see how traditional aspects of adulthood don’t make sense for millennials. However, this should not condemn an entire generation as lazy, apathetic or selfish, as previous generations and the media often label it.
In a country as diverse as the U.S., it is impossible to generalize in such a sweeping way that millennials are merely suffering from Peter Pan Syndrome, causing them to shrink from the trials of adulthood.
Instead, millennials are in the midst of deciding what it means to be an adult in a post-Recession economy.
Chelsea Mulligan is a freshman majoring in international studies.