Growing up is taking longer than it used to
Where’s my $100,000 Mercedes S-class?
As spoiled as that question may sound, it’s a tune that more and more young adults are humming. The 18-to-35 crowd wants everything from true love to a high-paying, enjoyable job.
And they want it plenty.
The problem is that most emerging adults aren’t exactly sure how to get it. Graduating from college and being employed by a company for the entirety of one’s working life is less possible now than it was when the parents of this generation were emerging into adulthood. Choosing one career path and sticking to it is also less desirable today and borders on boring. With all of the options that are available, doing so is like going to a large Chinese buffet and just eating the fried rice.
However, there is a problem: When young adults find themselves in such a position of not knowing what to do or how to get what they want, they flounder. It’s referred to as a “quarter-life crisis,” and it’s a phenomenon occuring in many places. It is not a disease, nor is it indicative of a lack of values. It is merely a change in the way life is led, and every new generation experiences such changes to some degree.
The terms used to describe the ambitious, but confused, young adults today are not complimentary. In Japan, the name for them translates to “parasite singles.” In the United Kingdom, they are known as “kippers,” which stands for “kids in parent’s pockets eroding retirement savings.” In the United States, such young adults are merely known as “boomerangs,” people in their late teens who move out for college and “boomerang” back to their parents’ house when college ends.
It’s not an uncommon occurrence. According to the American Sociological Association (ASA), 40 percent of people in their late 20s still receive financial assistance from their parents. According to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, 43.2 percent of women and 56.8 percent of men age 22-31 lived at home with their parents or planned to move back home after graduation in 2002. The “traditional” ages for undergraduates to be in school are 18-22. According to Education Statistics Quarterly, however, the average age of undergraduate students nationwide is 26. Not only that, but 1 in 4 undergraduates is 30 or older.
The very benchmarks of adulthood are being delayed. According to the ASA, milestones such as graduating, leaving home, getting a full-time job, marriage, having a baby and financial independence are happening at later ages. In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men reached these milestones by the time they were 30 years old. In 2000, the percentages were far less, with only 46 percent of women and 31 percent of men achieving full adult status using the ASA’s characteristics.
It’s easy to label such young adults as lazy or privileged. However, it is also dismissive and counterproductive. Such indictments suggest that what is happening is only in the minority, when statistically it is not. It also suggests that there is something wrong with the young adults who experience it. While it may lead to mistakes and it may be unpleasant at the time, it is not a disease. While countering it may require a little tough love, it may also require a little compassion.
One does not necessarily need a child in order to be an adult. Views on marriage and childbearing have changed. This is not a baby boom generation, and there is no population shortage. Requiring marriage and a child for full adulthood does not reflect the social necessities or the values of the modern era.
Financial independence is also more problematic now than it was before. Being financially independent requires more income than it has in the past, both due to the increased costs of living as well as the larger debts accumulated by students for school.
The answer that life is simply taking longer than it has in the past. Many students ask about where their independence of love, home, happiness and money are. The answer to those questions is the same as the answer to my own question regarding the location of my Mercedes. It’s down the road 10 or 15 years and will be available when it’s ready to be paid for.
Jordan Capobianco is a senior majoring in English literature.