‘Emerging Adulthood’

Just fucking shoot me:

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.

[snip]

The more profound question behind the scholarly intrigue is the one that really captivates parents: whether the prolongation of this unsettled time of life is a good thing or a bad thing. With life spans stretching into the ninth decade, is it better for young people to experiment in their 20s before making choices they’ll have to live with for more than half a century? Or is adulthood now so malleable, with marriage and employment options constantly being reassessed, that young people would be better off just getting started on something, or else they’ll never catch up, consigned to remain always a few steps behind the early bloomers? Is emerging adulthood a rich and varied period for self-discovery, as Arnett says it is? Or is it just another term for self-indulgence?

Yes. It is self-indulgence. It is so totally self-indulgent for one to move from job to job because this economy is and has been for the past 20 years not just in the toilet but halfway into the septic tank and NO ONE WILL HIRE YOU. It is self-indulgent not to marry the first person who can stand being near you, and stick with that marriage through years of misery and punishment. It is self-indulgent to not have ten kids right away. It is self-indulgent to actually figure out what you want instead of letting yourself get plowed under and then make sitcoms about how much it sucks to have a house in the suburbs.

Maybe I just spend too much of my time with kids who are busting their asses to find jobs, who don’t WANT to move back in with their parents and are really upset at having to do so, who would love nothing better than to have a great house and someone they love desperately. Maybe I spend too much of my time around twentysomethings who work harder on their laziest days than I work on my toughest, who love what they do and want to make money at it, who are doing their best in a world that, as usual, tells them they’re callow and stupid and don’t have anything of value to offer. I mean, I’m sure we all know lazy assholes, but I personally have far, far more stories about the people who would cut off their right arm for a chance at the job you say they’re too lazy to do.

This story is such bullshit, on so many levels. First of all, this subset of twentysomethings is being judged for moving back in with their parents after college, which means we’re looking at kids who have been to college. We’re looking at kids who have parents whose homes they can move back into. And I don’t know but somewhere along the line here we forgot that not everybody has those options, and shaming all the kids for the ennui of some of the writer’s friends’ privileged brats seems kind of reductive and silly.

Hell, even if the brats are privileged, shaming anybody for getting by however they’re getting by seems kind of silly these days. The amount of worry expended over whether kids are spending too much time at home or not getting married faster seems to be the real self-indulgence, in the face of, you know, entire countries drowning and the whole state of Michigan getting donated to the Salvation Army. It just seems ridiculous, this story, not on the part of the sociologists who are studying it but on the part of the journalists who take a few young people and make a crisis out of their lives.

Maybe I’m just getting old but so long as they’re not serial killers, they’re not MY kids, who the hell cares what they’re doing? I realize “nothing’s on fire and nobody’s in prison” is a pretty poor standard for a good day, but really. Taking it upon ourselves to decide when others’ adulthood begins? Everybody, take a deep breath, put down the Trend Story Topic Wheel or whatever the fuck you’re using to develop these ideas, and repeat after me: WE ARE ALL GOING TO BE OKAY.

We might be getting married later, or earlier, or never, but we are going to be okay. We might have six jobs instead of one, but we are going to be okay. We might ride our bikes to work and choose to live in cracker boxes next to crackheads, or on commune farms in the country, instead of in suburbs two blocks from our parents, but we are going to be okay. All this freaking out over various things kids today have or don’t have or can or can’t do is so much wasted energy. We’re fine. The next generation is fine. I mean, “fine” in the sense that they’re totally screwed, but that has nothing to do with how many kids are moving back in with their parents and everything to do with the world their parents built and brought them into. They’ll do the best they can with what they’re given, same as everybody always has.

That might not be comforting to people who can only feel successful as adults if they’re shaming other people for having shitty adolescent lives, but it’s true, nonetheless. We will figure this out and it will be all right. Or, alternately, we won’t, and we’ll just go on the way everybody goes on, muddling through as best we can.

A.

15 thoughts on “‘Emerging Adulthood’

  1. Jude says:

    Reading shit like that makes me want to go back to listening to Black Flag and breaking things.
    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.
    You know what? If you just keep extrapolating that backwards, then George Washington must have gotten married at age negative seven. Wait–what’s that? He was 27 when he and Martha tied the knot? And the world didn’t end?
    What bullshit. You know what the median age for marriage for men was in 1890?Twenty-fucking-six. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I hate it when people use 1950-1970 as The Starting Point, and all deviations from what went on then are Bad Things. The fucking boomers got married unusually early. There was a trough in median first marriage age (for men) in about 1946, and it’s been steadily rising since then. There has been a big change in median first marriage age for women, but that’s thanks to things like contraception and, you know, liberation. You know, good shit.
    Your experiences are arbitrary, people. Large numbers of your parents thought you were doing shit wrong when you were young. They were just as wrong as the hand-wringers of today are. The sky isn’t falling any more than it ever has been. The sun still shines, and grass still grows.
    Enjoy your years instead of worrying about how the Kids These Days are spending theirs.

  2. whet moser says:

    Ten years ago: ONOES! DIVORCE RATE SKYROCKETS! WHAT WILL BOOMER-CHILDREN DO?
    Today: ONOES! PEOPLE ARE GETTING MARRIED TOO LATE!
    MAKE UP YOUR MIND, PEOPLE

  3. pansypoo says:

    eutopia never happened. stupid baby boomers.

  4. Elspeth Ravenwind says:

    If my fantastic beau and I opt to do something as arcane as going down the aisle or at least the hallway at the J of P’s office – we’ll be at least 43/44 (if we opt to before his b’day this year…).
    For BOTH of us, it would be our FIRST marriage. Granted, we started dating in h.s., but w/a 26 year hiatus…

  5. dan mcenroe says:

    Reading shit like that makes me want to go back to listening to Black Flag and breaking things.
    Wait, you mean you actually stopped?
    (Yeah, I did too. 41-year-old punks just look sad. But damn, I know how you feel.)
    A, thank you for continuing to have the most finely tuned bullshit detector I have ever had the pleasure to encounter.

  6. Dan says:

    I’m sure there’s lots of convenient amnesia too. I took six and a half years to get through college, then spent two in Tanzania (Peace Corps). Yeah, PC was ennobling and all that, but it was also a two year vacation from the grind. I was almost 28 before I had my first “real” job. I suspect that’s true for lots of others long past their 20’s. Bagging on the current ones is so much more satisfying when you don’t have to reflect on your own misspent, dissolute youth though.

  7. Doc says:

    There seems to be this ridiculous “sweet spot” in which all life events are supposed to happen.
    When I was in college, I had a couple friends get married at 21. Tut tut… Shame, people said. Waaaay too early. My mother, of course, said “Hell, I was 20 when I got married.” Dad was 23. They’ve been married almost a half century.
    Then, when I got out of college and had been working for a couple years, it was, “So when are you finally going to settle down?” I was 25.
    By the time I hit 27, it was like Jesus was going to ride down on his T-Rex and hit me with a stick of fertility death if I didn’t get married rightfuckingnowtoday. I got married at 28. Rest assured, the world didn’t end.
    Same thing with jobs. If you don’t have a job waiting right away when you get out of school, you’re a slacker. Believe me, nothing drove me more than the fear that I’d be cast into the lot of undesirable parental-unit-home-basement-dwelling failures if I didn’t get a job right away. A lot of kids I teach are feeling this pressure. That’s why half of them, many of whom really didn’t have much business being in college, are applying to grad schools. It’s the “I need to be doing SOMETHING” syndrome.
    The psychoanalysis of “what’s wrong with Bobby” because he didn’t do exactly what you did or exactly what you believe you did in your Bizzaro-land perfect world is pure, uncut, mint-condition bullshit.
    Unfortunately, it sells.

  8. Doc says:

    And for the record, my great-grandparents were married near the turn of the century. If memory serves, he was 25 and she was 24. They were considered “old maids” who would never find marriage or a family at that age.
    They stayed married for 72 years until great grandma died at the age of 96. Great grandpa lived to be 100.
    They had four kids.
    I guess if they hadn’t dawdled, they would have gotten to experience so much more in life…

  9. Athenae says:

    Believe me, nothing drove me more than the fear that I’d be cast into the lot of undesirable parental-unit-home-basement-dwelling failures if I didn’t get a job right away.
    I felt like such a loser because I only had freelance work and a part-time job in a bookstore lined up when I graduated. My parents were skeptical, but that freelance work got me my first full-time job and that full-time job led to another, so who’s to say if I should have taken that shithole full-time job in Baraboo or that weird advertising firm thing in Chicago instead just to achieve adulthood on this dillhole’s terms?
    I’d be more tolerant of stories like this if they didn’t alternate with stories about how soulless and boring kids today are, and how they all (as Jude notes) are concerned about their grades and not about the music, man. Whatever you’re doing as a kid you’re fucking it up. GAH. I’m so glad I was too busy working in my early 20s to read crap like this and take it personally.
    A.

  10. Jude says:

    who’s to say if I should have taken that shithole full-time job in Baraboo
    Me. Fuck that place.

  11. Gummo says:

    I have never heard of ANYONE in their 20s who WANTED to move back in with their parents. Jebus Fuck, who the hell in the right minds could possibly want that?
    When I was 22, I had to do it. For 9 months, until I had enough money to get a crummy studio apartment in Brooklyn, with a shared bathroom no less. I didn’t care, I just wanted OUT. And hell, my parents wanted me out too.
    Every article like this should be accompanied by the video of Paul Lynde from Bye Bye Birdie singing, “Kids! What’s the matter with kids today! Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way.” Because that’s always the real sentiment being expressed.

  12. Interrobang says:

    I’m 35 and I am still not married, don’t currently have a job (except for some part-time freelance stuff) and still live with a housemate (albeit in an actual house in a nice streetcar suburb a stone’s throw from downtown). Other milestones I have not achieved: I do not own a car (no driver’s license), and I have never lived with a significant other. I guess I’m not an adult yet or something. Granted, some days I stillfeel like a clueless teenager, but that’s mostly because life keeps throwing me things I haven’t the foggiest how to manage. It happens, folks.
    God knows the 1950s, when everyone got married right out of high school (and by 1961, every housewife of that generation had been regretting it for years) wastotally what we want to emulate. Bad columnist, go back and read Betty Friedan again.
    Hating your job isalso not a prerequisite for adulthood, and just because you hateyours doesn’t mean the rest of us have to.

  13. BlackSheep01 says:

    Out of high school into the Air Force. Out of the Air Force back to the parents’ farm until the next semester started. Then off to school except when I had money for the commute, by bike, but not for a dorm room / apartment rental (one adventure with renting a room in a house was plenty, thanks). Off and on I’d be home between jobs for a few weeks, after that; went like that from ’80 until ’90. Been happily married ever since … and now, my kids are both out of the nest. I’m thinking maybe it’s time to renovate / downsize. Oh, and we have a second-hand camper now, so we’re modifying / upgrading a portable hovel, so we can go visiting comfily (and without hotel fees!)

  14. S says:

    I guess the author of the article would box me into the category of “adult, but not quite adult,” seeing as I am a recent college graduate, unemployed and considering my options carefully before taking the next step. The thing is though I do feel like an adult, mentally, emotionally and physically. The disheartening thing about the article is the fact that people may not take me seriously as one until I have checked all the boxes on the way to ‘adulthood’. But what also frightened me is that my peers, many of whom do have jobs, their own places and some are even in relationships, are called adults even though they have yet to reach mental and emotional maturity. So are we adults if we behave like kids during the weekend and have a 9-5 during the week? Are we children if we are mindful, mature, intelligent but are still searching for employment? It seems a bit harsh to lump my generation into these two stark categories, as if we are all the components of a statistical study, instead of considering the case of each individual person. What the author severely needs to be reminded is the fact that mental maturity and physical “milestones” are two very separate things. You can be a perfectly functioning adult with hard-placed luck, and not enough material possessions to prove your age.

  15. Paul says:

    I’m 58. Went to college to escape a drab one-horse town. I wanted to stay up late, get laid and smoke dope. Accomplished all of above. Was told what to take for my major (not a lot of choice there!) I decided late to go to medical school. Told what courses to take for the next 4 years. (Not many decisions made by me then either) I then went to do my residency. Didn’t have any choice in that either. (This thing called The Match…kinda like a draft in football…you go where they want you to go…ie, not a lot of decision making on my part) Did a residency…Told what to do in that situation too. I didn’t have any choice in my rotations, when I could work or even when my vacation would be. Got married at 29 to a woman older, richer and smarter than me. Not a lot of choice since then either. Finally at 30, I was given a choice of where to start a practice. I was so undecided, I stayed in the same place I was trained. Finally at 31, I left (with my wife) and returned East to be half way between both sets of parents. (We had the only Grandchild…not a lot of choice there either. So it seems I kind of pissed around my 20’s without making any real decisions of my own,as they were all made for me. Took me another 4-5 years to really learn my trade (surgery) and then left that field for Emergency Medicine. Shit! I sound a lot like my son(26) and his friends!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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