Why are 20-year-olds taking longer to grow up? This is what Robin Marantz Henig asked readers of the New York Times Magazine, while citing that we 20-somethings are traveling and avoiding commitments instead of starting careers and having families. We are no longer following the traditional “timetable for adulthood” of “completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child,” all by the time we’re 30 years old.
I don’t know about other 20-somethings, but I don’t care if those things don’t happen before I’m 30. After I graduate in May, I will leave home and hopefully — for the most part — become financially independent. That doesn’t mean I won’t travel or keep my options open. I don’t even want to think about marriage and kids until after 25.
I know I’m not alone. I met up with a friend of mine who graduated from Ithaca College last year with a degree in sociology, and I asked her, “So, what are you going to do now?”
“To be honest, I don’t know,” she said. “I moved back home so I could save up money, but I want to travel. I want to have a few cool experiences before I settle down.”
With the global youth unemployment rate the highest it’s ever been — 81 million out of 620 million 15- to 24-year-olds at the end of 2009, according to the International Labor Organization — what is my lost generation supposed to do besides go home or get lost?
Cyndy Scheibe, associate professor of psychology and culture and communication, said this stage of “emerging adulthood” has its pros and cons.
“One advantage [of having] more time to explore means that you are more likely to find something that is a good match for you,” she said. “But when people don’t have cultural rites of passage, they will continue to flounder.”
Thirty years ago, when our parents were 20-somethings, their plans were simple: graduate, get married and have children. College was the time for self-discovery and once they got their diploma, it was time to be serious and settle down.
“The idea of moving back home [for my generation] was not a possibility,” Scheibe said. “We would rather sleep in our cars than go back to live at home.”
But not everyone is opting for the self-enlightening, neurologically cleansing path of taking a few years off. A friend of mine who earned his Bachelor of Science in applied economics last year from the college insisted he wouldn’t go back home and he wanted to start his career immediately. He now works for an investment firm in Rochester, N.Y.
“I want to be successful,” he said. “I want my parents to be proud, and I want to make a name for my family.”
Whether or not this new life stage is good or bad for our generation, Scheibe said society might now need to accept it as a distinct part of life.
“People thought it was just a fluke or just temporary because of the economy,” she said. “But now we’re realizing that it’s not a fluke, and we need to study what it means to be in this age group.”
As Henig said in her article, “This is when adventures, experiments, travels, relationships are embarked on with an abandon that probably will not happen again.”
So, why shouldn’t we 20-somethings embark, meander and lose ourselves while we still have the courage to do so?
Melanie Breault is a senior journalism student. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.