The legal definition of the age of majority or being able to vote and sign contracts is 18 years of age. But the definition of adulthood is defined more broadly by most Americans.
Most would proffer that adulthood begins when a person moves out of their parents’ home and no longer relies on them for financial support. So often I hear people in the 20 to 29 year old age range being criticized for their apparent dependency and extended financial reliance on their parents.
According to Jeffery Jensen a researcher at Clark University, “20-something’s today are very different than their parents or grandparents.” Many of these young people are staying in education longer and are seeking more advanced degrees. Many years ago a person with a bachelor’s degree was considered highly educated now that equivalent is probably a master’s degree.
People are getting married much later in life as a rule, twenty seven years of age for women and twenty nine years of age for men. Women are having children later and are settling down much later than previous generations. Many 20-something’s are unable to get full time, life sustaining jobs and as a consequence continue to be dependent on parents for money and other support such as a place to live, a car or healthcare insurance.
New words are being used to describe these new societal changes such as “extended adolescence or delayed adulthood.” “Boomerang Children,” is another phrase to describe children that go off to school or work but end up back at home because of heavy student loans, no job or a combination thereof.
Some Americans are frustrated with this generation and view these developments negatively and assign blame to this generation and feel that they “just need to stand on their own two feet and grow up.” So what is the upside of this apparent delay in development toward adulthood? During the time of the “emerging adult” there will be time to experience many different jobs which may help the individual to end up in a job that is based on experience and like rather than just needing a job. This emergent period will also allow individuals to explore different relationships so that when they are ready to settle down they will have enough experience to make a good and well-reasoned decision about one of life’s most important decisions.
During this emergent period it may be possible for individuals to take internships and to work with some of the most vulnerable people in the world and in our nation. This opportunity can have a positive effect in many different directions. In some ways this generation is a throwback to the idealists of the 1960’s.
The Pew study of millennials found that only 15 percent of them stated making a lot of money as a priority. Instead their priorities are being good parents, having a successful relationship and helping others. Doesn’t that sound like the idealism espoused by the “let’s make the world a better place” generation from the 1960’s.
Some researchers like Psychologist Meg Jay disagree with my assessment and has written several papers on the topic and states that “30 is not the new 20.” She is advising millennials not to wait to start their careers, get married and start a family until they are 30 years old. Jay predicts that millennials will find themselves in a “mid-life crisis ten to fifteen years from now.”
While it is difficult to know who is right about these issues it is true that the current economy is just not working very well for millennials. They are carrying heavy student loans; advances in technology continue to eliminate jobs not to mention the outsourcing of so many high paying jobs with the net result being that millennials will not do as well financily as their parents. Their collective reaction to this difficult economy may be the only one that they can have.
It seems to me that when things are really difficult people tend to hunker down and not make any big decisions and simply try to ride out the difficult time. At its very essence that is what millenials may be doing. Time will tell, but I for one have been very impressed with this generation of caring and insightful Americans.
Millennials are struggling with some circumstances beyond their control. I believe that history will view millennials as one of the most important generations, not for the money they created but more for self-sacrifice and for the good that they will do in their corner of the world.
Remember, all kids count.
Reach the writer at wildblue.net