Generation Next


camera-002My sister and I used to joke about when it was we have officially “turned out”?  You know how people always say “she’s turned out well” or “he turned out with lots of problems”.  When do we turn out? When have we officially grown up? According to a recent study done by my Alma mater Brigham Young University the age of achieving adulthood has changed in recent years.  In fact, there is a new term, an “emerging adult”, that is used to describe young adults between the ages of 18-25.  This is like a teenager phase II.

Here’s  a press release from BYU on the topic:

I have noticed this phenomenon amongst my fellow young adults.  It does seem like people my age are still searching for their roles and motivations when in the past they would have been forced into them- or at least in the past young people wouldn’t have thought of other options.

When I look around at many of my contemporaries I notice this trend and some of the negative sides.  There are  more “emerging adults” than I would like to admit who are 25ish and are still finishing their bachelors degree, undecided on their career and living at home- just kind of directionless.  This has always been hard for me to understand as I have been the opposite.  You can even see it in recent films by Will Farrell and Seth Rogan about older men who behave like children or teenagers at best.  It is like the frat boy mentality never dies.  It is seen in girls also but harder to put into words.  I think girls are more likely to develop peer groups like the ones exemplified in Sex and the City to replace the need for traditional female roles.  This lack of motivation is the negative side of the “emerging adult” phenomenon.

On the other hand,  I do not think this trend is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, many of the articles and studies on the topic found some positive benefits to the new behavior of young adults.  For instance, there is a new closeness between young adults and parents that didn’t exist in past eras.   There is also a commitment to family, careers, and goals once they are made that may not have existed in previous generations. Perhaps we wait because we value the commitments of adulthood not the other way around?

Another benefit is that the “emerging adults” typically have a broader exposure to different cultures, families, philosophies and lifestyles.  They tend to be more diverse and well-rounded as a result. Regardless of how you view such a  change it is important to recognize that it has occurred and then we can look at the pluses and minuses.  At the very least it makes me feel better about being single- evidently there are a lot of other young adults out there around my age who are unattached and independent like myself!

It all reminds me of a book I LOVE called Urban Tribes by Ethan Watters.  It made me feel validated and I read it with a highlighter and a notepad.  It just spoke to me.  For the first time someone was actually saying that by being single and forming groups of friends I might actually be showing my commitment to family instead of schlepping my life away.  I also liked the way that Watters asked society to look through a new lens- that maybe there were negative aspects to a new trend but let’s at least analyze it for what it is and not what it isn’t.  These groups of Urban Tribes (or emerging adults) are changing America in lots of ways and its hard to appreciate those changes if we do not acknowledge their existence.  I will do an entire entry later on that book. I loved it so much! I will be very curious for your thoughts on this subject. Do you think this trend “emerging adults” is a good thing, bad thing, neither?  Look at this interesting NPR article:

Generation Next’ in the Slow Lane to Adulthood

December 20, 2007 · Recent studies find interesting differences among today’s young people compared with those of decades past. There’s even a new term for the generation age 18 to 25: Generation Next. And a new label for this period of development: “emerging adulthood.”

Jeffrey Arnett, a developmental psychologist at Clark University, coined the term “emerging adult.” Arnett says a number of cultural changes over the past five decades created this lengthened path to adulthood.

“Go back 50 years, the median age of marriage for women was 20; for men, 22. And they likely had their first child within one year,” Arnett says.

Back in 1960, Arnett says, most people in their early 20s had chosen a life partner, finished their education and were in a stable job if they were male; full-time mothers if they were female.

But none of that exists today, Arnett says.

“Now, if you heard of somebody 19 to 20 years old planning to get married, you’d think they were crazy,” Arnett says. “It’s so unusual now to do that. The average age for women to marry is 26, and for men, 27 and a half.”

Colin Herron, 21, is a senior at George Washington University. Lindsay Tingley, 23, is a law student at Wake Forest University. Herron and Tingley pretty much reflect the thinking of their generation.

“I’m not feeling like I’m in any rush,” Tingley says. “I think people get married a lot older these days and they have kids a lot later these days, and I know that I, myself, want to have a career. I don’t see myself getting married for another, I don’t know, three to four years. Three to six sounds good.”

When asked if they feel like adults, Tingley says what most 20-somethings say: yes and no.

“I do have a roommate down at school. I feel independent in that way. I have to make sure my rent gets paid and I buy my own groceries, take care of my car, feel like I have adult relationships. I’m responsible for getting my work turned in and staying on top of things, so in that way, I do,” Tingley says.

But complete financial autonomy? No way. Tingley receives financial help from her parents and from school loans.

“I don’t know a lot about investing, and I feel like at my age, that’s something that I should really start learning about,” Tingley says. “I certainly wouldn’t know how to buy my own house at this point.”

Herron says that the fact that he’s in school leaves him dependent on his parents.

“Because I have strings attached as far as school goes — loans and how I’m paying for school — that’s kind of what’s keeping me from entering adulthood,” Herron says.

And school is the other part of what Arnett calls the “quiet revolution.” The number of early 20-somethings in college has doubled over the past five decades. Today, there are more women than men attending college. Attending graduate school is more common, also, thereby increasing the length of time people spend preparing for adulthood.

Developmental psychologist Larry Nelson of Brigham Young University recently completed a study that appears in December’s Journal of Family Psychology. Nelson surveyed 392 unmarried college students and at least one of their parents.

“We wanted to know if parents considered their child —18 to 26 years old — adult or not,” Nelson explains. “Over 80 percent of mothers and fathers said, ‘No. They are not yet an adult.'”

It’s not just financial ties. These young people are also emotionally close to their parents.

“We have a really great relationship,” Tingley says. “We’re really close. You know, I don’t talk to them about everything, but I feel I could if I wanted to.”

Herron agrees. “There’s certainly a security net in the sense of an emotional security net. I know that they’re there. They certainly have let me know as long as I can remember that they will be there as long as they’re alive for whatever I need.”

A recent survey from the Pew Research Center shows eight out of 10 young people surveyed had talked to their parents in the past day. Nearly three in four said they see their parents at least once a week.

What does it add up to? A generation that’s closely connected to family. And one that’s taking its time to figure out the future, which, according to Arnett, isn’t such a bad thing.

“Once you take on adult responsibilities, you’re going to have them for life. So, why not take this time in your 20s to do the sort of things you couldn’t do before and never will be able to do again?” he says. “Once you get married and have kids and have a long-term employer, you can’t just leave them because something interesting comes along. But in your 20s, you can.”

And much of this time experimenting with life is balanced on the other end, Arnett says, by a lifespan that continues to rise.

“I say, more power to them.”


7 thoughts on “Generation Next

  1. “Now, if you heard of somebody 19 to 20 years old planning to get married, you’d think they were crazy,” Arnett says.

    My favorite line!

    I think there are pluses and minuses to whatever age you get married, when you have kids, how many kids you have. You just have to figure out what works for you and your family.

  2. Good point Meg. I guess you just have to live the life you are meant to live and society has to learn to accept it!

    I only think we get into trouble when we analyze our society through only one lens and what I appreciated about this research is that it encourages a wider perspective.

  3. I also like the fact that this study came from Utah. Sometimes I feel like I am the only person in Utah who is happy being single. Here is a BYU researcher admitting that there are some positive side effects to my life. That feels good!

  4. True…I do like that. Except that if the median age to get married for girls is 26…I guess I better get moving…if I wait too long I might throw off their numbers!

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