What’s wrong with 20-somethings?

It’s no surprise that college students, along with people in their 20s in general, have always been seen as struggling and broke because this is when people attempt to define their adulthood and find their place in the world. However, it’s recently been said that people in their twenties have been unable to make the adjustment into adulthood at the same pace as those before them.

The New York Times recently claimed that people in their 20s are moving at a much slower pace than the previous generation in the transition to adulthood. They define adulthood as meeting five criteria: finishing school, growing up, starting a career, settling down with a family and eventually retiring. The average time that people from previous generations took to accomplish all of these tasks was significantly faster than now. For example, the median age for 20-somethings to get married in the 1970s was 21 for women and 23 for men and the median ages for marriage now are 26 for women and 28 for men.

20-somethings are different today than they were 30 years ago, but that’s not a bad thing – photo by Tracey Dixon

The rates for marriages for people in their early twenties from previous generations may have been higher, but that may also contribute to the higher divorce rates in older married couples. Why is one facet of the generation gap examined while the other portion is ignored?

Plus, who is to say that the current generation believes these five circumstances is the criteria necessary to reach adulthood or maturity? As the rate at which these standards are met have changed, the standards themselves have changed due to various factors the previous generations did not experience. For example, more openly gay couples being unable to get married, premarital sex being seen as more acceptable than it was in the past, the prices of colleges and universities increasing, and possibly the most important factor in this transition is the current economic status of the nation.

This country is currently in a recession with employment rates well below average. This environment makes it much more difficult for people in their 20s to get a job, much less maintain a career. As a result, many people in their 20s take longer to graduate from college because of increased hours at low-paying jobs and the transition from their guardians’ home takes longer due to the difficulty of saving enough money to become completely self-sufficient.

Also, the previous generation examined in the 1970s was the baby boomer generation, which had many children because of the economically sound status of the nation at the time. This could have allowed for an easier and more stable life for that generation financially in comparison to the generation of today.

One example of why the 20-somethings of today are not as advanced as the previous generation is the fact that this generation was raised by the previous one. The previous generation is the source of guidance, structure and stability for the new. If the new generation fails to meet the standards set by the previous one, then isn’t it feasible that the ones responsible for those disappointing results are the previous generation themselves?

This older generation seems to lack the ability to accumulate wealth that can help today’s generation. Conversely, more and more debt is piling up in various ways like college loans and credit card debt, resulting in a hole that will affect not only this generation, but generations to come.

The 20-somethings of today may not represent what generations of 20-somethings in the past represented, but why should that be considered a bad thing? This is the only generation experiencing the hardships of the nation in such a way that it could help build coping skills for the future and produce a completely new set of standards for the next generation to abide by. Because of the nature of employment, this generation could also possess a ferocity and competitive nature that no previous generation has ever had. Before people make assumptions that this generation of people in their 20s is so much worse than older generations, the status of the environment they in should be taken into consideration.

Published Aug. 31, 2010 in “The Signal” http://www.gsusignal.com/opinions/what-s-wrong-with-20-somethings-1.2313652


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