It’s very popular right now to talk about the new generation and its prolonged adolescence. The New York Times has hit on it; so has the Wall Street Journal. And where they go the rest of the editorial pages can be assumed to follow sooner or later.
The basic summary (for the link-adverse) is that 20-somethings are immature children who live at home, avoid commitment to relationships or careers, and in general are maturing more slowly than the Baby Boomers did before them, or the Greatest Generation before that, and so on and so forth.
There’s probably some truth to that. Even if we don’t take an economy that has less and less jobs for folks straight out of undergrad into account it’s probably safe to say that my generation isn’t always trying as hard as it could be. There’s definitely some living with parents and bouncing from job to job rather than founding a career and so forth that goes on in my peer group.
But here’s what I’m thinking:
Why are we saying “maturing later” like it’s such a bad thing? The alternative, after all, is “maturing earlier.” Forty years ago you were expected to have a good start on a career by age 21. Forty years ago you also probably started working, either in a cornfield or in the family business, at age 13 or so.
Eighty years ago you were probably married with kids and settling into a house by age 21. You’d also, barring war, been at work since you could walk.
Are these really good things? Are we sure that playing computer games or Ultimate Frisbee at college aren’t, rather than signs of a decaying moral state, signs of a state that no longer puts children to work? I realize there’s some self-servingness to arguing that fuck you very much, my hardscrabble freelancing career is success enough for right now, but what would the world really have benefited from my going directly into actuarial sciences or whatever at age 18 instead?
Dad would be happier about his retirement prospects, I suppose.
I think it’s worth pausing to consider that if we’re maturing more slowly it’s because we’re also dying more slowly. The pressure’s off a little. Surely that’s something we can all get behind?