Are you in your 20s? Married, with a house? Considering kids? No?
Then The New York Times thinks you might be an "emerging adult." This is exciting stuff, people. In fact, The Times is devoting a full 10 pages of its Sunday magazine to exploring what it means to be a 20-something today, in an aptly-titled article, "What Is It About 20-Somethings?
It's based on the work of Jeffrey Jensen Arnett,
a psychology professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., who, The Times says, is leading the movement to view the 20s as a distinct life stage, which he calls "emerging adulthood
." The story bemoans the fact that many of us are still unmarried renters, going so far as to ask, "Why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up?"
Of course, there's a lot of retreaded "we're all living on our parents' pullout couches
" rhetoric you've read before, but the piece is peppered with compelling statistics -- and is a state of the union for our youth, if you will.
The numbers are mostly about 20-somethings hitting the sociological milestones of "emerging adulthood": graduating from college, getting married, buying a house
, having kids
, etc. The fact is, we're not doing these things in the order our parents did, if we're doing them at all.
Aside from a couple of "Maybe this is a good thing?" asides, the article doesn't paint a terrifically rosy picture either. While reporter Robin Marantz Henig notes that marinating in immaturity for so long may produce more well-seasoned adults, she also wonders whether or not a generation encouraged to meander their way to personal happiness (now thwarted by a recession) can ever function without asking its parents to foot the literal and figurative bill.
Below, we've compiled 10 compelling signs you might be a 20-something, based on the data.
At the very bottom, please fill out Lemondrop's form and tell us what your
20s really look like up close.
10. You take the phrase "permanent residence" lightly.
One-third of people in their 20s move to a new address every year.
9. You feel like you're in a second adolescence.
Sociologists traditionally define the "transition to adulthood" as marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had, by the time they reached 30, passed all five milestones.
Arnett says that what is happening now is analogous to what happened a century ago, when social and economic changes helped create adolescence -- a stage we take for granted but one that had to be recognized by psychologists, accepted by society and accommodated by institutions that served the young. Similar changes at the turn of the 21st century have laid the groundwork for another new stage, Arnett says, between the age of 18 and the late 20s. Among the cultural changes he points to that have led to "emerging adulthood" are the need for more education to survive in an information-based economy; fewer entry-level jobs even after all that schooling; young people feeling less rush to marry because of the general acceptance of premarital sex, cohabitation and birth control; and young women feeling less rush to have babies given their wide range of career options and their access to assisted reproductive technology if they delay pregnancy beyond their most fertile years.
8. You've cohabited -- or considered it. Getting hitched is not your top priority.
Two-thirds of 20-somethings spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. The median age at first marriage in the early 1970s was 21 for women and 23 for men; by 2009 it had climbed to 26 for women and 28 for men, five years in a little more than a generation.
7. You can practically recite the script at H.R. orientations.
Twentysomethings go through an average of seven jobs, more job changes than in any other stretch of life.
6. You've considered moving home to live with your parents -- or currently do.
Forty percent of 20-somethings move back home with their parents at least once.
5. Sometimes you react, then think:
N.I.M.H. scientists also found a time lag between the growth of the limbic system in the brain, where emotions originate, and of the prefrontal cortex, which manages those emotions. The limbic system explodes during puberty, but the prefrontal cortex keeps maturing for another 10 years. Giedd said it is logical to suppose - and for now, neuroscientists have to make a lot of logical suppositions - that when the limbic system is fully active but the cortex is still being built, emotions might outweigh rationality. "The prefrontal part is the part that allows you to control your impulses, come up with a long-range strategy, answer the question 'What am I going to do with my life?' " he told me. "That weighing of the future keeps changing into the 20s and 30s."
4. You're still on the parental payroll.
"This dependence on Mom and Dad also means that during the 20s the rift between rich and poor becomes entrenched. According to data gathered by the Network on Transitions to Adulthood, a research consortium supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, American parents give an average of 10 percent of their income to their 18- to 21-year-old children. This percentage is basically the same no matter the family's total income, meaning that upper-class kids tend to get more than working-class ones. And wealthier kids have other, less obvious, advantages. When they go to four-year colleges or universities, they get supervised dormitory housing, health care and alumni networks not available at community colleges. And they often get a leg up on their careers by using parents' contacts to help land an entry-level job - or by using parents as a financial backup when they want to take an interesting internship that doesn't pay.
3. You consider all your life options still open.
"During the period he calls emerging adulthood, Arnett says that young men and women are more self-focused than at any other time of life, less certain about the future and yet also more optimistic, no matter what their economic background. This is where the "sense of possibilities" comes in, he says; they have not yet tempered their idealistic visions of what awaits. "The dreary, dead-end jobs, the bitter divorces, the disappointing and disrespectful children . . . none of them imagine that this is what the future holds for them," he wrote. Ask them if they agree with the statement "I am very sure that someday I will get to where I want to be in life," and 96 percent of them will say yes."
2. You secretly crave a year to live out your own "Eat, Pray, Love" fantasy.
NYT says: The Network on Transitions to Adulthood
has been issuing reports about young people since it was formed in 1999 and often ends up recommending more support for 20-somethings. But more of what, exactly? There aren't institutions set up to serve people in this specific age range; social services from a developmental perspective tend to disappear after adolescence. But it's possible to envision some that might address the restlessness and mobility that Arnett says are typical at this stage and that might make the experimentation of "emerging adulthood" available to more young people. How about expanding programs like City Year, in which 17- to 24-year-olds from diverse backgrounds spend a year mentoring inner-city children in exchange for a stipend, health insurance, child care, cellphone service and a $5,350 education award? Or a federal program in which a government-sponsored savings account is created for every newborn, to be cashed in at age 21 to support a year's worth of travel, education or volunteer work - a version of the "baby bonds" program that Hillary Clinton
mentioned during her 2008 primary campaign? Maybe we can encourage a kind of socially sanctioned "rumspringa," the temporary moratorium from social responsibilities some Amish offer their young people to allow them to experiment before settling down. It requires only a bit of ingenuity - as well as some societal forbearance and financial commitment - to think of ways to expand some of the programs that now work so well for the elite, like the Fulbright fellowship or the Peace Corps
, to make the chance for temporary service and self-examination available to a wider range of young people.
1. Your friends are as confused by where their lives are going as you are.
"That's the impression you get reading Arnett's case histories in his books and articles, or the essays in "20 Something Manifesto
," an anthology edited by a Los Angeles writer named Christine Hassler. "It's somewhat terrifying," writes a 25-year-old named Jennifer, "to think about all the things I'm supposed to be doing in order to 'get somewhere' successful: 'Follow your passions, live your dreams, take risks, network with the right people, find mentors, be financially responsible, volunteer, work, think about or go to grad school, fall in love and maintain personal well-being, mental health and nutrition.' When is there time to just be and enjoy?" Adds a 24-year-old from Virginia: "There is pressure to make decisions that will form the foundation for the rest of your life in your 20s. It's almost as if having a range of limited options would be easier."