What Makes 20-Somethings Tick?


Q.  I passed along this New York Times story to my parents today in hopes it will help them understand why I’ve held four different jobs since graduating from college two years ago.  You have written about the need to stay put for a year or more, but this article explains why 20-somethings don’t settle down until much later than those managing us–usually Boomers or Gen Xers.  -JP

A.  Thanks for calling this article (“What Is It About 20-Somethings”) to my attention.  You’re right, writer Robin Marantz Henig provides great insights into the differences between Millennials and those parenting and managing them. 

The following two paragraphs are eye-openers that will make anyone of any age want to read the entire article:

 “The 20s are a black box, and there is a lot of churning in there.  One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year.  Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once.  They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch.  Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married.  And marriage occurs later than ever.  The median age at first marriage in the early 1970s, when the baby boomers were young, 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.

“We’re in the thick of what one sociologist calls “the changing timetable for adulthood.”  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.  Among 30-year-olds in 2000, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so.  A Canadian study reported that a typical 30-year-old in 2001 had completed the same number of milestones as a 25-year-old in the early ’70s.”

As a father of two 20-somethings, I’m always eager to learn more about what makes them tick.  After reading this article, I’m counting my blessings that my sons are doing just fine after successfully making it through the first three milestones to adulthood. 

2 thoughts on “What Makes 20-Somethings Tick?

  1. You’re right on target in pulling out those specific stats–the 20s today are very different from the 20s you and I experienced (I suspect we’re the age given your comment about being a parent). I’ve been a part of the MacArthur Network that is mentioned in the article, and we’ve found that in fact, what we hold up as the “norm” for becoming adult–the postwar years through the 1970s–was in fact an aberration. Kids were much slower to get started before (and after) that golden period. Young people today take a lot of heat from we Boomers who remember hitting the road at age 18. But a lot has changed since then. Unfortunately, the Times article’s focus on the psychological groping of this generation leads to more blaming if you ask me. There was too much psychologizing and not enough talk about the very things you point out. Or as someone once said: it’s the environment, stupid.

    I’m blogging over at http://mybarbararay.com if you want to learn even more about your 20-something kids!

  2. Thanks for your comments, Barbara. Enjoyed reading your blog, which is quite relevant to all 20-somethings and those of us working with them. Also eager to read your book when it comes out this December: “Not Quite Adults: Why Twenty-Somethings Are Taking a Slower Path to Adulthood and Why It’s Good for All of Us”.

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