Sunday, August 22, 2010

Those darn 20-somethings!

The most-read New York Times article this week is “What Is It About 20-somethings?”

Kids these days! Damn their hides!

One of the paragraphs in the story caught my eye. I’m a 59-something rapidly closing on 60-something. But the story’s description of these 20-somethings (my son is 25) sounded a lot like a description of me when I was 20-something in the 1970s:

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.

When I was 20-29, 1970-1979, I moved 13 times among four different states. And jobs, I had a few – 10, to be exact. I lived with two romantic partners before I was married to the latter of those when I was 31 and she was 26. We’ve been married now for 28 years and spawned two kids, one of whom is an annoying 20-something and another is an annoying teen-something in her last year of high school.

My son Kevin is on the lifetime college plan down in Tucson. Good news is he’s paying for it by working and grants and student loans. He sometimes calls for money but I don’t answer. He’s moved a bunch of times, so many I think he has me beat. He’s lived with several romantic partners and maybe more – some questions I don’t ask. When parents with more linear children asked me about Kevin, I tell them he’s in school in Tucson. They imagine him in some advanced degree program at U of A, party school to thousands. Let them think what they want. I’m pleased that he is talking “lifelong learning” seriously. I am especially pleased because he wasn’t the best student in high school. In fact, he dropped out and later got his G.E.D. Learn away, buddy.

Most middle-class parents anticipate kids spending the usual 4-5 years in college and then out to make a living. They are alarmed when it doesn’t work out this way.

No telling about my daughter when she’s a 20-something. We’re having enough excitement with her at 17. There is time enough for alarm in three years when she enters that NYT “black box.” Just enough time will lapse by then for another article about those slacker 20-somethings of the next decade.


Daskaea said...

Mike, I love how you have always advocated for the value of being young. People like you and Auntie Jane Wohl are always a breath of fresh air. I remember how awe struck I was going to Writer's Camp and learning that as a 15-year-old, my opinion was valued. I rarely experience the ageism I used to rile against as a teenager but I have noticed the disgruntlement of "older" folks with my generation. Things certainly aren't the way they used to be. As far as marriage is concerned, they could of course, contrast with the issues of Japan who host a new phenomenon known as Parasite Singles.
And of course, *I* wouldn't consider Kevin's life course entirely normal, as much as I love him, nor Annie, from what I know of it. Still it's hard to pin down what normal is nowadays. I've turned out to be an anomaly. I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to. I graduated from college in 4 years, I'm getting married at 23, and I got a full time job right about college graduation. Not many of my friends have exactly done it that way. Still, I have moved 10 times in the past 5 years. I have cohabited with 2 romantic partners prior to my current one. The other day, my mum and I laughed about the fact that she's the one dating around.
Social norms be damned, the world will change, no matter how much some people gripe.

Michael Shay said...

I'd rather err on the side of acceptance rather than judgementalism (is that a word?). Anyway, best of luck with your new job and congrats on the marriage. May you be very happy.