America’s Neverland generation

Amongst shifting trends, the old adulthood definition is obsolete.

Delaney Daly

The transition from childhood to adulthood used to be straightforward; our grandparents became grown-ups when they got married, found a job and had kids. Generation X had a similar outline, this time with the addition of a college education. No longer is this the case.

Now more than ever, young people are opting out of independent living situations to move back in with their parents. We’ve been aptly dubbed the “boomerang generation” due to the high percentage of Millennials who have left home only to return — about one third of people ages 25-29. Moreover, those aged 18-24 have held a heavy unemployment rate of 16.3 percent since 2010,  marking it as the largest gap of unemployment rate between this age group and the adult working population in documented history.

The lengthened path to adulthood isn’t only seen through the 20-somethings of today who have taken on the “failure to launch” gauntlet. Indeed, marriage, child-rearing and home ownership are concepts that aren’t thought of seriously by much of Generation Y until their late 20s and early 30s. 

Speculation about why we’ve dropped the ball on customary roles of adulthood has taken course. Is our situation self-perpetuated or are we at the mercy of circumstance? Some argue that ours is a condition of cultural consequence; it has been shaped through the emerging contemporary values that trend among Generations Y and Z, namely the increased number of people who are going to college — and with that, an ever increasing amount of student debt. A notable factor in suspending the usual emergence into the realm of the “grown-up” was the impact of our country’s recession. The Pew Research Center has concluded that the general public believes Generation Y struggles the most with the lackluster American economy. Along with heightened unemployment, those employed and coming of age also have felt a more significant drop in weekly earnings.  It’s no wonder many of us have turned to the refuge of college education.

It’s no small amount — enrollment has surged by 50 percent since 1990. Add to that the tripled cost of tuition, and you have a weighty delay in the conversion to adulthood. This slower progression is accompanied by later decision-making regarding majors, career paths and the eventual entrance into the job market.

Despite the bleakness of our financial situation, emerging adults remain widely optimistic about what the future holds. The Pew research suggests that nearly 90 percent of young adults believe that although they do not have enough money now, they will in the future. Millennials furthermore believe that the standard of living will not only increase for them but for generations to come.

What may be most important to acknowledge, however, is that we live in an exceedingly individualized culture. We are in an age of shifting classifications; the once distinct definition for adulthood is now obsolete.

Standardization makes less and less sense as time passes, and the traditional milestones of adulthood — college, marriage, careers and children — simply do not apply to young adults today like they did in times past. We’ve also become more self-focused as a generation. We record and broadcast our lives, feelings and reactions to each other and the world around us. We are investing less in housing, cars and property, and more in ourselves.   In essence, our meandering entrance to the territory of adulthood is, albeit addled with ambivalence and indulgence, essentially indicative of a growing sense of self-actualization.

In a world where knowledge, farce, opinion and persuasion are constantly being promoted and contended, self-actualization certainly isn’t a bad thing.