It's long (and wrong), but this is the original piece. I suppose it's worth reading to see what "out of touch" looks like in print: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/magazine/22Adulthood-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=4
I don't even know where to begin with this thing. The idea the piece is exploring is the differences in behavorial patterns of 20-somethings (and early-30s types like myself, by proxy...there is a spectacularly lazy reference to "Generation X slackers" in there) now as opposed to our parents and grandparents. The main problem is that the piece is based on one premise - which is hilariously outdated and insulting - and proceeds to miss 100% of the contributing factors that go into this discussion. It's amazing in its breadth of incompetence.
The lede - written in bold because I suppose we're too childish to pick up on the theme otherwise - is "Why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up?" Already, the piece is asserting a statement of fact instead of building a case one way or the other based on, you know, facts and evidence and stuff. Later on the first page, the author's accepted definition of adulthood, which is sourced by the unquestionably authoritative "Sociologists traditionally define" is as follows: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. My immediate question, having gone as far down that path as I have any desire to (60%, to be precise) is since I'm 3/5ths of an adult, does that mean I should only count as .67 of a person come Census time, as if I were African-American during Reconstruction? Sure, it's a ridiculous metaphor - but this piece does not deserve seriousness.
What's worse is that the piece is written in language that belies the author's own prejudices. To wit, this passage:
Kids don't shuffle along in unison on the road to maturity. They slouch toward adulthood at an uneven, highly individual pace. Some never achieve all five milestones, including those who are single or childless by choice, or unable to marry even if they wanted to because they're gay. Others reach the milestones completely out of order, advancing professionally before committing to a monogamous relationship, having children young and marrying later, leaving school to go to work and returning to school long after becoming financially secure.
They SLOUCH towards adulthood? This isn't remotely trying to be objective, is it? The implication seems to be that adulthood is only reached by hitting all 5 targets - thus immediately disqualifying those of same-sex orientation, those who cannot bear children due to medical reasons, those who for whatever reason college was not the right fit, etc. Even more distressing is the further implication that there is a proper order to these things. Want to become a manager at your job before getting married? This isn't Super Mario Brothers for fuck's sake - if you do Level 3 before Level 8, a fat little mushroom man doesn't tell you that the Princess is in another castle!
Beyond the thinly-veiled arrogance is something even worse - a willfully-incorrect obfuscation of fact. In the second graf, the author casually inserts the phrase: "It's a development that predates the current economic doldrums...", with no further context. On the surface, it is technically correct in one application - the current recession began (depending on who you believe) in 2006 or 2007, and the developments so bemoaned by our scribe have indeed been happening for longer - the oft-derided Generation X the most likely starting point. OK, fair enough, but tell us why! Never mind, I'll do it. For one thing, real wages - especially for entry-level jobs - have been stagnant since the 1970s. In other words, When my mother was 23-24 and giving birth to Patrick and I, her purchasing power at that age was about the same as it would be now. However, the normal course of inflation has made everything far more expensive...especially if you live in a major metropolitan area.
In the prosperous middle decades of the previous century, a single middle-class worker could - without crippling student loans, I might add - entirely support a large family, a mortgage and a car with one paycheck...and have enough left over to go on vacation every now and again. It's safe to say that such a thing is impossible in our moment of time. Secondary schooling was not required, and thus the gateway to traditional adulthood began after the completion of high school in many cases. I don't suppose those two factors could possibly be correlated to an earlier start with the whole marriage-and-kids thing?
If only that was the sole issue with this piece...trust me, there's more. The author quotes some psychologist guy who produces this nugget:
A few of these, especially identity exploration, are part of adolescencetoo, but they take on new depth and urgency in the 20s. The stakes arehigher when people are approaching the age when options tend to closeoff and lifelong commitments must be made. Arnett calls it "the age 30deadline."
Options close off at 30? Lifelong commitments "must" be made? Deadline? Says who?
It's a sad human indeed who feels like they must reach a stage by age 30 where the exposition of their life story has largely already been told. It makes me depressed just thinking about it. It would be one thing if we all lived in the Middle Ages or ancient China, where we could look forward to a short, brutal life of subsistence farming and being hacked to death on a battlefield (unless disease got you first, naturally). Back then, reaching 30 practically made you the village elder. With a life expectancy that short, there is far more incentive to get the big life events out of the way as soon as possible. Now? Most of us will hit 75, many will reach 80 and some will reach 90. Let's say you buy a house, get married and have the proverbial 1.5 kids by age 30. Congratulations! I wish you all the best, but now how are you going to fill your time for the next 16,425 - 21,900 days? Lots of people buy houses. There are legions of good parents and, unfortunately, legions of neglectful/incompetent/absent ones. But, who are you? What makes you...well...you? What mark are you going to leave besides a kid with a stupid shaggy haircut who listens to fucking My Chemical Romance? Is none of this important or meaningful?
A single Google search finds that the ranks of the unmarried include Supreme Court justice David Souter, women's suffragist Susan B. Anthony, many composers (Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin), many scientists (Newton, Tesla, Galileo), many philosophers (Kant, Sartre, Kafka), legions of artists (Van Gogh, Descartes, Michelangelo, Delacroix, Leonardo da Vinci, Tolouse-Latrec), several economists (Locke, Hobbes, Smith)...I can go on forever.
So, were they not adults, then?
Anyway, I'm straying from my point a bit. Why is there a deadline at 30? That's fairly arbitrary, isn't it? In this day and age, why should we be limited in our options at any point in our life? The author mentions geographical movement as one of the symptoms of this supposed lack of adulthood - why on earth is increasing your field of knowledge and opening yourself to new experiences and new outlooks on life a sign of immaturity? Am I missing something here? I don't have any issue with someone who decides they really love where they were born and don't want to stray too far, but to assert that it is the only option is insane at best and criminally-stupid at worst.
Now, I'll grant that transience needs to have a purpose in order to be beneficial. Even if that purpose is simply to experience as much as possible, that is a worthy goal. If you simply drift through life due to a lack of imagination or passion for anything, that's a different story. Unless you are working off the premise that the majority of people our age are in the latter bucket, I fail to see why this is worthy of the author's time to write - or ours to read (or mine to rebut).
Is emerging adulthood a rich and varied period for self-discovery, asArnett says it is? Or is it just another term for self-indulgence?
Or, is it a result of shifting societal norms that are unquestionably all for the better?
It may be uncomfortable for some, but why do you suppose there has been such societal pressure in past times to marry and have children quickly? Isn't it telling that people from more religious areas of the country tend to do so at far younger ages than those in urban areas? Isn't it interesting how among the various races, those who tend more towards religion (Hispanics, for one) also have the highest birthrates currently?
I don't want to get into a pro-religion vs. anti-religion discussion as that misses the point. Whatever your religion (or lack thereof), whatever your take on it, it is immutable fact that organized religions throughout history have been in the business of exerting contol over people's lives. The quicker you marry, the quicker you become responsible for young lives, the more you become tied down to a certain place, a certain way of life. Frankly (and in this case I do not assign a value of good or bad to it - it works for some and not for others), you become far easier to control the less transient you are. The gradual lessening of importance of religion in our society (again, in some areas far more than others) will naturally lead to more freedoms. I'll use myself as an example, being a non-religious sort. I am single, I have no children, I have a job I tolerate but am not head-over-heels in love with, I love my city but get wanderlust from time to time, I belong to no church and am in no congregation, I have no other outside responsiblities except to my soccer teams. If the urge struck me to pick up and move to Ireland or England or Australia or the Philippines tomorrow - assuming the successful navigation of the usual immigration issues - I could do it tomorrow. Don't worry, I don't have that urge right now, but I also can't promise anything 5 or 10 years from now.
In other words, this level of transience is not a result of immaturity - it is happening because for the first time, people have the ability to do so. Assigning a lack of adulthood to this is like saying Ferdinand Magellan was a slacker because he chose a life of exploration over family and traditional work. It's insane.
It goes on for pages and pages more - some psychological studies are looked at, some discussion on the development of the brain, etc (the last few pages are largely meaningless fluff crammed at the end because journalistic dictat decrees that you have to get a shitload of quotes for a piece like this, even if it doesn't contribute anything). Maybe someone more qualified than me can go into some of that, but if you have read down this far, I want you to come away with this: Parenthood and marriage are wonderful things if that's what you're into, and I wish you the best if that is your calling (though I hope you would find some other interests to round out your existence). My brother is a parent already, and his transformation heartens me (and my fucking god, I love those kids). My work friend Shannon desperately wants to be one, and I root for her. My other work friend Katie out in California doesn't want kids, and I respect (and relate to) that.A friend from upstate, Dave, just recently married - I wish him and his wife the best. My college friend Steve is divorced - I commiserate with him and am glad he has moved on.
But, there's other things in this world that matter. I have friends that make music, friends that make art, friends that have been on the stage. I know people who have been to Japan and those who have been to Kansas (frankly, I don't know which is more exotic). I know homebodies and I know adventurers. And magnets...how the fuck do THEY work?
I'm sorry...I had to.
The point is, adulthood is displayed in the decisions you make, the way you treat people, and the ability to be as self-sufficient as economics and natural gifts allow you to be. The dreamer, the explorer, the student, the poet and the athlete are not mutually exclusive with the adult. For that matter, neither are the husband, the wife, the parent, the grandparent, the executive and the mill worker. We are blessed to be among a generation that has not been frog-marched into parenthood or marriage before we are ready and/or before we have met the right person (if there even is one - some people may not have one). We are not expected to stay at the same job for 20 years if there is something that we like better or will give us more financial freedom. The wonders of air travel allow us to never be more than a day's soujourn away from our loved ones...no matter where on the globe they may be. Don't you get it? We're FREE. This world belongs to us, and what we do with it is our decision.
I intend to exercise that freedom to do what I want to do? Will you? I certainly hope so...and that is as adult as anything else out there.