Re: “What Is It About 20-Somethings?”

For a while there, I was considering not saying anything about the recent NY Times piece “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” But then I found out there are people who actually agree with it. So now I have to say something.

The whole premise of the 10-page article is that Millennials aren't growing up as fast as previous generations. The examples they cite include not having steady jobs, moving back in with parents, getting married later than previous generations, and waiting to have kids. 

If you know me, you know I can't let this slide.

  1. Not having steady jobs. First of all, nobody has a truly steady job in this economy. And when employers have the choice of a 40-something or a 20-something, both willing to work for the same salary, they're obviously going to choose the person with more experience. Thus plenty of 20-somethings are left without jobs for the time being, but I assure you once the economy picks back up, so will the Gen Y employment rate. We're a highly educated and highly motivated generation. We're not living off our meager unemployment checks for the fun of it.
  2. Moving back in with parents.  Consider this scenario, which I've observed firsthand three times now. You graduated from college with $80k in student loan debt (student loan debt recently surpassed credit card debt for the first time in history). You've been applying for jobs, working a minimum-wage part-time job, and working unpaid internships for two years with no health insurance or benefits. You're exhausted and can no longer afford to pay rent, much less your loan payments, and then your parents say "honey, why don't you move back in with us?" At first you refuse because you value your independence, but then you think about it... Living with them, you wouldn't have to pay rent and you could maybe start to make a dent in those student loan payments. Moving in with them is the only responsible thing to do in this scenario (which, by the way, thousands of Millennials are facing).
  3. Getting married later. Who can afford a wedding right now? I just got engaged (yay!), but it's looking like it will be a couple years of saving before we'll be able to realistically afford the wedding we want.
  4. Waiting to have kids. This one really irks me. We can't afford to pay off our credit cards or student loans, we don't have jobs, we can't afford to get married, but we should be popping out babies? We're not growing up fast enough because we don't have dependents at the age of 24? Give me a break. We'll have babies when we can afford to take care of them. Or not. I'd like to think society has progressed enough that having children is no longer an expectation, but that's a whole different rant. I wonder how we would be described if we were having kids earlier than the previous generation... I somehow doubt the words "more grown up" would be included in the analysis. Huge double-standard here.
The article uses a term, "emerging adulthood," which was coined by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a psychologist who is "leading the movement to view the 20s as a distinct life stage." Apparently this is a new movement, although I do vaguely remember reading about life stages in my high school Intro to Psychology class, and I'm pretty sure transitioning from college to adulthood falls in there somewhere. It's alarming to me that there are actually people out there who expect us to jump straight from our college dorm rooms into the arms of our new spouses, all the while putting down-payments on houses and producing offspring. 

Another term often used to describe Millennials is "entitled." Okay, fine, yes. I feel entitled. Here are the things I feel entitled to:
  1. To put some thought into what I want to do with my life
  2. To wait until I find I job a love (and freelance in the meantime)
  3. To save money until I can afford to make massive life decisions such as marriage, child-bearing, and house-buying
I've read lots of articles that blame our parents for this sense of entitlement, which I didn't buy at first. But then I was completely humiliated at a meeting where two out of the eight people revealed that they had been called - or visited - by their 20-something employee's parents. This distresses me. I've read the horror stories, but I never really believed it. These so-called "helicopter parents" are overprotective and are making their kids (and our generation) look bad. But for every one helicopter parent who smothered their kids, I would say there are 99 others that got it right. I think my parents instilled in me a sense of work ethic, respect for authority, ambition, social-consciousness, and confidence. Also, my parents would never call my employers (thanks Mom and Dad!). 

"Does that mean it’s a good thing to let 20-somethings meander — or even to encourage them to meander — before they settle down?" I think the article misinterprets what's going on at this stage. It imagines Millennials to be wandering around, foggy-eyed, unsure of how to proceed with our lives, when that's simply not the case. Leaving aside all the absurdly successful Gen Y entrepreneurs already changing the landscape of business as we know it, the rest of us simply want to make sure we're making smart decisions before jumping into our lives. If that means we're not growing up, so be it. I'll wait.

Lots of great discussions have come out of this article, such as this piece on Carol Phillip's Millennial Marketing blog, this discussion on Slate, and this fantastic article on The Huffington Post. What do you think? Does the NY Times have us pegged?


Aaron said...

I always find it amusing that proceeding generations like to think the up and coming youth are in worse shape because they're not at the same stage of their lives compared to where they were at this time. Our youth have way more access to information and education than our parents and are way more prepared to be well-thought-out in their approaches to life in general. I'm 32, so I'm just out of that age but we now have the ability to think about whether we want to be parents or married at all when previous generations just did it without any thought. So, I'D have to say that our current 20-somethings are in much better shape as a whole from a decision-making standpoint, but the loans and dept we have to deal with is really scary.....All and all, I agree completely with what you stated....thanks!

Anonymous said...

Great retort Adrienne. Must have been a slow news day at the Times.


I added myself to follow your blog. You are more than welcome to visit mine and become a follower if you want to.

God Bless You ~Ron

Luz Aguirrebena said...

It always bothers me how people of my generation talk about millennials out of the context of reality. Almost like life and business as usual will prevail when everything that we made was unsustainable and is falling apart before our eyes. How petty it looks from the big picture our behavior and how mindful looks our Millennial children behavior. Slow to grow up? I ask grow up to what! To be a part of the "Bully" business mindset? To comply with insanity? How about the huge mess we are leaving behind to this enlightened generation? What is so bad about valuing your time as gold and wanting to make a difference in a shattered world. Honestly the only bad thing about it is that we couldn't see it so clearly as millennials and gave in to the status quo. What is bad about attaching purpose to your work whatever it is. And we are throwing around words like entitlement and grow up? From the space I am looking at it, the only ones who have to grow up is the previous generations. The millennials so far are proving they understand that the definition of insanity is doing things over and over the same way expecting different results, much better than we did. Good for them! Thanks Adrienne! For standing up for your beliefs. Great article.

Anonymous said...

I mostly agree with your comment to the NYT article except for a few aspects in your first two arguments.

First, you claim that "when employers have the choice of a 40-something or a 20-something, both willing to work for the same salary, they're obviously going to choose the person with more experience." This is a very very false statement. I work at a very small consulting firm, and assist clients in hiring/HR needs, and more than 75% of the time the client goes with a younger, more tech-savvy, more eager employee. Even though they may offer the same salary to the 40-year old, in reality that 40-year old probably has a dependent or 2 or 3 (wife, kids) meaning higher benefits the company must pay them. That 40 year old is also going to be looking for a raise/promotion more quickly than the 20 year old who maybe has very little experience in negotiating salaries/promotions. In this economy a young person has a better chance of getting a job, than a laid off 40 year old. There are lots of nonprofits and associations out there helping young 20 year olds get on their feet for the first time. Yes it takes some initiative, but I'm a 20 something year old, and worked very hard to get a private sector job in this awful economy.

Second, any student who racked up $80,000 in college debt did make the best use of their resources and is asking for financial problems. When choosing a college, students don't realize that its more than an academic choice, but an economical one as well. Again, there are lots of nonprofit consultants out there that give free advice for students on how to NOT get into $80,000 in debt, and how to quickly pay off your debt on your own with out having to ask others, including your parents for help.

I think our generation has taken on a "woe is me" attitude, and I think the NYT article is playing to that angle. You make some very good points about how the status quo has changed and I completely agree everything else you say, just wanted to touch on those two items a bit.

Adrienne Waldo said...

Thanks everyone for the thoughtful comments! It's so good to hear that people agree on principle, and that I'm not the only one irked by the way we're portrayed in the media. Like Luz pointed out, these articles are written completely out of the context of reality. It felt great to get all these thoughts off my shoulders, but I feel a little bad because this definitely was a rant I wrote in moment of frustration, the result being that some of my points were completely anecdotal.

I appreciate the Anonymous comment about the line "when employers have the choice of a 40-something or a 20-something, both willing to work for the same salary, they're obviously going to choose the person with more experience." Since I published this post, a lot of people have pointed out the falsehoods in that statement... The back-story is I picked that up in a panel discussion where a lady said she's purposely not hiring Millennials because others with more experience will work for the same salary and she doesn't like Gen Y attitudes. But I probably took that to heart more than I should have, and I'm starting to realize she's not representative of the whole. Thanks for offering a (much) more informed argument.

On the debt front, I disagree. I'm personally in a lot of debt because my parents handled my finances and loans until I was out of college, and they never stressed the gravity of the situation. I didn't know how much debt I had racked up until I took it over, and by then it was too late. If I had known, I would have done things differently. Again, anecdotal, but I imagine a lot of people are in the same situation.

Anonymous said...

I read this article as well and honestly is just sounds like someone didn't follow their dreams as a "20 something"...I am 24 years old and I decided to go work at a ski resort last season. I just now got a "real" job that is temp to maybe I'll be earning a salary, but honestly it's not a job that I want to do. I have a degree in media productions, this job has be behind a computer writing pointless blogs, but it pays the bills right now. Getting married and having kids later - I mean really? If a female wants to have a career life, then she's not going to be in a rush to get married and have kids. Our life expectancy keeps increasing, so we have time to get married and "settle down"....why settle down so fast? We go to school our whole life and we have access to so much, with the click of a mouse we can be off flying to another state/country with in a day. I think some older generations are just jealous of our freedom and our fearlessness. This generation lives life to it's fullest :)

Albing International Marketing said...

As as trendwatcher and Boomer parent of 3 great Millennials, I also take issue with the premise that Millenials are elitists. See our blog at for more on this subject.

At Albing International Marketing, our research indicates that the world may be a better place when the "balanced" Millennials take over from their less balanced and less optimistic elders...

-Robin Albing

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Hayleigh said...

İ am relieved to have stumbled across your blog today as i was feeling particularly sorry for myself. i am 21 but unlike most of you i dropped out of college when i saw my friends graduating to nothing... no jobs in the sector... no way to pay off any debts and so no way to progress in life. İ then moved abroad and i love it... small problem is i cant see how i will ever be able to buy my own place and work is very stagnant. i work for a great company but there is no way i can advance in my field because everyone is just treading water until the financial climate improves. And what with wages staying the same but the prices of everything else continuing to rise how can we save these huge deposits up so we can get that mortgage ... my parents earn maybe 5 times what i earn in a month but even they are complaining that items required for basic need like their weekly food shop for example is ripping chunks out of their bank book.

What gets me the most is they are all aware of how hard it is at the moment to keep the wheels turning because many of them are struggling themselves but somehow they still manage to make us feel like we are totally failing and as though our lives are totally empty and worthless... and when i stop and think for a second i realise the opportunities are just not out there like they used to be.

Our lives can not be compared to those of generations before us because everything has changed and at the end of the day how can anyone expect the same result when the starting gate has been dragged a mile back and the race track runs a totally different course.

The thing that gets me the most though is our ability to question ourselves to the point of self destruction.We can all pretend to be mad at the older generations for asking harsh questions about our life progress but really i don't think there is one 20 -something person out there who hasn't asked themselves those same questions or even harsher ones...

So my question is... When did i lose hope and start to doubt that the answers to those questions are out there?????

Julia said...

Each generation changes the way the world works. That's just the way it is. Technology advances and creates new problems and solutions. Communication changes at a ridiculous pace, and as a result so do cultures.

To expect each generation to follow the footsteps of previous ones is unreasonable and uneducated.

Like the whole school debt thing: this is something that our generation has to deal with on top of a tumultuous global economy.

With each new generation, even though the previous generations may not admit it, expectations change. How are we expected to do everything we need to do without adapting to the situation at hand?