A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about a NYT mag piece that put forth Jeffrey Jensen Arnett’s cause to define “Emerging Adulthood” as its own, unique life stage. And this week, the magazine’s entire Letters section was devoted to responses to that piece. And with good reason: when it comes to the differences between today’s, um, emerging adults, and their 20-something counterparts of generations past, there’s a lot to think about.
One suggests that the world we live in today was shaped by rule-breaking boomers, so it’s logical that those of us who’ve come of age in that world might feel more comfortable going our own way:
As I read Robin Marantz Henig’s discussion of 20-somethings, I was struck by the sense that the new life stage she was ascribing to this generation could actually be something that adults of all ages experience today: feeling unstable, struggling with ferocious competition for jobs, wondering if our relationships and finances can go the distance. I consider it progress that every young person doesn’t feel the need to complete school, leave home, marry and have a child by a certain deadline. There is no ‘one size fits all’ adulthood. Let’s not forget it was the boomers who created the 50 percent divorce rate, who initiated the corporate-casual workplace, who made 60 the new 40. Today’s 20-somethings just want what we all want: the opportunity to live life on our own terms and in our own time frame.
Another suggests that, well, it’s the economy, stupid. Companies don’t take care of their workers for life like they once did–and 20-somethings who’ve watched their parents change professional directions are understandably commitment-shy:
In recent decades, corporate downsizing, the offshore outsourcing of both blue-collar and professional jobs and the loss of corporate loyalty to (and pensions for) committed employees and retirees have rendered quaint the notion of a settled, lifelong career. Today’s 20-somethings have observed their parents not only job-shifting but also career-shifting, many numbers of times over, to say nothing of the job insecurity in the current recession. This situation can make career commitments seem daunting.
This one suggests that “Emerging Adulthood” is a life stage well spent, that getting to know oneself before committing to anything–or anyone–else has long been an important–and recognized–stage:
I fear [Henig] gave short shrift to Erik Erikson’s work on psychosocial development past childhood. She describes the ‘intimacy versus isolation’ stage, a task to be negotiated by the young adult, solely in terms of whether to commit to a lifelong relationship. Erikson meant much more in his focus on the challenge of young adulthood than simply finding a lifelong mate. His view of intimacy included what at one point he referred to as ‘intimacy with oneself, one’s inner resources, the range of one’s excitements and commitments.’ In his view, a person without a sense of self could not maturely commit to another person. It may well be that this lack of closeness with oneself–inner resources, excitements and commitments–might be a key to what we are seeing as the reluctance of the young adult.
But my personal favorite was this one, which suggests that the willingness to dispense with the shoulds and take your time before making commitments is actually pretty damn admirable:
Like many baby boomers, I took the college, career, marriage and children route with barely a detour or reflection. I love my life, and I have few regrets, but to follow a path so mandated by external role pressures and internal expectations, underlain by anxiety and fear of change, perhaps cheapens the essence of ‘choice.’ In contrast, many adults in their 20s are making thoughtful life choices that exemplify flexibility, creativity and courage. Instead of struggling to determine whether this is because of social context or whether it represents a new life stage, perhaps we should simply applaud those among us who best exemplify the American ideals of liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
What do you think?