This Generation’s Young Adults: Smarter or Just More Dependent?

Posted: July 12, 2012 in Editorials/Local News, Stories
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What is next for college grads?

Many television shows and sitcoms have been devoted the formative years after college. This era has always been a pivotal time in the growth of a person. Young adults have always been expected to move out, pick a career, choose a life partner, and prioritize their life. But this new crop of twenty-somethings seem to be doing things differently from the previous generation. They are waiting longer to get married and have kids, they are changing careers after already graduating from college, and they are staying single because- gasp!- they actually want to. Anyone can see the difference in this generation compared to the previous one, but why is this happening? And is it really for the best?

Renee, a 26-year-old bartender from a local chain restaurant, is the first to admit she did things differently from her parents. “I actually went to college at twenty-two, which is when my mother got married. Within two years she had three children!” (She is a twin and also has a younger brother).

Her lifestyle difference, though, has come at a price. She is currently living in her parents basement. She graduated with a degree in English, but hasn’t been able to find a job. She is thinking about pursuing a nursing degree, but for now her bartending job pays the bills and it’s hard to wade into the ocean of uncertainty that comes with job hunting.

“Of course I want a better job, an actual career. But with all the people that are unemployed right now, it’s nerve-wracking to give up a job that pays the bills!”

And Renee isn’t alone. At that restaurant alone, four of the ten employees interviewed had college degrees. This was even more than I was expecting. They all told a similar tale: One couldn’t find a job, another didn’t like the career he was in, and still another found the restaurant hours more conducive to her situation. Is this situation unique to Peoria, or is this going on elsewhere as well?

According to the New York Times, sociologists consider five steps in “becoming an adult.” These are completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying, and having a child. But let’s be honest here: Not very often do these things occur in this order. There are people with children who haven’t completed school but are financially independent; there are couples that are married with or without children and not financially independent, instead living with one of the sets of parents; and there are single mothers who are completing school and living at home. There are people that do complete the steps, but completely out of order. To be completely honest, I am sitting here having trouble thinking of one person from my social circle who completed those steps in that particular order. But before we get into the effect of this new phenomenon, let’s think about the causes, at the local level.

Here in Peoria, we are lucky enough to have numerous fine academic institutions. Between just Bradley and ICC, there were many college students who were able to get an education without having to leave their high school bedroom. Thus, when they graduated and took on a job, it was harder to leave the home they had always had. And it turned into a why-not: “What is the point of moving out, when I could live cheaper right here?” They did have a point. When the economy took a down-turn, it was hard to argue with that logic. If they threw their parents some money, it became mutually beneficial; it was still cheaper for the kid to live at home, but the parents were getting a little help too.

Jobs in Peoria for the youth have never been particularly abundant. In fact, most twenty-somethings venture to Chicago to find jobs that fit majors such as advertising, public relations, human resources, etc. According to, greater than 18% of their population is between the ages of 25 and 34, which is much larger than Illinois’ (13.5%) and the United States as a whole (13%). But Chicago is an expensive city, so eventually those young adults start looking back home, where they have their parents to fall back on. Unfortunately, there are only so many jobs in the town of Peoria, so many of them are forced back home to find a non-existent job. This is most likely how they end up in places like the service industry that we touched on earlier.

There are many different opinions about this new development. Many older adults think the generation is being “babied.” There is some truth to that argument, but not in a bad way. Many young adults were forced to grow up faster in the previous generations because of the Vietnam War and other socioeconomic factors. There were also many jobs in the post-World War II era. With the exception of 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, this generation has been fairly sheltered. A man named Jeffrey Arnett is leading a movement to make a distinction regarding the life stage of the 20s. He wants to call it “emerging adulthood.” One, though, has to wonder what role the parents have played in all of this. Obviously, they aren’t saying “no” when their kids ask to move back or stay at home. Do they want their children to remain dependent longer, or are they merely sympathetic to their cause?

We have explored the causes, but the effects of this new phenomenon is unknown. These young adults could be a drain on their parents who have worked their whole lives to enjoy retirement. On the other hand, they could all be helping each other out and this could be a return to the “extended family” that was the norm for American immigrants when they first came to this country. It could mean that this generation is irresponsible, immature, and unmotivated; conversely, this generation may end up happier because they haven’t rushed into jobs and/or relationships that don’t make them happy.

From what we have touched on, it seems as though one thing is certain: it is up to the young adult to either allow the situation to help them or hinder them.  If they develop a level of autonomy, and take the initiative to help their parents, everyone wins. Autonomy means opening up a savings account and looking forward to moving out. Because everyone wants to move out eventually, right? Right?


The New York Times


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