Watch CBSN Live

Is Gen Y Delaying Adulthood or Redefining It?

In last weekend's New York Times Magazine, writer Robin Marantz Henig explores why today's 20-somethings are taking much longer to reach major milestones of adulthood, like marriage, parenthood and financial independence, than their parents did. Among the possible answers to this question, proposed by some sociologists, is that the 20s are becoming a new developmental stage they've dubbed "emerging adulthood." Like adolescence, another life stage of relatively recent vintage, the sociologists say emerging adulthood is developing due to cultural and economic changes such as the need for more education in an information economy and laxer attitudes toward premarital sex.

But not everyone buys this theory of delayed adulthood. Twenty-something blogger Rosetta Thurman for one thinks that rather than dragging their heels, Gen Y is re-imagining older, more rigid definitions of adulthood.

What is adulthood? If it's defined as going to college, finding a steady job, getting married, then having 2.5 kids and a station wagon, then my generation is way behind. Although we're being hailed as the "most educated generation in American history," only 21 percent of Millennials are married (half the percentage of our parents' generation at the same ages).

Or maybe--young people just aren't buying into this rigid model of adulthood. What if young people are simply defining adulthood in a totally different way? What if we instead define adulthood as figuring out your purpose in life? Then Gen Y is way ahead of the game. My peers are all trying to find ways to be able to follow their dreams. We're all seeking that sweet spot of doing what we love and getting paid for it. Millennials are looking for meaning in their careers, after having seen our parents work themselves to death, often unhappy with their jobs and rewarded with little promise of retirement, pensions or the ever-evolving Social Security. Why, even young lawyers are embracing their interest in public service. And on the marriage front, more and more young women are delaying or forgoing marriage because, well, we can.

The cynical among you may see all this idealistic pursuit of fulfilling, low-paying careers as an indulgence paid for by Gen Y's parents and eventually set to end when the gravy train reaches its final stop. If you're among those who see Gen Y as feckless spongers than U.S. News & World Report's Alpha Consumer blog would like to explode a few stereotypes about Gen Y and debt for you:
  • We all live at home with our parents because we can't afford our own homes. This falsehood is perhaps the most pervasive, but according to the research group The Network on Transitions to Adulthood, while as many as half of young adults under the age of 24 live at home, 85 percent of them live on their own between ages 25 and 29, and 93 percent have left by age 30. Even more noteworthy is the fact that these numbers, and the overall uptick in 20-somethings living at home as compared to the 1970s, predates the economic downturn. In other words, something else is going on besides financial factors.
  • We waste our money on iPods and Louboutins. We actually care less about following the latest trends and styles than other generations, according to a slew of recent retail surveys. Instead, we've adopted a newer, more frugal mindset. A survey by TNS Retail Forward found that shoppers in their 20s and 30s are most likely to buy the least expensive versions of products.
What's your sense of Gen Y -- are they simply struggling longer against the responsibilities of adulthood (assisted, of course, by their indulgent parents and held back by larger economic forces), or are they a fundamentally different breed that will change what it means to be grown up?

(Photo courtesy Flickr user Loren Javier, CC 2.0)

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue