Your 20s: A Decade Long On-Ramp?

Last Updated Jun 17, 2011 2:09 AM EDT

It's a much discussed phenomenon that Gen Y (and Gen Y men in particular) are delaying the usual markers of adulthood, like marriage and children. The rise in average age at marriage is an indisputable demographic trend, but what effect will this change have on the workplace?

Blogger and "evangelist for Gen Y" Lindsey Pollak recently took a stab at predicting the future of Gen Y at work, and among her though-provoking ideas was speculation about how changing life paths will impact not only Gen Y's personal lives but also the way all our careers progress. She predicts:

We will expand and lengthen the definition of "entry-level." Because Gen Ys are extending the onset of adulthood into their mid-twenties or even age 30 (a phenomenon that I believe was confirmed when the new U.S. health care legislation determined that young people can stay on their parents' health insurance until age 26), I think companies will follow suit in treating the twenties are more of a career training period.
I believe we will see expanded internship programs (perhaps lasting several years beyond college), more alumni career resources being offered by universities (so there is less pressure to choose a career by age 21) and longer corporate rotational programs -- perhaps moving from two years to three or four. The days of graduating college and joining a company for life are long over, but we are only beginning to see companies develop creative new approaches to career pathing. For interesting examples, check out Best Buy, Google and Zappos.
This idea that the 20s will become a decade long on-ramp raises some serious questions, including what becomes of the kids whose parents can't afford to have them on the family health insurance or even living in the family home into their mid-twenties and beyond. Previously on this blog, Oregon State University professor Richard Settersten has made the point that the increasingly lengthy path to a well paying career severely disadvantages those with less financial support from their families. He said:
Those who are well positioned up front as they make their way into their early adult years manage to do pretty well over the long term to a large degree because they have financial support and guidance from their parents. And those who don't have those kinds of resources really have trouble staying the course and often plummet.
But there's another interesting point raised by Pollak's prediction as well -- are changes in how young people conduct their personal lives affecting their career trajectories, or is it that changing career paths are forcing young people to delay adulthood? Settersten definitely believes the latter, saying, "it takes a lot longer today to get jobs that allow you to live independently, let alone raise a family. It takes a lot more resources just to get launched."

Will companies embracing the idea of a decade long on-ramp just worsen the situation facing young people who are actually eager to start adult lives but are put off by economics? The Guardian newspaper in the UK is even speculating as to whether trends that hold young people back economically will have serious political repercussions as the generations increasingly clash. What's your take -- is a decade long on-ramp a sensible reaction to Gen Y's changing lifestyle decisions or a sign of serious economic issues facing the young?

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(Image courtesy of Flickr user dandeluca, CC 2.0)
  • Jessica Stillman On Twitter»

    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.