The obligatory bellyaching over what’s wrong with twenty-somethings and the “trend” of emerging adulthood appeared in the New York Times Magazine this weekend. It’s not anything terribly illuminating – the Times is fairly legendary at being behind on trend coverage. As I read it, I was considering a response, but someone on the interwebs – I’m sorry, whoever you are, because I can’t remember who it was – pointed to this blog post as a great response. And it is.
In practical, hard-nosed American terms, freedom from necessity is good because it buys time, and time results in better decisions: “Maybe if kids take longer to choose their mates and their careers, they’ll make fewer mistakes and live happier lives.” This seems to be intended as the article’s most persuasive argument in favor of adopting emerging adulthood as a developmental phase. I don’t doubt that many adults wish in hindsight that their youth had lasted longer, but it’s not actually clear from such nostalgia and wistfulness that a longer youth would’ve resulted in a happier or wiser adulthood, assuming they ever made it to adulthood. Since time itself is not guidance in matters of marriage or vocation (especially if both are delayed because neither seem available or obviously worthwhile), 20-somethings may just take longer to make the same mistakes. Unless we believe that the longer one takes to make a decision, the better it will be (so people who marry at 90 are most likely to choose the best mates), we have to look to some other standard to determine the wisdom of such decisions.
Or maybe these past decisions were not mistakes at all? After all, the view that all previous decisions about marriage, work, and childrearing were wrong is the biggest assumption of this piece. What evidence do we have that the decisions people made in the past about these things were wrong?
Whether or not the decisions of the past were good or bad, however, we the twentysomethings have some kind of opportunity in front of us. How will we deal with the quarterlife crisis? (Rob addressed this in the latest print edition of Comment, but you’ll have to wait a month or so to read the actual piece online. That is, if you don’t subscribe. Which you should.)