When you see the numbers, you may wonder what is happening with Generation Y.
• Millennials make up about a quarter of the U.S. population
• 37% of millennials are unemployed
• Approximately 1/3 of millennials still live with parents
• In 2013, only 30 % of young people (ages 20-34) were married, (compared to 77% in 1960)
Accusations of perpetual childhood and Peter Pan syndrome in millennial culture abound, but are choices like is staying at home with parents and not getting married really choices, or has culture shifted so much that young people don’t know how to navigate it and make their way into adulthood? Author Jeffrey Arnett describes the extended adolescence of what he calls “emerging adults” and suggests that young folks today may have more time and space to develop into good humans with strong foundations as a result of this extension of childhood. Additionally, many suggest that time for exploration before settling down and getting married may lead to more stable relationships, not less. These optimistic takes are far fewer than the criticisms of Gen Y. Many recent articles on the subject complain about inflated self-opinions which are the natural result of a culture of political correctness where everyone wins, with or without merit; and the whole generation’s constant desire for praise and reward without commensurate skill. They also note the self-obsession that is the natural result of social media and reality TV culture. The one thing no one argues about is the fact that millennials are definitely behaving differently than previous generations.
What a difference
A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center looked at millennial behavior and demonstrated that for the first time in over a century, young people (ages 18-34) are living with parents more frequently than in any other type of living arrangement. With a third (32.1%) of young folks remaining in their parents’ homes, rather than living alone, with a romantic partner, with a friend or non-parent family member, or in a college dorm; it is natural to wonder what has led to the shift. Some researchers attribute these new trends to the fact that fewer young people are settling down romantically. It is noted that young men are more likely than young women to be living in the home of a family member while women are more likely to be the head of a household because they tend more frequently to be single parents.
The study suggested that a few different factors contributed to the change, namely (and not surprisingly); marital status, education, and employment. Researchers place most weight on the fact that many young people in the U.S. are making the choice not to settle down with a romantic partner and this postponement, and sometimes complete retreat from marriage, removes some of the impetus to leave the nest. In fact, in the last decade, the median age for first marriage has steadily increased, with one in four never marrying at all, leaving many wondering if there is something wrong with the entire generation. We fail to ask, time and time again, why don’t these young people want to settle down? What is the root cause of the decline in independent living and failure to marry?
Products of a rotten economy?
Fox News’ Dr. Keith Ablow is quick to attributes these trends to a weak economy and overall lack of employment opportunities for millennials. He also makes some rather harsh criticisms. It is an absolute fact that employment trends have contributed to the changes in millennial lifestyles and to blame it completely on marriage is to miss a big piece of the puzzle. The Great Recession stopped many young people in their tracks, making things harder than they have been for previous generations and instilling many with the fear that there was no place in the working world for them. While some have been discouraged to the point of depression, this has served to make many young people resourceful and nimble. Ablow describes dispirited youth with squandered potential, depressed, anxious, and high on legal drugs, seeking desperately to get free from the tyranny of continually coddling parents. He goes on tirades about Tinder culture, and young folks hooking up rather than having meaningful, long-term relationships. Fortunately, the reality is a more complicated and interesting than that. Millennials are making different choices, but they are, in fact, making choices.
Setbacks lead to a new worldview
The findings of the Pew study may seem discouraging to many older Americans who can’t understand why so many young folks are falling behind. The conversation typically circles around to larger cultural criticisms; talk of an entire generation ruined by too many frivolous participation awards and pointless kindergarten graduation ceremonies, and genuine achievement being watered down by a culture by handing out a steady stream of awards and accolades for next-to-nothing. There are also the inevitable complaints about laziness, video games, and substance use. Still, it’s important to note that this generation has also faced instability and change, significantly different from that of previous generations. As with nearly every issue facing us today, there are multiple contributing factors – the Great Recession being a big one and the cultural shift that taught young people that every tiny achievement was worthy of accolades is another. At the core of the litany of complaints from other generations is that this group can’t seem to let go of childhood. Maybe that is true. But in some ways, not jumping into things one isn’t ready for may be a maturity older generations never go the luxury of exploring. The truth is that there is no conclusion to this conversation. This generation of emerging adults if figuring it out as they go, just like every other generation before has had to do.
From a paper about Millennials published for the White House by the Council of Economic Advisors in October 2014
“…while there are substantial challenges to meet, no generation has been better equipped to overcome them than Millennials. They are skilled with technology, determined, diverse, and more educated than any previous generation. Millennials are still in the early stages of joining and participating in the labor market. Taking steps to help them access and complete college, manage their student debt, have better opportunities for training and connection to jobs, access the credit they need for a home, protect the network neutrality that is the basis for much of their technological activity, as well as general policies to strengthen investment, job creation and wage growth, all have the potential to have a lasting impact for this generation and thus for U.S. economic performance for decades to come.”
Please feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to further discuss the unique challenges facing Millennials. I am a Psychotherapist available to young professionals and emerging adults who are ready to overcome their challenges and transform their lives! My website it full of blog entries and useful content to help you along your way, and I hope you find this free content useful on your journey. Feel free to reach out to me directly if have any questions or if you are interested in scheduling a private session.
Dr. Eileen Wynne