Last week I went to a deposition for one of our cases, and I got to talking to Mr. Doctor (his specialty is in bio mechanics, really interesting stuff about friction coefficients and what not–seriously) during breaks and for a bit after the depo (legal lingo, short for deposition…so fancy, huh?). He ended up talking about his frustration with the failure of each of his kids to be able to live on their own. They’re each between 22-27 years old, and yet they’re all living off of the old man still. Mind you, they’re not losers or bad children: his daughter is an attorney, another son works in the environmental non profit sector, and the youngest is an aspiring actor (Mr. Doctor said this last one is going to have a “coming to God talk with his father very soon” about the realities of pursuing an acting career while living off of his father).

The daughter was laid off from her last job, and has been unable to find a similar job in the legal industry. The middle son is working, but doesn’t make enough to pay rent, so Mr. Doctor pays for that. I guess to an extent he’s enabling them, but on the other hand, he’s not the only person in his generation going through this. Jeff and I might actually be moving in with Jeff’s parents for a bit to save up some money. Is it wrong for them to let us move in instead of making Jeff and I figure it out on our own? Who knows.

Mr. Doctor made a comment which I found interesting, and I’ll paraphrase: “I thought having kids was going to be like my generation was: you go to school, get a job, and start supporting yourself. I thought I was going to be done after college, maybe graduate school, but I’m still having to support all three of them.” This is something that’s come up quite a bit lately, and I find it pretty intriguing. What is crazy about this whole situation is that Jeff’s parents and Mr. Doctor are among plenty of parents going through the same thing, I’m sure.
I think I wrote before how my family seems to be disappointed in the fact that my cousins and I haven’t reached any sort of stability in our lives. They think back to when they were our age, and although they all had their difficulties in getting where they are, they had kids, a steady and secure job with potential to move up, and eventually a house.
The New York times published an article, a lengthy one that I’ll confess I wasn’t able to read in it’s entirety, talking about why 20-somethings are taking so long to grow up. They’ve termed it “emerging adulthood.” Our “transition to adulthood” is traditionally marked by five milestones:
  1. Completing school
  2. Leaving home
  3. Becoming financially independent
  4. Marrying
  5. Having a child
Our generation is reaching these milestones at a later point in life than past generations. According to the article, some of the reasons for our delay in reaching these milestones include:
  • “Need for more education to survive in an information-based economy;
  • Fewer entry-level jobs even after all that schooling;
  • Young people feeling less rush to marry because of general acceptance of premarital sex, cohabitation and birth control;
  • and young women feeling less rush to have babies given their wide range of career options and their access to assisted reproductive technology if they delay pregnancy beyond their most fertile years.”
I find that all very interesting, and I have few points of my own that I’ve been wanting to make about all of this:
We’re not fuck ups. Sorry for the f-bomb, but I’m not sure what other expression to use, haha. I get the feeling that older generations (or maybe just the media, hmm….) think we’re doing something hugely wrong with our lives, that we haven’t played our cards right. But, we’ve kinda played the cards we were dealt. We were raised on the understanding that if you go to school and put your time in, things will work out for you. Given how many people get college degrees these days, that simple plan of just “going to school and working hard” can’t work out for everyone.
As spoken by Tyler Durden in Fight Club:
“Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war…our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.
Which leads me to…
The education bubble has to burst. Remember that whole housing bubble and how it finally exploded? I think something similar has to happen with higher level education. Hear me out. So. Housing. Prices got crazy high. People were able to buy them based on loans they couldn’t afford to pay back. People didn’t pay. Housing market crashed. People got stuck with over priced homes, and many of them lost them. But the pricing of real estate finally came down to something that was at least remotely affordable for the average American.
There are so many people going to college now, it’s basically like another high school degree. Tuition for colleges and universities has been on a steady incline for how long? I’m not gonna look this up, but I’m pretty sure that every semester I hear something on the news about tuition going up 10, 20, 30%. NPR had a brief segment in which, if I remember correctly, it stated that the UC system was the most expensive public education in the world. How is that a public education? Not to mention private schools, such as my law school. Which is overpriced, and I couldn’t afford, but someone gave me a loan, which I’m not quite able to pay back. I haven’t made a decent payment on my loan since I graduated, but the interest is still accumulating. And I know I’m not the only one that didn’t think this through. So what’s going to happen when thousands of graduates start defaulting? I think something has to give for the cost of education to normalize. The big difference between a house and an education: they can’t take back my degrees! Suckas.
That’s more of a rant, but the point for this particular conversation is that almost everyone goes to college now. A college degree does not set you apart from the next person applying for the job you want. Maybe a master’s degree. Maybe a Ph.D. Maybe the fact that your uncle John knowns the hiring partner. Education alone does not set you apart anymore. “I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you!” Yep, I just quoted that book you should’ve read in high school: Death of a Salesman. Maybe the cost of education will continue to increase to such staggering rates that not everyone will be able to go to college or a university, and the rest will follow through, you know, yadda yadda yadda supply and demand, less over-qualified applicants per available job positions. (Which begs the question, is it fair that only the wealthiest will be able to afford an education for better jobs?)
Job stability isn’t what it used to be. I see my mom who’s been at her job for over 10 years, and Jeff’s dad, who just celebrated his 10 year anniversary with his company, and I wonder if/when I’ll find a job that I see myself staying with for that long. Careers these days seem full of moves, transitions, lateral hires, moving up to the next thing. I’m not sure if that’s because we can’t be happy staying at a job that long, or because the possibility just isn’t available as much anymore. Given the competition for a job position these days, it seems we’re all a little more expendable. A company could probably find someone younger willing to work for free to get experience, for the same job that I want to get paid for, ha!
Priorities have changed. Getting back to the reasons for our delay given above, I’d have to agree with most of them. Instead of one head of household, you usually have two now. That’s two people that have probably gone to school and are trying to figure out their career before settling down. Which also means school loans that need to get paid, and maybe that factors in to the delay in having kids and buying a house. I think this generation has also changed the order of priorities quite a bit. Maybe it’s selfishness, I dunno, but it seems that our generation has put a lot of value in living their life before settling down, whether that’s through travel or other life experiences. I don’t think we feel the same pressure to settle down and have kids that our parents or grandparents had. Whether that’s for better or worse, you can each decide :)
So. Have we failed to launch? Or are we just living life at a different pace than those before us? Or is this part of some Darwinian evolution?
P.S. Pretty timely to come across this online today.
P.P.S. Another timely article I saw today regarding the business of law schools.