Adulthood, Delayed: What Has the Recession Done to Millennials?
Generations are social constructs. There is no chemical or biological difference between Gen-Xers and Millennials, but we talk about them as if they were different species. That Gen-Xers grew up “independent” and Millennials grew up “entitled” aren’t anthropological observations. Rather, they’re marginally useful stereotypes. If it’s true that members of a certain age group have commonalities that they don’t fully share with older or younger groups, this isn’t the result of generational determinism. It’s just circumstance.
The circumstances surrounding the Millennial generation are particularly strange. Many came of age in the longest economic expansion of the 20th century and graduated into the worst recession since the 1930s. The abrupt contraction of opportunity has left a mark. Unemployment among 18- to 24-year-olds was 16% in 2011, twice as high as the national average. Median earnings fell more for the young than any other cohort, and college debt, most of which is held by 20-somethings, is at an all-time high.
With education comes opportunity. That’s the deal, as this generation understood it. Now, they’re the highest-educated generation in American history, and they’ve graduated into … this.
Read more. [Image: Scarleth White/Flickr]
This is a concept I have a very high interest in. I went to a top-20 university, ended up at the top-rated graduate school in my field, and, yes, I did grow up in a generation that believed the deal: get an education, get an opportunity. Or really: get an education, get the life you want.
But that isn’t what happened. My friends and peers, for the most part, are a group of Ivy Leaguers, high-end liberal arts college grads, or others like me who fared well at my kind of university. And some of us are thriving. But some of us are failing. We have $200K educations and work at coffee shops, or at unpaid internships two years out of school, or what have you. But by and large what we aren’t? Married, buying houses, having kids and/or completing all these other constructs that somehow define someone’s version (fine, maybe a lot of someones) of adulthood. Does that mean that none of my friends are doing that? No. Not at all. But it does mean that more and more of the people around me are 24 and not at all near adult. We’re still figuring shit out. Really. We may have grad degrees, but you’d be surprised at how not all that helpful that is when you’re trying to go through the giant process of Figuring Your Shit Out.
And that, my dear and wonderful friends, followers, and readers, is why so many of the characters in The Survivors, in my young adult book, are in their 20s. All the time, when people ask in interviews “Is your book really YA? Your characters are in their 20s” I say that it’s really that most of them are 150 but appear physically to be in their 20s so what’s the big deal? That’s the real thing. I wanted age to be a non-issue because I grew up in this world where someone can be 21 and independent and doing okay, someone can be 25 with a grad degree and unemployed and unsure of where they’re headed, and someone can be… Mark Zuckerberg. Age isn’t the thing that tells you about someone, not anymore. Some of those who are the youngest or appear the youngest in my series are the oldest, in a sense (real, not just supernaturally speaking). But there is a 145-year-old protagonist who looks between 19 and 21 and knows about as much about herself as a 16-year-old typically does while having the independence it takes most people a decade of career-having to obtain. And there is a twentysomething (actually 25… he’s human) love interest. Because take it from a twentysomething: love, life, what you want, who you are, and where the hell your life is headed in this day and age… we haven’t figured it out. You’re lying if you think you have.
One way or the other, my generation is still very much figuring itself out. We’re young adults in the truest sense, YA novels and all.