Sunday, August 22, 2010

Act Your Age

I love this quote from Robin Marantz Henig's NYT piece on the arrested (or at least, glacially slow) development of today's Twenty-Somethings:
The 20s are like the stem cell of human development, the pluripotent moment when any of several outcomes is possible. Decisions and actions during this time have lasting ramifications. The 20s are when most people accumulate almost all of their formal education; when most people meet their future spouses and the friends they will keep; when most people start on the careers that they will stay with for many years. This is when adventures, experiments, travels, relationships are embarked on with an abandon that probably will not happen again.
It's an interesting essay on 'the changing timetable for adulthood' affecting young people in most Western societies nowadays. I'm not sure I buy her entire argument in relation to the psychological origins of the changes (i.e.: the discovery of a new development phase called 'emerging adulthood'). Robin Hanson might have a better explanation with his hypothesis that we are seeing the consequences of an over-investment in status markers by young people - particularly by young women. But the changes are undoubtedly under way: young people are taking longer to 'grow up' with all the consequences that that entails (e.g.: falling birth rates, especially in Europe).

On the other hand, for those of us for whom our twenties are a distant (though fondly remembered) memory there's some good news in all this - less competition. It seems that the next big surge in innovation will come from the middle-aged and not from 'peach-fuzzed entrepreneurs' in their early twenties. Erik Erikson posited that the middle-aged often enter a lifestage of 'Generativity' that unleashes a spirit of creativity and compassion with real benefits for the wider society and economy. And with the young ones still 'finding themselves' it might well be up to us older ones to do our bit to get the economy back on a recovery path.

Okay it's a bit hypothetical, but at my age you've got to grasp all the straws that float by...


  1. Or their development is slowed because they are not in a position to afford to move on to the standard 'growing up' stages of life (house, marriage, baby etc.) on account of the boomers stacking everything in their favour (The Pinch)?

  2. Interesting but I first saw an article on this three years ago in the Wall Street Journal (not my paper of choice btw!) concerning the "Millenial Generation". As a 29 (just gone!) yr old I think young people feel less obligated to conform to societal expectations of adulthood markers (i.e. Marriage before kids, pension fund, career "path") than baby boomers (particularly Irish ones) did (though some challenged the established order of the 70's in a lot of ways). Re the economy, too bloody right you guys fix it! Sure didn't you cause it and aren't you best cushioned from it!?

  3. After the twenties the hormones level off and most people seem to get a little more clear headed. Maybe this has something to do with it.


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