According to dictionaries, adulthood is defined as the period in the human lifespan in which full physical and intellectual maturity have been attained. Adulthood is commonly thought of as beginning at age 20 or 21 years. Now when we look at where earlier generations like the Baby Boomers as they were when they were 21 years old, and where the Millennials are now, we immediately see a huge difference. As mentioned above – most Millennials are not willing to marry young, start saving, or even start to consider buying a house. Does that mean that this generation, depicted as “The Me Me Me Generation” in a Time Magazine article from 2013, is living in a state of suspended childhood? A large portion of this generation is already in their 30s, and if they are refusing to become adults, does this mean that they will turn 40 – become middle aged while skipping the step of being young adults?
We have to keep it real and state that no one actually knows how the Millennial generation will deal with reaching adulthood. Still, there are a few things that we can look at that have been researched and that are relevant to defining an individual as an adult. The first question is the question of financial independence and stability. This generation has lived through multiple major economic crises, Millennials have paid for their education more than any previous generation; and most of them, if not all, are dealing with enormous student loan debt. Ryan Bourne, the head of Public Policy at the Institute of Economic Affairs, has stated that the Millennial generation will go into their 40s with far less accumulated wealth than earlier generations, basically being much poorer then they should be, especially when taking into consideration that this is the most educated generation in human history.
A survey conducted by the Bank of America titled “Better Money Habits” reports that when it comes to defining adulthood – financial independence is the top priority for Millennials. This answer was selected by 40 percent of young adults aged between 18-26 years. The other priority – a major factor for the Baby Boomer generation – moving out and living on your own is not so important for the Millennials, and only 14 percent of young adults state that this is a priority. And just to seal the deal and make it official that Millennials are redefining social norms when it comes to adulthood – only 7 percent of young adults state that getting married is a priority when reaching adulthood.
One more issue that needs to be addressed and that is a crucial part of being an adult is becoming a parent. Now we have to say that most Millennials cannot afford to have children in their twenties. This means that the larger part of this generation will be having kids in their late 30s or 40s, which is problematic at least. Generational expert Jason Dorsey says that having kids in the late 30s is more difficult and presents a higher risk, and when Millennials reach this stage of their lives there will be a lot of pressure on them to get married and become pregnant. The challenges that are a standard part of pregnancy in the late 30s or early 40s may result in people having fewer kids overall, which will lead to other major consequences when it comes to the labor market and the overall mental health of the population.
The mental health of Millennials is also a major issue for dealing with adulthood. Many Millennials are facing the problem of dealing with anxiety that is the result of living with all the above-mentioned changes in social norms and economic issues. This generation will not willingly change the face of adulthood, but when pushed against the wall young adults have shown that fighting for changes is one of the things they are good at. So keep an open mind and see how the Millennials will redefine social norms to make adulthood more acceptable and reachable for the generations to come.