A cynical probe of all of the generational characteristics studies published in the last five years or so counsels a nervous perversion of age-appropriate milestones.

In 1980, 32% of the 22-year-olds living in the US could accurately declare themselves to be financially independent; a conviction permitted by a review of annual income alongside a national household census. In the ensuing years, the very same metrics have ensured a steady decline of self-sufficient young adults to the tune of a 12% decrease as of 2018 (with the decline predicted to continue).  It isn’t just that adults are crashing with their folks with more frequency, they’re also doing so for longer and longer stretches of time. Every generation is guilty of a little boomeranging here and there of course, whether by reason of divorce, an unexpected termination, or mental un-wellness, but there seems to be a throng of sociopolitical rigs unique to the last few decades that are steadily keeping the oil upon the wings of our young.

Ironically, a recent independent poll published by the Pew Research Center divulged that there haven’t been as many 18-34-year-olds living with their parents in America as there are now since the gilded age of the mid-1880s. 

Ethics of Economics

Student loan debt, underemployment, and career malaise are certainly contributors to this intermittent nesting crisis but from where I sit, they seem more like symptoms of a singular existential disease. The root starts with that widely reported ambivalence of drive. More so than previous generations, Millennials and Gen Zers are principally motivated by meaning in regards to career sustainability. Admirable, but this presents several problems. The first is a surge of excessive job-hopping.

A new LinkedIn report revealed that younger generations (24 years of age and younger) are three times more likely to switch jobs compared to baby boomers, with 20% of these averaging about four different full-time jobs over the course of three short years. In a follow-up survey, the respondents that evidenced this trend the most rarely occasioned a bigger paycheck as an incentive but instead cited things like “stronger relationships with colleagues” and better “office culture.” These prerequisites are characteristically vague. Income is an easily measurable factor that can be determined in the immediate, in addition to being unlikely to change for the worse over the course of one’s tenure. Everyone that has worked anywhere, on the other hand, knows just how precarious employee relationships can be. Similarly, office culture is governed by a fickle mess of subjective factors.   When euphemistic tent poles decide on your degree of contentment at your place of work, you concurrently condemn job security to a schizophrenic swivel. 

“Our research shows that 70% of professionals believe that their support system is one of the top factors that contribute to their success at work, and young people are no different,” writes Blair Decembrele, a LinkedIn career expert.

Many of the inevitable transition periods that tail this thought process are peppered with returns to home base. As correctly noted by the authors of the Pew Research report referenced in the introduction, no-one thinks too meanly of a 20 to 26-year-old that hasn’t quite found their footing. Because of this, young workers are becoming more resourceful about how they optimize this societal grace period. They put their best foot forward and if it doesn’t work, they know they have a few more years before their security blanket dissolves into a shame shawl. In addition to this and despite reported projections, a very small minority of parents cease helping their children wholesale after they’ve left the nest.

Even though 64% of the parents surveyed in the newest Pew Research paper on the subject believed that an adult should be completely financially independent by the age of 22, nearly half of this same pool is currently housing a child between the age of 18 and 29. Nearly 60% of adults that have since moved out of their folks’ place say that they habitually receive financial assistance with their groceries, household bills, tuition, rent, and even mortgages from them.

This last bit is important because it highlights another issue with weighing milestones on the same scale we’ve been using for over a century. For a young American adult that belongs to the silent generation, leaving home was a spiritual aspiration. The sooner they move, the sooner the briefcase, the sooner the ring, the sooner the crib and so on. The western goals that have survived into the 21st century are powered by secular engines. As foreshadowed previously, the hierarchy of life fulfillment objectives is both reversed and disemboweled. Young Americans today attempt to achieve existential validation via impact, not tradition or some celestial constitution.

Little birds won’t fly

Fifty-percent of employed Americans between the ages of 18 -24 queried in a recent report would take a massive pay cut if it meant working at a place that yielded a positive impact on the world. An additional half of this same demographic voiced something similar but about sound office ethics and the opportunity to work with a diverse staff. This breed of practical agency bleeds into the more abstract considerations as well.  An H&R block report published this year revealed that, while most Americans would love to meet their Paris in the distance by age 26, they refuse to even think about marriage or starting a family until they felt completely fulfilled in their careers and personal life goals.

Of course, the lion share of this process is best executed without burdensome concerns like rent. Serious rumination is best served at a place where your landlords are aware of all of your allergies, remember your birthday and will forgive a dirty dish or ten. So says the stigma anyway; that Gen Z and Millennials are composed neatly of basement-dwelling pariahs and vapid, PC gadflies.

The experts behind the Pew Report additionally asked the members of the query crop that believed that American parents are coddling an entire generation (some had adult children, some did not), to expound upon why they felt this way. The top responses where as follows: Forty-three percent pointed to an excess of financial assistance. Some 37% said parents are trying to solve their children’s problems for them or are afraid of letting their children fail and about one-in-five (23%) said parents are already doing too much for their adult children by letting them live with them to begin with. However you feel about theology or politics, a dwindle in generational mettle could compellingly be leveled against younger generations but the outlay seems to be worth it in the long run. Although 55% of the general group surveyed said that today’s parents are doing too much for their children, only 28% of parents of 18-29-year-olds tended to agree with this assessment.

The prevalence of adult nesters is almost always lamented with barbed tones, especially in comparison to the stalwart Marlboro men of the past. It’s true that, statistically speaking, the economic support trend is currently enjoying a particular high, but I think our appraisal of America’s past being exclusively decorated with bible thumbing worm getters, is a mischaracterization, not to suggest that it’s one to be proud of to begin with-not ashamed of either-because that’s the point. The idea that success is no longer a binary achievement is a positive thing, it seems to me. What we lost in time, as far as our treasured milestones are concerned, we’ve gained in authenticity.

Because Americans no longer feel like they have to marry, the ones that end up doing so remain married for much longer. Because Americans no longer feel like a picket fence is the sole concern of a paycheck, they don’t mind passing up careers for callings which has in turned surged job satisfaction.  Because having a kid is no longer a badge of stability, a normal and healthy childhood no longer lives or dies by whether or not death does parents part.  In other words, you can’t grade a Spanish test with a Taiwanese rubric, and you can’t measure success with a ruler that ends with 1960.

Only time can successfully judge the harvest of prolonged nesting, but the trend itself isn’t as a rule, a foreboding portend.

Originally published on The Ladders.

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