I’ve chosen to write about the “twentysomething” both out of fear and question. “The twentysomething” is an ascriptive identity used to describe the increasing amount of young adults that have been falling into the same following socioeconomic pattern.
In the New York Times article, “What Is It about 20-Somethings?” this pattern is described as an additional stage in life wherein “young people [are] taking longer to reach adulthood”. In other words, a twentysomething belongs to an inserted period of time between graduation and adulthood. The article says, that in order to be considered an adult a young person must have completed five milestones. Chosen by an unnamed sociologist, these five milestones include; completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying, and having a child. New York Times goes on to debate different interpretations of these milestones, touching on hot topics like gay marriage, single life and education. However the article does well to skip the debate and quickly reach the ultimate truth that, regardless why or how young people are or are not meeting these milestones, those that do, are taking longer to do so.
In class we have talked about ascriptive and ethical identities; ascriptive being an imposed identity defined by someone else, and ethical inferring a mutual understanding, almost voluntary membership. Has the “twentysomthing” become a new ascriptive identity as outlined by the New York Times? Although the famed newspaper did not coin the term, New York Times has reported a general consensus reached by society that this socioeconomic group is alive and growing. This also begs the question, how much control do we (yes WE) have in becoming, or avoiding, a twentysomething? Now that the definition has been imposed, can we avoid the vortex waiting outside the doors of every graduation ceremony?
I personally have encountered twentysomethings with increasing frequency as I enter the twenties myself (a short eight months ago). I have taken notice to siblings, cousins, and friends that all fit this category and I find it to be a very real phenomenon. But that being said, certain questions arise; why are so many suddenly falling into this pattern? Do I need to use the E-word (economy)? Is it necessarily falling that they are doing?
If you have reached this far into the blog post, and like me, are growing concerned about becoming a twentysomething, do not continue reading in hopes of finding reassurance, comfort, or concrete answers to any of the above questions. As I said earlier, I chose this topic out of fear and question, the two ultimately going hand in hand as it is a fear of the unknown. However, I do believe that the emergence of the “twentysomething” could be contingent upon several possible socioeconomic factors.
Why are so many falling into this pattern?
The emergence of the “twentysomething” could be contingent upon the steady increase in lifespan, the recent rise in the retirement age, or more generally speaking, the whole economic downturn. Among these contingent factors, the most important one to address is the
economy. Is it the downward spiraling economy that is forcing the emerging adults of America to put adulthood on hold?
Following the milestones outlined above, one of the criteria that my fellow post-teens have been failing to meet, is leaving home. “What Is It About 20-somethings?” uses a picture recently found on the cover of The New Yorker. This picture (left) depicts a PhD student hanging his degree on the wall of his childhood bedroom and his parents looking on from the doorway. The increasingly common idea of being overly qualified for a job is a large factor towards keeping many twentysomethings out of employment. Many are left with the sole option of moving back home to save on expenses and trying to stay afloat while searching for an accessible career. This, of course, goes hand in hand with failure to meet other milestones; being financially independent, and starting a family.
Is it necessarily “falling” that they are doing?
If we follow the logic that unemployment is a large part as to why these post-teens are returning home, this sheds a negative light on things. The word unemployment reeks of embarrassment and failure and continues to hold a negative connotation. However, more and more people are losing jobs and claiming unemployment despite their stellar resumes, qualifications and education. The same can be said for this new term “twentysomething”. This ascriptive identity has indirectly been imposed by society through means of social standards and expectation, and because twentysomethinghood is by definition a failure to meet these standards, the same negative connotation is attached. But does the actual act of being forced to return home to save money and search for a career entail failure? I would argue that given modern times and the highly competitive job market, being a twentysomething does not entail failure, but rather adaptation to environment and an alternate form of progression into the next stage of life. The reality, however, is that no one quite knows just yet. This identity is still young and fresh, and only time will tell whether or not this generation of twentysomethings is a reaction to the economic downturn, or an embodiment of a slower, less efficient generation that forgot to drink their Participatorade.
Jamie Cullum, a pop-jazz-fusion keyboardist from across the pond, wrote a song (above) about being a twentysomething. In the song Twentysomething, Jamie Cullum acknowledges all the sign posts of this new phenomenon. It is almost as if the lyrics (inspiration for the title of this post) were written right after he finished reading the New York Times article. Alas, Mr. Cullum’s work does very little to answer any of our questions, however, his perspective may not be entirely useless. I feel the lyrics of this song really embody the mindset of most Twentysomethings. Utter and sheer confusion. Given that the qualifications of this ascriptive identity demand that you must have both previously succeeded (graduation) and previously failed (unemployed) it is easy to see how anyone would be lost at this stage.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve always had the perception that when I finally graduated and reaped the benefits of my countless all-nighters and hard work, I’d have more than a piece of paper to show for it. That’s not to say twentysomethings have nothing to show for their work, but I really don’t want to be sleeping in Toy Story bed sheets post-grad. Just sayin.