Elders and the very young have long been allies. In fact, there is an old joke that goes, “Why do grandparent and grandkids get along so well? They share a common enemy.”
Life in a modern, post industrial, economy frays these ancient bonds.
Let’s look at a blogospheric exchange.
When I first read this article in the NY Times Magazine about how 20-somethings are delaying the supposed markers of adulthood—marriage, kids, financial independence—longer than they had in the past, I thought that the main flaw of it was that it didn’t address why financial independence was so hard to achieve. By casting the entire situation as a matter of desire and choice, the author missed the big picture, which is that people delay adulthood because the ability to be an adult requires a certain amount of privilege increasingly unavailable to young people. I tweeted about it at the time, noting the answer to the question, “Why don’t people grow up faster?” is incredibly, stupidly simple—because they are no longer any jobs for people in their early 20s that provide the means to be a full adult. Full stop.
Youth, like Elderhood, is a socially constructed form, not an immutable reality.
I don’t mean that entry level jobs only pay enough for a small apartment or a simple lifestyle. Often, they don’t pay enough to cover the rent on that small apartment—if they can find those jobs in the first place—and that’s why people move back in with their parents.
Which is why I saw red when I read this smarmy, self-righteous screed from some Baby Boomer.
What is this self-righteous screed from some Baby Boomer? Here are the high (low?) lights.
Robin Marantz Henig explores possible reasons that 20-somethings no longer use that decade of life to move through what sociologists have long considered the five milestones that signify adulthood: the end of formal education, separation from the family, financial independence, marriage and parenthood…
The phenomenon of 20-somethings living with their parents (partially or even fully supported by them) is so widespread that most people reading this have surely witnessed it, many within their own families. It’s a frequent topic of puzzled discussion among people my age, who wonder why things have changed so much in a generation…
Some people have theorized that what we are seeing is not a generational change or a response to economic conditions, but a developmental stage (Jeffrey Jensen Arnett’s “emerging adulthood” being the preferred nomenclature) that people pass through in their 20s before reaching full adulthood…
A shorter version would be, “We Boomers grew up, you slackers are too lazy or just don’t care.
How does Amanda feel about that charge?
It’s a classic example of being born on third and thinking you hit a triple. She assumes that her ability to pay rent with her first job out of college is strictly because she’s so much more f%&%&%g awesome than you spoiled kids these days, and her parents were so much more responsible than the softies of today. For a millisecond, she ponders the possibility that things have changed because of financial constraints, but then dismisses that possibility with a handwave. It’s so much more fun to be self-righteous! It’s way more fun to wag your finger at young people and tell them how you lived on Ramen and beans to afford your apartment, never pausing for a moment to wonder if those kids might not be able to afford that apartment even if they lived on dog food
Here’s the kicker from Amanda.
The fact that there was a brief period in American history where there was enough wealth going around that parents of all sorts of classes could provide enough for their kids to create “financial independence” at a young age is no reason to shame people who have to revert to the old ways now that our economy has reverted to the old ways of huge disparities in wealth between the classes. If you think that it’s so important for every 22-year-old to live on their own, with the illusion of having no help, then we need to return to the economic situations of the mid-century in America that allowed that to happen. And some of that may be hard to achieve, such as the far more affordable housing of that era.
… I will point out that for all her preening, the Salon author didn’t actually achieve the financial independence and adulthood she’s so sure about:
[The Boomer writes] The eyes of 20-somethings glaze over when we recount how we lived — sharing living quarters with a pile of friends, having only battered old belongings (and few of them to boot), eating cheap food we cooked ourselves, and spending little or nothing on entertainment.
She is of course, still full of s&*&t, since that’s exactly how most people that age still live if they live on their own. Hell, I didn’t buy a single piece of real new furniture until I was about 30, and even then it was 50% off and from Penney’s. And technically, that’s still the only real piece of substantial furniture I own that’s new.
The Elders need to be the young people’s allies in this cat fight.