For those of us who were leaving the nest during the 1970s, life and expectations were different than they are today. Most children left home by 18 to go to college, start a vocation, or join the military. By 21 years of age, the majority were either engaged or married. Within one year, most were expecting their first child. This was OK as by this time education was completed and men and women (mostly men) were ready to settle down in the lifelong career of their choice and begin the process of raising children. It was, by many standards, a far simpler time.
In the past 30 years, many changes have directly impacted the road to adulthood. Without a doubt, these changes have lengthened the road to adulthood, a road that has been increasingly more difficult to navigate. Growing numbers of young people believe that a college degree is a necessity, as great a necessity as a high school education was for their parents as their potential earning power, when adjusted for inflation, is the same for a college graduate in 2005 as it was for a high school graduate in 1970.
Many young adults have come to believe that it is a graduate degree that truly makes them competitive like the bachelor’s degree did for their parents. There certainly is validity in this line of reasoning as 17 percent of Americans have a bachelor’s degree while only 3 percent hold a graduate degree.
Seeking higher education most often means putting marriage on a back-burner. More and more young people are waiting to walk down the aisle, that is, if they ever get married. From the inception of the country, about 95 percent of couples married until in the last decade when that percentage has dropped to only 90 percent now marrying. This constitutes a dramatic change.
To marry or not to marry is now a viable option. It’s perfectly acceptable, sometimes preferable, not to be married. If marriage is chosen, when a person marries is much, much later. On average, first marriage occurs at age 27 for men and 25 for women. This is a good change as marrying between the ages of 25 and 30 dramatically decreases the odds of ever getting divorced.
Having children, like getting married, is also now optional. There are decreasing stigmas for choosing to remain “child free.” Even after beginning their careers, many young adults remain ambivalent. There is little certainty for most that whatever line of work they are currently pursuing, will be the same line of work they will be doing even a decade later. On average, by the time a young adult retires, he or she will have worked three different careers.
Between the sexes, men appear to be struggling more than women. No longer certain of what it means to be a man, many men appear dazed and confused. Women don’t seem to be losing a step. Currently, 56 percent of college students are women and most of them are excelling over guys in the classroom. More women are entering the workforce than men and increasingly winning positions of power and influence.
There is little wonder that many young adults find themselves stressed to the limit while trying to cope with changes that are happening at such a quick pace and that many older adults are struggling to understand a world that is so different from the one they knew a mere 30 years ago.
Certainly, between the generations, a little patience and understanding goes a long way.