Ozarque has been having a discussion which has included, among other things, the question of whether it is really harder for young people to head out on their own nowadays than it used to be, or whether they just perceive it as harder.
You can click here to see a serious article detailing the evidence that young people today are taking longer to achieve the traditional defining landmarks of adulthood: “leaving home, finishing school, becoming financially independent, getting married and having a child.” At its simplest, data from the census shows that, in 1960, two-thirds of 30 year olds had completed all of these milestones, while in 2000, only about a third had done so. Since you can check this article for the details, I will not apologize for over-simplifying; the point here is that we are not imagining this change.
These numbers reflect other social changes — more people go to college, school takes longer to finish, people marry later and have children later or not at all. However, the result in terms of independence is clear. In 1960, 70% of 25 year old women were financially independent of their parents; in 2000, the figure was only 25%.
Some would say that it is actually harder for young people to gain financial independence. Commenters over at Ozarque’s place have mentioned the high cost of housing and transportation. And, indeed, The Wall Street Journal recently pointed out that many Americans are putting 52% of their income into housing and transportation, leading to financial stress out of proportion to income. The point that the Journal was making, however, was not that these things cost too much but that people are choosing to spend too much for them. The family with three SUVs used to drive to work and the grocery store, the single person with three bedrooms — these are examples of excessive consumption, not of helplessness in the face of high prices.
We know that the Journal is not a paper with a commitment to frugality and simple living. If they say folks are overspending, then things have really gotten out of hand.
I have one kid who has been married for a couple of years and is living in New England, and one just starting out on her own in the Midwest. Both of them have been able to find housing in the traditional recommended 25-28% range of their incomes. I also spend that proportion of my income on housing, in the South. Don’t tell me it can’t be done.
But people don’t always want to do that. This article suggests that the sense of angst (“Why Wait to Have a Mid-Life Crisis When You Can Have One at 25?”) comes from excessive affluence. Kids who have had no struggles are simply not prepared to face the difficulties that have previously been accepted as part of growing up. Those difficulties may include having a less luxurious lifestyle than the one your parents have achieved by working at it for several decades.
This made me think of the TV program Friends, which shows a group of people in their 20s (the program ended this year, I think, because that premise was getting less and less plausible) and their adventures starting out in adult life. They all have wardrobes which would cost more than any of them could expect to make in their fictional jobs in a year. Someone at Ozarque’s place pointed out that their apartments would be completely unaffordable in the city in which they are supposed to live. Their haircuts would probably be beyond their means.
If we compare that with similar young adult programs from earlier generations, such as Seinfeld or That Girl, do we see a big difference in their standards of living?
You know it. The people in Seinfeld did a fair amount of scrimping, and wore their clothes more than once, too. That Girl was apparently an important fashion influence in its day, but I don’t remember that from watching it as a little girl. I remember that Marlo Thomas had a little bitty apartment and was a really careful shopper. In both of these programs, having to struggle financially was a normal part of early adulthood — as it is in real life.
Now, kids expect to have the same standard of living as their parents, or perhaps better, right away. Many of them achieve this with credit cards, continued family assistance (I know three 20-somethings whose parents subsidized their housing costs), or simply living with their parents well into adulthood. In fact, some of the young people commenting at Ozarque’s are not defining being a “real grownup” with reference to things like finishing school, supporting themselves, or getting married at all, but instead are referencing ownership of objects.
The “failure to launch” phenomenon of extended adolescence may be another symptom of “affluenza.”
Xanga is not allowing me to show you what I’m reading today, so I will tell you. My Antonia is my current novel — book 2 for week-I-think-it-is-seven of the Summer Reading Challenge. I also have Three Black Skirts, a book of advice for young women which I am going to give to #2 daughter. I have only skimmed it so far — it just arrived from a frugalreader pal — but I was amused to find that it refers to the program Friends in its section on budgeting. You want to have those apartments and those clothes like the people on Friends! it says. You’re young and beautiful and would look way better in designer clothes than your boss! Then it says: suck it up, make a budget, put away that credit card, and put some money in your savings account. You can have a designer lipstick now and work your way up.