What's up with 20-somethings these days?

by Aug 24, 2010

My generation was supposed to be the slackers, but it looks like we’ve been upstaged. Robin Marantz Henig writes this in the NYT:

It’s happening all over, in all sorts of families, not just young people moving back home but also young people taking longer to reach adulthood overall. It’s a development that predates the current economic doldrums, and no one knows yet what the impact will be — on the prospects of the young men and women; on the parents on whom so many of them depend; on society, built on the expectation of an orderly progression in which kids finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and eventually retire to live on pensions supported by the next crop of kids who finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and on and on. The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain un tethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.

The 20s are a black box, and there is a lot of churning in there. One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year. Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once. They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch. Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. And marriage occurs later than ever. The median age at first marriage in the early 1970s, when the baby boomers were young, was 21 for women and 23 for men; by 2009 it had climbed to 26 for women and 28 for men, five years in a little more than a generation.

Psychologists interviewed in the article claim that we’re undergoing a seismic sociological shift as an entirely new stage of life is established in our society (similar to the establishment of adolescence in the early 1900’s, when labor laws prevented teenagers from working but education laws kept them in school). They say we just need to get used to this new reality of kids spending another decade in limbo figuring out what in the world they want to do with their lives, because it’s here to stay.

That may be true, but it doesn’t mean that Christian 20-somethings (or the parents who might enable them) are obligated to conform. Consider the attitude recommended by James:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15)

James recognizes the uncertainty of life. He admits that God’s will is often unknown. But he doesn’t think that should stop you from making plans and getting things accomplished for God’s glory.

He says you’re a mist! You’ll vanish in a few years, and after a few dozen people gather in a chapel for your funeral, most of them will forget about you. So use the time you have. Go to such and such a town. Make a profit. Get married and start a family. Get moving! As long as you move under God’s kingship and continually recognize that, as king, he can change your plans at any time, you’re most likely doing God’s will.

Many 20-somethings are paralyzed by fear. Fear they might fail. Fear they might choose something and as a result miss out on something better (which is why many 20-somethings hate to RSVP for anything). Fear they might be criticized or hurt. But when a wavering 20-something named Queen Esther hesitated to intercede on behalf of the about-to-be-exterminated Jews, Mordecai confronted her with these words:

If you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14)

God doesn’t need you to accomplish anything for him. If you do nothing, he’ll raise whatever help he needs from another place. But if you just stay “safe” and sedentary, you’ll miss out on the supreme joy of being part of God’s plan. And you might not be as safe as you thought.