Tag Archives: Baby Boomers

If “Everything Is Possible,” Our Milestones Need to Change

21 Aug

singles-620x412Image from Singles via Salon

In the second paragraph of Sara Scribner’s recent Salon article about Generation X, the journalist says:

Few have even noticed that this small, notoriously rebellious clan – those born roughly between 1965 and 1980, which means about 46 million Xers versus 80 million boomers — has entered middle age.

The article itself is entitled “Generation X gets really old: How do slackers have a midlife crisis?”

Let’s stop right there for a moment. The date range provided here for Generation X refers to people who are currently between 48 and 33 years old. Is 33 middle age? Is 33 “really old”? Hyperbole aside, is 48 even “really old”?

The rest of the article refers to people in their 40s. I get it. The writer is using the median age. Treatises on generations are always rift with broad-swept generalities, however the attention to age in this particular article is telling for the article goes on to bring up issues of delayed adulthood, parents, and leadership.

Scribner quotes historian and generational expert (side note: how does one get to be a generational expert? That sounds like an awesome job) Neil Howe saying:

“Xers experience agoraphobia — everything is possible.”

The article goes on to say:

That’s where this generation gets its reputation as reluctant to grow up. “It’s very hard to mature,” [Howe] says. “In order to mature and become an adult, you have to shut off options. The way Xers were raised, there were always options — their parents told them to keep options open.”

Further on in the article, Scribner explains the result of this:

[Sheryl] Connelly, the Ford futurist, says that some of the postponing of the traditional midlife period may come down to a pushing back of all the major life milestones: “Some of that [midlife questioning] would be fueled by empty nesters – the kids are grown,” she says, explaining a feeling of “now what?” “Demographics have shifted such that with each passing generation, people are postponing marriage.” With dependent kids at home, everything has been pushed back. “There’s nothing midlife about my situation right now.  I think that’s why you don’t hear this conversation.”

Maybe, but that’s assuming that we’re talking about a Gen Xer born closer to the 1965 date. Let’s take someone smack dab in the middle of Gen X. If we’re using the range 1965 to 1980, let’s pick someone born in 1972. That person today (well, depending on when their birthday falls) would be 41 years old. Let’s now assume this person married right out of college and then had a kid the following year, when they were about 24 years old. (Keep in mind, that’s younger than the median age for getting married which is closer to 27.) That child would be about 17 years old. It’s therefore not at all shocking that many—even half of—Gen Xers would have “dependent kids at home.” It would actually be rather traditional and, dare I say, old-fashioned.

More interesting is not that life’s “major life milestones” are happening later but that they’re happening at different times for Gen X.

And, just as interesting is that, even with these societal changes, Scribner still upheld conservative viewpoints of adulthood when she paired the phrase “major life milestones” with Connelly’s quote about “empty nesters,” “postponing marriage,” and “dependent kids at home.”

This is where the article gets fascinating but isn’t fully explored. Yes, perhaps on the whole, people are postponing marriage and children and many who did have children now can’t get rid of their boomerang kids, creating a period of limbo. However, just like the age range of Gen X varies, so does the age that they’re getting married and having kids. That’s apparent even in looking at the celebrities the article mentions. Kurt Cobain (born in 1967) had a baby, and that baby is now 20 years old. Winona Ryder is 41 and has never been married or had children. Liz Phair, who is now 46, married a film editor in 1995 and had a child with him the following year; in 2001 the couple divorced.

I have friends I graduated college with who afterwards got married and now have two or three children. I have other friends I graduated high school with who are still very single—and by “very,” I simply mean that they are not only unmarried but also not in a steady relationship. I have a cousin who is about two years older than me who has a seventeen-year-old son. And I have other cousins who are about a decade older than me and have children the same age and younger than the cousin closer to my age.

At a writing conference, I had an interesting conversation with one of my colleagues. On so many levels we connected. We’d had very similar upbringings. We had comparable goals with our writing. We  shared parallel interests. Only about two years older than me, she is a mother of adolescent children and confessed to fearing empty-nest syndrome. At that moment in the conversation, my unmarried, childless self felt like a complete child next to her.

Going back to the statements about Gen X’s reluctance to grow up and the difficulty of maturing in this day and age, I think Howe’s concept of “agoraphobia” is worth more attention. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with Howe’s assessment that we have a phobia, an irrational fear, of “shut[ting] off options,” but the fact that we have those options is significant. We have the option to get married right out of college or to wait until we’ve experienced more of life, know ourselves better, and have amassed a nest egg to support a family. There’s no longer the same social stigma there once was to have a child out of wedlock and so we have the option to have a child with a significant other who we may already be living with. With the advancement of medicine, we also have the option of waiting until we’re in our 40s to have children.

As Howe says, “everything is possible.” But what does that mean for our identities and for the concept of maturity and adulthood?

Does a Gen Xer who is single and childless at 48 years old have more in common with a single and childless 33 year old Gen Xer than with a 48-year-old Gen Xer with a toddler? Does a Gen Xer who is an empty nester have more in common with the Gen Xer who never had children? Does a divorced Gen Xer in their early 30s have a more similar lifestyle to a Gen Xer in their late 40s who never got married? Is the 48 year old who never got married and never had children less mature, less of an adult, because they haven’t reached certain “milestones”?

Maybe it’s time our concept of maturity shifted to match the time period in which we’re living. Maybe it’s time to recognize that today’s milestones have changed.

The Salon article says “Many Xers seem nostalgic for the serene ‘50s,” but the “serene ’50s childhood” is a myth. One, in fact, that we explore in Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” when talking about how illness killed off children, how war fractured families, how gender roles were back then, and how supposed countercultural icon Jack Kerouac longed for a wife and a ranch. Marilyn Monroe died at 36, never having a child. Ella Fitzgerald never had a child of her own but adopted one. Allen Ginsberg had a lifelong partner but his relationship was not considered traditional at the time. Clearly, there were people in the 1940s and ’50s who reached adulthood, reach midlife, without achieving traditional milestones. So why do we continue to use the same markers for maturity today that weren’t even accurate in the 1940s?

You may also like:

Blame Parents for Millennials Acting Entitled: Helicopter Parents Have Trophy Kids Who End Up Boomerang Kids

Shunning Cars … and Life

Parallel Generations

Hipsters Hate Driving

 

Advertisements

Parallel Generations

19 Jul

Why is Hollywood taking an interest in the Lost Generation and the Beat Generation?  Are there parallels between the generations of the past and today’s generations?  Is history cyclical?

From a historic standpoint, it makes sense that today’s generations are looking back at the Lost Generation and the Beat Generation.  Like the Lost Generation, the current generation has experienced war.  Although the Lost Generation predates the Great Depression by a few years, novels such as The Great Gatsby have much to say about the disparity of wealth, a topic that this generation has dealt with during the Great Recession.  Part of the seedy wealth distribution of the ‘20s had to do with bootlegging.  Prohibition may not be something today’s candidates have on the table, but there’s a definite right-wing conservatism bent influencing culture today.

The Beat Generation writers were those who were born around the time of the Great Depression and came of age during World War II.  Kerouac and John Clellon Holmes actually were thinking of the Lost Generation when they came up with the idea that they were the Beat Generation.  The obvious parallels between the two generations being the world wars.  While the Lost Generation was going into the Great Depression, the Beat Generation was coming out of it, and so while the Lost Generation was more about decadence the Beat Generation was more about simplicity.  Perhaps, then, today’s older generation is looking toward the Lost Generation and the younger generation looking towards the Beat Generation for confirmation on the way we live our lives.

After all, generations have followed suit in this pattern of economy and war since these generations.  The Baby Boomers were all about the money, and then Generation X was the slacker generation.

Since then we’ve seen Generation Y, also known as the Millennials or Generation Next, who are often thought of as privileged Trophy Kids.  These are the eighties babies (give or take) that are now in their twenties, a few even in their thirties.

Generations X and Y heard Reality Bites, My So-Called Life, and Fight Club tell us our great war was within ourselves.  –And then the terrorist attacks took place on 9/11.  It was around that time that Generation Y turned to indie music, the locavore movement, and reviving arts and crafts.

After that came Generation Z, or Generation I, the kids born in the ‘90s, for whom the Internet, the War on Terror, and the Great Recession are a way of life.  Generations Y and Z are the i-generation, each having their own personal computers, finding fame on blogs and in social media, the generation that is connected and disconnected.  They began looking back at Generation X, wearing flannel.  Miley Cyrus was photographed wearing a Nirvana t-shirt.

The Pew Research Center has a fascinating report that charts the different Generations’ attitudes toward politics, religion, immigration, marriage, and more.

Technology is developing at a faster and faster rate, and with it, generations are shortening and multiplying.  When you think about it, iphones models are even called by their generation, as in the second generation iphone, acknowledging how much generations are defined by technology, as well as money and politics.  Therefore, it’s easy to see how certain generations blend together, which may also be a result, as the Pew Research Center data seems to suggest, of the delayed adulthood.

What generation do you identify with?