What is the American Dream for our Adult Children?
The New York Times loves to track trends—sometimes real, sometime manufactured–for the sake of a story. “The American Dream Is Elusive for New Generation” is the newspaper’s latest contribution to the tsunami of articles on emerging adults. It’s the woeful tale of a 2008 college grad who, after two years of looking, can’t find work. Oh yes, he did turn down a $40,000 offer from an insurance company because it was a job not a career. We won’t criticize his decision; the dozens of comments did that.
Two questions left hanging. The first: What is the 2010 version of the American Dream? Is the goal to do better financially than your parents? Do have a nicer, bigger house? To climb the career ladder higher? Or in this economy is the American dream simply to have a job that seems to be leading somewhere? Or to have a job that you actually enjoy and find fulfilling? That seems to be the goal of many young adults, and not easily attainable. But like the young man in the article some young adults are holding out for that dream, even turning down offers.
The other question then is how long should parents support their post-graduate adult children? The young man in the Times piece recently moved in with his (employed) older brother and the parents are subsidizing his rent. All the experts advise setting a deadline for ending financial support? Is two years too long? No easy answers; just questions to ponder.
The piece got wide coverage including Gawker which declared “Being Young and Unemployed Sure Is Trendy” and lambasted the “Millennial Job Whine.” In Fortune, editor Patricia Sellers concluded “Who Cares About a Career? Not Gen Y” and wrote:
While we Baby Boomers typically place high value on pay, benefits, stability and prestige, Gen Y cares most about fun, innovation, social responsibility, and time off.
Which goes back to the question: What is Gen Y’s version of the American Dream? Might make an interesting conversation with your adult children.
The Long Road To Adulthood Is Getting Longer
The hot topic of “emerging adults” was discussed on the airwaves on Neal Cowan’s NPR program last week. He interviewed several experts including Prof. Frank Furstenberg, chair of the MacArthur Foundation’s Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood.
Prof. Furstenberg made several interesting points, the first on why it takes longer for young adults to make the transition to independent lives.
Conan: And the milestones that measure adulthood – well, they’re not as ubiquitous as they once were.
Mr. Furstenberg: Well, they’re less orderly than they once were. Marriage used to be the mainspring of the transition to adulthood. It accompanied leaving home and for men, was followed shortly after entering the workforce. But no longer. Now, marriage lags the work transitions and the school transitions and leaving home by – often by a matter of some years.
Conan: And parenthood can lag even that.
Mr. Furstenberg: Yes, it can. Parenthood increasingly is occurring in the late 20s and early 30s, whereas in the baby boom era, it often typically started in the late teens and early 20s
That “emerging adulthood” period comes without a price for parents:
Conan: It’s interesting. One of the conclusions is that children have to rely more on financial support from their parents. Adults between 18 and 34 received an average of $38,000 in cash and two years’ worth of full-time labor from their parents, or about 10 percent of their income, according to studies by the MacArthur Network.
Where Do You Go After the Nest Empties?
Trend forecasters looked into their crystal balls and predicted that suburbanites would sell their homes and head to the cities for retirement. Not so, says the Wall Street Journal in “The Myth of the Back-to-the-City Migration.” Baby Boomers are not selling their houses and heading downtown:
But roughly three quarters of retirees in the first bloc of retiring baby boomers are sticking pretty close to the suburbs, where the vast majority now reside. Those that do migrate, notes University of Arizona Urban Planning Professor Sandi Rosenbloom, tend to head further out into the suburban periphery. “Everybody in this business wants to talk about the odd person who moves downtown, but it’s basically a ‘man bites dog story,'” she says. “Most retire in place.”
And what about our adult children? Certainly they are more city mouse than country mouse. For a time, but not forever, according to the article:
Urban areas do exercise great allure to well-educated younger people, particularly in their 20s and early 30s. But what about when they marry and have families, as four in five intend? A recent survey of millennials by Frank Magid and Associates, a major survey research firm, found that although roughly 18% consider the city “an ideal place to live,” some 43% envision the suburbs as their preferred long-term destination.