The Invention of Youth, or, Are You A Real Adult?

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It’s a commonly-taught aspect of history that kids-as-kids, helpless and cherish-able beings who should be provided a nurturing and protective lifestyle completely different from adults, didn’t exist before the modern era. A hundred years ago, grade-schoolers had to toil in the factory or the field and get their hands whacked off by machinery or be immolated cleaning out the chimney flue. Only recently has society started to think of childhood as a thing and books like the new All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior explore how we’re still trying to figure out and codify what childhood is (but this is not a book review about that book).

More recently, in my generation and maybe the one right before it (us Millennials and our big siblings the Gen-Xers), there has come an extension of young-adulthood into a nebulous grown-adolescence gray area of Twentysomethings.

The average age at which we get married and start having children is older than anyone before (almost 30 for those with college educations). The average age at which we leave home is older than anyone before (Millennials have the sad reason that old people destroyed our economy and left us no jobs; Gen-Xers were just disaffected and stoned). The expectation of immediately beginning a long-term career with one company and starting to climb the ladder like a corporate puppy is gone, because in the new market people change jobs every few years and no one is rewarded for staying in one place. Continue reading

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