Passage to Adulthood
A more calculated, slower transition may lead to a better future for all
We’ve all heard the “failure to launch” stories—the 20-something down the street who’s still living with mom and dad, the college graduate who can’t seem to decide what to do, the kids who just won’t cooperate when it comes to producing grandkids.
Contrary to public opinion, these young people may actually be getting it right. In Not Quite Adults, researcher Rick Settersten and co-author Barbara Ray find that young adults today are facing a completely different set of challenges than their parents. For this age group, taking things slow—delaying marriage, parenthood and even moving out of the house —is a sound strategy that will pay off later in life.
Settersten is professor of human development and family sciences and endowed director of Oregon State University’s Hallie Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families. He spent a decade studying the topic as part of a network of scientists funded by the MacArthur Foundation. “The research was just so socially relevant, we wanted to take it to the streets,” Settersten says. “So much of our research evidence runs counter to public conversation about young people today, which is often so negative.”
Living at home
One of the biggest issue researchers found was the battle over living at home. Although commonly cited as an example of the slacker mentality, researchers found that sharing space with parents can be a really smart decision. “Especially if it allows them to be in school or an apprenticeship, or to save money so they have a stronger launch when they do go,” Settersten says. Not only that, but living at home keeps a lot of young people out of poverty.
A slower course is not a slacker course
“All of this evidence shows that there are real benefits to slowing down, but it can’t be random,” Settersten says. “It has to be careful and strategic. A slower course is not a slacker course. Quite the contrary. This is a period of life that can’t be taken lightly. It’s a period of life that generates an extraordinary inequality.”
Decisions made in a person’s 20s—on education, on parenthood, on marriage — heavily influence the rest of your life. “We should be a lot more worried about people who go too fast than kids who go too slow,” Settersten says. “Quick marriages often end in divorce. Quick parenting makes it hard to get an education. Quick departure from the family home leaves you with few resources to get by, especially in today’s economy.
“A slower path today is often very good, and a fast path is often very risky,” Settersten says. “We can’t advise young people today based on the world we knew at their age. That world no longer exists.”
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