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The Under-Achieving 20-Somethings

The current New York Times Magazine features an article examining the trend of increasing numbers of young people delaying the jump to adulthood by moving back in with their parents or living in impermanent residences. The article posits that a variety of cultural, economic, and societal factors have converged to create this emerging phenomenon. While some young people simply choose a alternative or unconventional life paths that do not translate to lucrative earnings, others find themselves both overqualified for and underwhelmed by job offerings in a rough economic climate. The piece is accompanied by a slide show featuring the work of 13 young photographers who were asked to capture the essence of their age-group with the ultimate generational symbol: the iPhone.

We’re in the thick of what one sociologist calls “the changing timetable for adulthood.” Sociologists traditionally define the “transition to adulthood” as marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had, by the time they reached 30, passed all five milestones.

The whole idea of milestones, of course, is something of an anachronism; it implies a lockstep march toward adulthood that is rare these days. Kids don’t shuffle along in unison on the road to maturity. They slouch toward adulthood at an uneven, highly individual pace. Some never achieve all five milestones, including those who are single or childless by choice, or unable to marry even if they wanted to because they’re gay. Others reach the milestones completely out of order, advancing professionally before committing to a monogamous relationship, having children young and marrying later, leaving school to go to work and returning to school long after becoming financially secure.

What do you think: Do today's 20-somethings face unique and unprecedented challenges when it comes to entering the real world? Or do they simply have inflated expectations and opinions of themselves?

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