If someone else tells me millennials are “stunted” because they don’t own homes, marry and have children before age 30, I might punch them in the face. (Not really, but you get my frustration.)
In a 2010 piece for New York Times Magazine, Robin Marantz Henig pondered why won’t millennials grow up, citing noticeable “delays” in their attainment of the so-called milestones of adulthood:
In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had passed all five milestones by the age of 30. By 2000, fewer than 50 percent of the women and 33 percent of the men had done so. I imagine that percentage has fallen even lower as millennials have started aging into their thirties.
According to this seemingly arbitrary standard of measurement, I’m only three-fifths adult; if you add homeownership into the assessment, I’m solidly 50 percent grown-up – a number admonishing elders no doubt find troubling for a near 30 something.
For me, this traditionally “incomplete adulthood” is not a matter of immaturity or irresponsibility, but rather, mismatched values. Getting married is not what I consider a personal priority, and at 29, neither is having a child – not because I’m less of an adult than the teen moms on MTV, but because my American dream doesn’t fall within the parameters of these milestones of adulthood – not now, and maybe not ever.
My personal priority is to build a life and a career that I love and affords me the freedom to do what I want. Enjoying the choice to have children or get married or buy a home – or not.
That might sound obnoxiously millennial, but is it really something to chastise? Isn’t the fact that my near-term goal is to build a six figure business at least as commendable as securing an engagement ring?
[tweetthis]Isn’t my goal of building a six figure business at least as commendable as securing an engagement ring? #millennial[/tweetthis]
I’m happily exercising the options made available to me through the efforts of baby boomers themselves – namely, reproductive choice, career mobility and autonomy – and yet, my lifestyle choices seem to be at the crux of the clash between older and younger generations.
Considering the context of millennials’ young adult years, the choice to remain single and selfish with resources like time and money is actually quite practical.
While the cost of college tripled from 1980 to 2011, median weekly earnings for young people fell 6 percent from 2007 to 2011. One study found that the average age at which young adults reach median wage increased from 26 to 30 between 1980 and 2012. This is not a millennial failure to launch, but a consequence of the economic circumstances in which gen Y came of age.
In addition to sluggish wage growth and rising living costs, today’s average college grad with student loan debt has to pay back more than $35,000.
The millennial hesitancy to rush in, get married and shoulder a partner’s financial burden on top of their own, is just practical. After all, financial stress is one of the leading causes of divorce – the price tag of which can easily climb into the tens of of thousands of dollars.
Unconvinced of the merits of marriage and in no rush to take the plunge, I am what many boomers might consider part of the problem– choosing to cohabitate in place of forming a legally binding partnership.
For those who do wish to get married though, the price tag of the wedding itself can prove daunting enough to delay. The average wedding spend, now $30k, is largely optional of course, but for couples with big dreams for the big day, taking the time to save up is certainly more practical than taking on additional debt to finance such a celebration.
According to a 2011 Pew survey , 22% of 18- to 24- year olds reported postponing having a baby because of the bad economy and roughly the same proportion said they postponed getting married for the same reason.
[tweetthis]22% of 18- to 24- year olds reported postponing marriage and children because of the bad economy #millennials[/tweetthis]
The economy isn’t the only reason to delay though. Couples who marry in their teens or early 20s are at least twice as likely to divorce than those who wait until 30. Plus, women who wait until 30 or later to marry enjoy a significantly higher salary. Double win!
Married or not, I’m also major a proponent of “delaying” first childbirth.
For one, having children is stupid expensive. According to CNN Money, to raise a child born in 2013 to the age of 18, the total cost to a middle-income couple will be just over $245,000- about an extra $15k in annual expenses, not including the cost of college.
I’ve heard plenty of arguments that this average is grossly inflated, but even so, even half that number is nothing to scoff at. If you’re struggling to pay down your $30k in student loan debt on a ten-year repayment plan, how are you going to handle $250k over the course of 18 years – even without the interest?
And let’s not forget opportunity cost. According to an analysis of US Census data, women between ages 40-45 with professional degrees and full-time jobs who gave birth to their first child at age 35 made more than $50,000 more per year than women who had their first child at 20. Waiting just five more years to start a family at 35 instead of 30 made a difference of $16,000 per year on average.
Those are some seriously huge numbers. Over the course of thirty years (35-65), that extra $50,000 in earnings each year could mean another 1.5 million in lifetime earnings. Even just one year of childbearing delay for an average $16,000 income increase translates into nearly half-million in additional lifetime earnings.
Women who wait until their mid-30s to have children can also enjoy the additional benefits that come with seniority. Their established career reputations may be more easily leveraged for greater flexibility and more family-friendly benefits.
My mother was 32 when she had her first of 4 biological children. By the time she had me, she was 35 and still working full-time – it was the 80s.
Even though both of my parents worked full-time, I never think of them as being absent from my life. They were at every event, play, game and field trip I can remember – even in the middle of the day. My parents had established themselves as such great assets in their respective industries by the time they had children that they were able to enjoy the benefits of full-time childcare while still being able to negotiate the flexibility necessary to be present parents on their own terms.
Perhaps, more than anything else, building a life on my own terms is the way I’ve come to define my ideal adulthood – how millennial of me.
But seriously, If you’re not costing anyone anything and you’re making a positive contribution to society in one form or another, why shouldn’t you do exactly what you want?
Whether it’s getting married or cohabitating. Having children or not having children. Buying a home or couchsurfing around the world.
Is it really any less adult of me, or anyone, to consider the full scope of options available and choose a lifestyle at our own leisure? Isn’t that the whole point of striving for financial freedom anyway?