MR Round Table: Is 25 the New 21?
Team Man Repeller discusses; leaves fake ID stories out of this
25 is the New 21, at least according to one author for The Atlantic. “For some parents,” reads her story’s tagline, “the deadline for a kid’s financial independence has gotten an extension.” As a group of women who fall somewhere between 22 and haven’t-you-turned-29-twice, the article made us wonder exactly where on the spectrum of age, independence, emotional maturity and dog year calculations that put us.
Leandra Medine: Is 25 the new 21? I don’t think that 21 was ever a time where…
Amelia Diamond: You don’t think 21 was ever the 25?
LM: I also don’t think 25 is the 25. I think that as a rule children stay under the wings of their parents until they’re married or with children. At least in a city like New York.
AD: I have two friends, and other than that, I don’t know anyone except for our parents’ generation, who put themselves through college…
LM: I didn’t put myself through college
AD: I know but at 18, maybe younger, my mom was on her own. I would say I only have 2 friends who really assumed full adulthood upon college graduation and I would argue those two had actually assumed it before graduating. I don’t know anyone else.
Kayla Tanenbaum: I think what this article is responding to is how many people—not just in New York, because I think New York is a whole different situation—but how many people after college move back home. I feel like that number has increased.
AD: Do you think marriage is “the age”? Not an age, but…
LM: You become an individual, yeah.
KT: That makes sense because there are all of the reports where more people than ever, under 26, are not married.
Esther Levy: I think that now a lot of people are going for their secondary degrees. Now in the workplace some people are under the impression that it’s not enough to just have an undergrad degree. People are going to law school, to business school, whatever it may be. That also contributes to debt.
LM: But you’re also seeing a backlash to education in the age of Zuckerbergian success and Facebook, where you drop out of school and become a billionaire?
EL: I think that’s a very small percentage.
AD: I think more people are going to school than ever before.
KT: The only people that talk about people not going to college are these trend pieces about saying “The End of College” or whatever, but most people in America think that, for now, if you want to move up in the career world, you have to finish college.
AD: On a non financial scale—I know this article focused on finances and what that meant as far as responsibility and growing up—but something we’ve touched on over and over and so has the media, is that our generation assumes the identity of independence early, we take on a more adult air, but that we’re actually growing up slower. People are getting married later. I just had someone in high school ask me, “Do people ‘your age,’ 26, still do the hook up thing with no titles?” It’s like… yeah. We do. Which is what 16-year-olds do. We’re on a different trajectory than our parents, who were married and maybe had kids by age 25.
Charlotte Fassler: People aren’t on these standardized career trajectories now the way that they were in our parents’ generation. There was more pressure to pick a job, support yourself, and now I think millennials have this much more individualized view of what they want their careers to look like. Now there are more jobs that don’t have standardized hours where you go to an office, but you are working in a generally creative environment.
AD: It’s like the digital age has professionalized that sort of bohemian/artist lifestyle. I feel like almost everyone I know, at age 25 or 26, quit the jobs that they had—they had been going to law school and they quit that, or med school, and they’re all focusing on these individual and totally legitimate entrepreneurial endeavors, which I don’t think was really as much of a possibility before the time of Twitter and Instagram and the Internet, as weird as that sounds. Back in the day, if you were going to law school, that was your plan.
LM: Sophie’s a perfect example of that. She went to law school, she worked at a firm for a year, and then she launched a line of ice pops.
KT: That really wasn’t my experience at all at school. I was one of the only people I knew graduating without a job lined up. Maybe it’s just the kind of people I went to school with, and I know we’re not trying to talk about finances but I feel like we can’t have this conversation without saying that for the most part—this isn’t true of everyone, of course—the people who do go into more creative fields usually have some kind of assistance from their parents because to have a job that pays so little and is so insecure you kind of need another source of income. You can’t get it from that job.
LM: Right, and that’s the exact example that the story uses.
KT: And they feed into each other. The people who are getting support from their parents enable them to have these jobs…
LM: This is sort of part of the investment phase.
KT: Do you think that enables the employers to pay so little? Maybe there should be an unpaid intern revolt.
LM: We’re kind of a generation of underachieving overachievers, right? We have these fancy educations and a lot of us go to grad school, but then the minute we’re offered a job we’re like “22k a year? What? No health benefits? Okay, I’ll take that! Yes!”
KT: And with the Internet, there’s more room for successful people. Whereas before, you either made it as an artist and were showing at one of the top galleries or you weren’t and there was no kind of Internet fame. Freelance writing, too, has exploded with the Internet.
AD: They say that every generation looks at the generation below it and has fears about them—“When I was your age…”
LM: Well, because as humans we look for proofs of concept.
AD: I keep thinking back to my own dad, who didn’t actually have a real job until my mom was pregnant with me when he was 30. Before that he was just doing his thing in New York City. Everything was cheaper back then. This writer doesn’t seem to have any anxieties about it, they seem to just be putting forward a general “this is how it is now…”
LM: I don’t think it ever wasn’t like this.
AD: That’s similar to what I’m saying, the other gens just look at it from different points of view. It’s different jobs that are being played around with now.
EL: I think it’s definitely a generational thing. My dad has been working since he was 14, he got married at 21 and had his first kid at 23.
LM: That’s the other thing. Women were opting out a ton, Gen X has been Opt-Out generation. As a result of that, those women felt financially independent because they were depending on their husbands, not their parents. My mom got married at 22 and my grandparents lived in Israel at the time, they were super poor, couldn’t support her if they wanted to, but she married my dad and she was financially independent, technically speaking, or at least by the rules of this article. Maybe the same is true for me because I got married when I was 23, and I’ve been financially independent since I graduated when my parents took me off allowance. I lived at home for six months, but then I got engaged, then I got married, then I got health insurance through Abie’s job and poof: I’m financially independent.
KT: I feel like getting married that young is not the norm.
LM: No, it’s not at all. But it was.
KT: I don’t know which came first, is it that our generation marries later than others because we don’t have financial independence and we live at home? Is that causing the delay in marriage? Or is it the reverse, where we have no pressure to have the stability because no one wants to get married and settled down until they’re in their late 20s.
LM: Well, it’s a backlash because we’re also living through the ideological generation of feminism as mainstream, and so women aren’t getting married because we feel like there are other options or because it is our duty to punctuate a certain point.
EL: There are tons of women now—especially in New York — that aren’t getting married. People don’t take the jobs where they aren’t going to be 100% happy so they take less money.
LM: That’s the other thing. The narrative of the American Dream has changed. You’re not living the American Dream if you’re financially successful; you’re living the American Dream if you are spiritually successful.
KT: Which I think is better.
CF: Another big part of it is that a lot of parents who are fortunate enough to have the success to be able to put money towards fueling their children’s passions oftentimes come from families that did not provide them with that at all. Maybe some people would say, “I worked really hard. My kids should do the same thing I had to do,” but I feel like now more than ever parents have these different kinds of relationships with their kids, which is much more nurturing.
People talk about helicopter parenting, with the distance and coldness that came with previous generations—the way that our grandparents raised our parents—it makes parents this time around much more willing to help their children in a way they did not get help. I think there is this mentality of a skipped generation. One generation works really hard so that the one below them can have a better life. It winds up reading as laziness sometimes. This subject brings up a lot of tension: does financial support breed laziness or is it fueling creativity?
LM: What’s that saying? Necessity is the mother of invention. We don’t necessarily—I don’t think anyone in this room—feels that blaring sense of necessity. We, thankfully, don’t work 15 jobs to supplement our salaries.
EL: We’re talking about this privilege. The article mentioned it, but you can’t discount it. We’re speaking about a small percentage.
CF: This article is directed at a small number of people. It comes from a completely privileged standpoint.
KT: But I wonder how much of that is our laziness and how much of that is the economy. I feel like our parents, if they did well in college and they graduated and were looking for a job, there was one to be had. Maybe not their dream job, but it would exist. I feel like a lot of qualified people don’t have jobs, and it’s not only laziness.
Keith: The whole breakdown of you should be X, Y, Z, and then at a certain point real life starts at 25. My niece is 26, moved to Florida at 26, found two jobs in less than a week, rented her own apartment, and now she’s way more independent.
EL: Do you think it’s like, “Now that I’m 25 I have to get my shit together?”
Keith: Yes, because most 25 year olds are still acting young.
LM: They’re messing around in da club.
Keith: They’re poppin’ bottles.
AD: Who’s paying for those bottles, though?
Keith: The parents. Some of these kids are living paycheck to paycheck because they can always go back home.
LM: Do you feel like people think 25 is the marker because that’s when you can start renting cars? It literally mobilizes you.
CF: Well, now with Zipcar…
KT: What’s the Affordable Care Act cutoff? Maybe needing your own healthcare is incentive to get a job.
LM: What’s interesting is that a lot of the comments under the Atlantic’s story are just lamenting about how expensive college has gotten.
CF: I think a lot of the backlash with this article, according to the comments, is that they only talked to six parents who all clearly are in the same financial bracket and have the same viewpoint on the subject. This article is representative of a very small group of people, but does address a larger…
KT: Isn’t it true that in Europe people live at home longer? I remember when I did a homestay in Spain, my host family’s children, who were both in their mid-20s, lived at home because neither was married.
LM: That’s also a tenant of traditional Judaism. My parents were much more comfortable with my staying home until I got married, if they could have controlled it had the situation been different, they would have tried
KT: I definitely feel like my parents pull the strings because it’s their money, which is something I struggle with. My mom always threatens me: “If you don’t do X, Y and Z, you’re going to move home.”
AD: I feel like I use that threat against my parents. I’m always threatening to move home. I get that the financial viewpoint of this article is limited to a specific and niche demographic, one that in New York City may feel like it’s the norm but really isn’t, but what I’m really interested in, because this seems like a broader observation, is that 25 seems to be the new 21 emotionally, not just financially. Maybe they’re connected, like you said. We’re not as pressed to settle down and find someone. But it seems that within one individual there are two viewpoints: a hard and intense focus on a fulfilling career, and then the flipside of that, where these same people are working so hard for careers yet their social life is pretty hedonistic and all about having fun and being young. This is the age to be selfish. Worry about your friends, worry about partying, but you’re not looking for a partner.
KT: Yeah, I definitely feel like a minority among my friends for living with my boyfriend
EL: I feel like a minority being married among everyone. It’s delayed adolescence. Everyone I know, they all have jobs, they all live at home. Their option is that they’d rather spend their paychecks on going to dinner and getting clothes than rent. They can spend all the money on temporal pleasures.
LM: Adolescence, or this timeframe where you get to be a kid is also a relatively new establishment. If you think back, a kid would turn 12 and be shipped off to work.
KT: I read an article somewhere that said that a lot of that has to do with marketing. Teenagers, or the concept of being a teen, is a relatively new phenomenon. Teens have a lot of buying power in terms of trends and being able to take more risks, so this whole teen culture has only existed in the past 50 years and before that you were a child, and then you were not a child. There’s this in-between now.
CF: My question is, who’s to say that it’s a bad thing to have this prolonged adolescence? Do we think it’s a bad thing to have a younger mentality for a longer amount of time?
LM: That’s also really true. There’s so much innovation and creativity is often born out of this juvenile frivolity.
AD: I always tell younger college students: Hang on to your summer after graduation. Don’t get a job. You will get one, even if you’re homeless for a little bit, don’t get a job. I went into post-grad hungry and psychotic about becoming an adult. My last semester of senior year all I wanted to be was independent, out of college. Now I look back on the importance on being stupid in your final days.
LM: I was very hungry for those self-indulgent, messy, mistake-ridden years right after I got married because it felt so definitively over in such a jarring way because I was only 23. I’ve been married for two years now, I’m very happily married, and I don’t miss being a kid. Being an adult shits on being a kid. It’s so much fun to be able to punctuate the sentences of your own life.
AD: The freedom to feel that you can go and make your own dumb purchase and not have anyone except yourself to get mad at you is liberating. It’s terrifying but liberating.
EL: Being married is so different for me than for my parents. I don’t feel like I have an extra burden or responsibility. I’m just living with the person I love. I don’t have children. I’m working, and I feel like that adolescence carried over for me into marriage.
LM: Question. If men menstruated, what are the odds that a heavy flow wouldn’t be a huge coup? What are the odds that men wouldn’t be like, “Yo, I fucking bled through 15 different pairs of underwear this week.”
KT: Tina Fey has that quote that if men gave birth, then there would be paid maternity leave for six months…
LM: But I feel like specifically with our periods, we bleed for seven days a month. It’s horrific and it smells bed and it’s uncomfortable. And yet the general public never actually knows when you’re on your period. Do any of you that I have my period right now?
KT: I do.
KT: Just kidding.
LM: If this were a function of being a man, everybody would always know. There would be period bars.
AD: There are period bars. It’s called Sixteen Handles. Anyway, I always say that once I hit 26, I didn’t feel like I was old–actually, I do I have grey hair and I can’t see—but I feel like 26 is more of this serious age. At 25 you can say you’re in your early 20s, you can still fuck up. You’re young. 26 is this very scary year where you’re technically in your late 20s. You don’t get the same sympathy. If you mess up at 26 it’s like, “Well that was a bad decision.”
KT: Do you think that it’s because mathematically you’re more than a quarter century old?
AD: I think so, and that’s why I was asking, why 25? It’s a neat number in the middle of a really young 20 and an adult 30.
CF: I know people who have had the same crisis when they were turning 26, of feeling all of a suddenly that there was this pressure on them, that they hadn’t figured out this path.
AD: I think the thing about being 25, whether you’re in finance or if you’re a starving artist, because you’re so young, because the platform is so wide—look at Lena Dunham, Petra Collins, the people who started Snapchat—the scale of young people doing extraordinary things is tipping and that provides a lot of pressure.
KT: Especially because you don’t have to be a professional to have professional success.
LM: I don’t think this is because kids are evolving faster now. I think they’re just being taken more seriously now. The talent has always been there. It’s been dormant, but it’s been there.
AD: Which would mean on the success scale, 21 is the new 25… But is 25 the new 21?
LM: I’m going to continue forward with 21 was never 25. 25 has always been the age.
KT: I really disagree. I think it’s a lot more acceptable to be in an immature place at 25 than it was 30 years ago.
LM: Is that bad thing?
KT: No. It’s s bad thing in terms of the huge difference in privilege it’s perpetuating, exacerbating the trend of erasing the middle class. But the work and the creativity and everything else coming out of this, it’s not bad at all.
AD: I guess I just hope 25 is the new 21 because if so, then I am not a fuck up.