If you want to witness pure, palpable disagreement, read this article, and then read the rest of this post.
It’s a long article that starts like general interest journalism, and then delves into a discussion of academic literature on far-flung various subparts of the larger issues presented by the article’s premise. I’m sure that structure creates appeal for a variety of readers. It’s accessible but academic, and people can read it as far as they choose to last. But, I think the whole thing is miserable.
It starts off assuming there is something wrong with 20-somethings. That’s a big swing of an argument to make. But, It doesn’t begin with facts about that group. It lays down a thick narrative of reckless pop-culture assumptions, and lards the opening paragraphs with pre-loaded judgments about what makes somebody a full adult human. It doesn’t establish any real reason to buy the premise. What exactly are they (we) doing wrong? While it gets into facts later (many relevant), and lots of academic arguments, none of those really establish the initial premise, or cover the whole issue enough to make a good point. In fact, the literature discusses a goofy assortment of issues from an academic perspective more appropriate for studying life on Mars than a generation of people that assumedly inhabit Ms. Henig’s own community, and through which she once journeyed herself.
Henig discusses the suspenseful moment when we learned of “emerging adulthood.” Well, of course it’s the beginning, the emergence of adulthood. Did anybody think it was the end? Thus, this whole discussion felt a little phony: questions much less baffling than Henig implies, answers much more complicated and heterogenous.
The author casually mentions “the expectation of an orderly progression in which kids finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and eventually retire to live on pensions.” Ms. Henig stresses vaguely the consensus of sociologists that five milestones (finishing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child) amount to “what we generally call adulthood.”
I’m pretty wary of generation-level assumptions. They’re always such crazy, reckless generalizations that over-assume our behavioral uniformity and simplicity. Of course, these are dominant trends that have covered majorities of people for centuries. But, that’s not the only way to live in a free society, and it’s certainly not the only way to describe or judge the trajectory of a human life. To assume otherwise, especially as this author does, without proper facts or proper separation between age cliches and more serious thought of her own, is to encourage thoughtless and judgmental conformity. It’s telling that Henig found the most fitting voice for her reactions to today’s 20-somethings in some article from 1970 (written apparently before she herself turned 20).
Lest any reader suspect the answer to Henig’s question lies in today’s bad economy, she dismisses that issue with one quick, unclear statement that the trend (not sure which one) predated (not sure how long or to what extent) the current economic problems (defined how, where and when?). I’m not convinced. Plus, she admitted that jobs now require more education, and divorce rates have been high for a while. Isn’t it possible that younger generations don’t like some of the gender roles and other outmoded aspects of traditional marriage? Political and court fights over gay marriage, abortion, divorce and values could have had an effect on this. But, it’s nowhere in this article. Get real.
Maybe we’re just different. If the benchmark is a generation with views like she expressed, I can only hope so.
I’m not sure why it matters which artificial distinctions sociologists make between different age groups. Any uneducated person knows that people can grow and change at any age, and that experience and time can have a big impact. Do today’s 20-somethings commit more crime than their parents? Are they worse parents, or do they perform worse at their jobs? Are they morally worse, physically worse, less funny, uglier? That hasn’t been established, and I don’t know how much of it could be. So, it’s really not clear what this generation is really doing wrong.
Also, why not look at other generations too? A generation of business leaders failed whole sectors of the economy (finance, oil, what next?). A generation of political leaders (from both parties) let it happen. A generation of economists got fooled. A generation of voters kept putting people in office who let them down. A generation of priests have brought scandal to the church. A generation of sports commissioners allowed steroids to tarnish sports. Even our current generation of filmmakers keep choosing remakes instead of new stories. In addition to writing an article about the generation of institutional failure, why shouldn’t I also write an article about that same generation of bad parents (many of whose kids are 20-somethings)?
This lady’s right that a number of weird trends are happening with 20-somethings. It’s worth an article, no doubt. So, lead with that and keep the research and facts on that point. Instead, she begins with trite, cheesy assumptions and ends with sprays of scattered sociology research, none of which demonstrates a whole lot, because these areas of sociology are unfinished.
That’s the way science works. Somebody proposes an idea, and it gets tested. But, you can only validly test a small idea at a time, and then that small test must be replicated and tested further. If, at any point along the way, the many assumptions underlying that science become questioned, the whole thing has to be re-examined or outright abandoned. Furthermore, science only answers factual questions. Entangled in all of Henig’s issues, and throughout much of sociology, are value questions, which are philosophical and normative. She addressed philosophical issues minimally, recklessly and prejudicially. Only when all those issues are properly solved can research be dropped into an article with such casual certainty. She treats science like the kind of machine it only is when every part of a question has been exhaustively tested and replicated.