Is “waithood” the new stop between youth and adulthood?

We all know that Millennials are still living with their parents well past the age when Boomers or Gen X’ers had moved out. Turns out it’s a worldwide phenomenon, as  this report from the BBC illustrates.

The main driver is financial —  thanks to sky-high unemployment or underemployment,  the young people can’t afford to live independently. The results are serious, as public policymakers as well as marketers must re-examine a host of assumptions about how society will be structured, where revenues will come from, what public resources will be required. All the age-based models are essentially up for grabs.

The article includes some interesting observations about the “idealized” youth culture, and the new emphasis on flexibility:

“Economics is important, but culture plays a crucial role too,” says Steven Mintz, a historian at the University of Texas at Austin. “In the past, people aspired to be older. The dominant culture was an adult culture, which was associated with sophistication, worldliness and experience. Today, that has been inverted. Youth culture is the ideal – most people aspire to be younger, not older, and it is youth culture that is seen as more thrilling than anything that adulthood has to offer.

“No-one says ‘Life begins at 40’ any more, at least not without irony.”

Mintz points out that it is only in the past 100 years or so that people have considered adolescence a distinct stage in a person’s life. Perhaps we are currently seeing the emergence of a new stage in development in which young people choose to scope out their options on the job market rather than start on a career, save up for travel instead of a house, and take a series of sexual partners instead of settling down.

Instead of figuring out how they fit in, they are working out their own identity – and until that process is complete, the emphasis is on keeping one’s options open.

It could be argued that this is simply making a virtue out of necessity, but that doesn’t matter. Given the size of the Millennial demographic (larger than the Boomers now), the prevalence of these attitudes and behaviors makes nonsense out of traditional strategies, whether in the public or private sectors.

It is time for some drastic re-thinking.



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. Vice President, Zoomer Media Ltd. . Author of "The New Old" . 30 years experience in marketing communications, advertising, media . Speaker, writer, commentator on the revolution in aging and how to market to Boomers and seniors

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