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.


What if the Millennials are never leaving that basement? And what if that’s OK?

In my book Beyond Age Rage, I argued that some of the “Oh my God” reaction to Millennials still living at home with their parents, was because it was new, not necessarily because it  was bad. After all, if you  can’t get a job because you’re not properly trained and/or the economy is still weak, it makes perfect sense to cut costs (maybe all the way down to zero) and room with Mom and Dad. So it’s rational. But can it even be good?

In a very thought-provoking piece in the New York Times magazine, Adam Davidson tries to get comfortable with the idea that  this is not just a temporary blip. In fact, he argues, it’s part of a very long-term evolution which has seen young people move from workers (even as children) to people who could not be expected to be in the workforce (until older, and older still, and older still):

Childhood is a fairly recent economic innovation. For most of recorded history, a vast majority of people began working by age 4, typically on a farm, and were full time by 10. According to James Marten, a historian at Marquette University and the editor of The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, it wasn’t until the 1830s, as the U.S. economy began to shift from subsistence agriculture to industry and markets, that life began to change slowly for little kids. Parents were getting richer, family sizes fell and, by the 1850s, school attendance started to become mandatory. By the end of the Civil War, much of American culture had accepted the notion that children under 13 should be protected from economic life, and child-labor laws started emerging around the turn of the century. As the country grew wealthier over the ensuing decades, childhood expanded along with it. Eventually, teenagers were no longer considered younger, less-competent adults but rather older children who should be nurtured and encouraged to explore.

Thus high school, college and then the workforce. The familiar pattern — until the Great Recession. Or so goes the narrative. But Davidson argues that things started becoming unstuck much earlier:

(The) latest recession was only part of the boomerang generation’s problem. In reality, it simply amplified a trend that had been growing stealthily for more than 30 years. Since 1980, the U.S. economy has been destabilized by a series of systemic changes — the growth of foreign trade, rapid advances in technology, changes to the tax code, among others — that have affected all workers but particularly those just embarking on their careers. In 1968, for instance, a vast majority of 20-somethings were living independent lives; more than half were married. But over the past 30 years, the onset of sustainable economic independence has been steadily receding. By 2007, before the recession even began, fewer than one in four young adults were married, and 34 percent relied on their parents for rent.

OK, if that’s the case, should we just relax about this? Is it really the “new normal”? Does it have any positive side effects?

Read the article – you might not feel better about what’s going on (especially if you’re the one paying the bills), but you’ll certainly have a more sympathetic perspective. (It also includes a terrific slide show detailing the stories of 14 Millennials who are living that life.)


Number who live in multi-generational household has doubled since 1980: now 57 million Americans


There’s been a dramatic spike in the number of Americans living in multi-generation households. According to a new Pew Research Center analysis, based on stats from the US Census Bureau, a record 57 million Americans — or 18.1% of the total population — now live in a multi-generational family home. That’s double the number of 1980.

Young adults (25-34) are the group most affected. Roughly a quarter (23.6%) live in multi-generational households, compared to 11% in 1980, and overtaking the oldest adults as the group most likely to live in multi-generational households. Historically, the oldest adults (85-plus) were the leading group as many of them moved in with adult children for reasons of  caregiving or other assistance needed in the final years of their lives.

But now it’s the young adults who are driving the trend, and there’s little doubt that it’s just another part of how the Millennial generation is delayed in hitting the “traditional” benchmarks of adulthood. They’re marrying later, having kids later, earning decent money later. And, the flip side — living at home with mom and dad longer. The bottom line on multi-generational households should come as no surprised for those of you who have been following these trends in my books and here on this blog.

Read the whole report here.



The crisis of too many old people: demographer says Europe is literally dying

We all know that our society is aging, due to the combo of longevity and falling birth rates. But can it reach a stage where the society can be said to be…literally…committing suicide? Yes, says Emmanuel Todd, one of Europe’s leading demographers. The growing imbalance between young and old — fewer younger workers supporting ever more retirees — throttles economic growth and virtually insures a disastrous future.

According to The Economist, even with the arrival of a million immigrants every year, the ratio of pensioners to workers will increase from 28% now to 58% by 2060. In demographic terms, it’s a “perfect storm” that guarantees no economic growth. Can anything be done? According to demographer Emmanuel Todd, there is some hope, but only on a regional basis. The UK and Scandinavia are relatively better off, and if the UK became a more format part of an “Anglosphere” — including the USA, Canada, and Australia — it would be hitching its wagon to a community that will become larger, and much more prosperous, than the EU.

Read this article by Daniel Hannon, and watch the accompanying video in which Todd lays out his theory. You can  expect to see many more commentaries like this one; it’s a reminder that the “reinvention of aging” is not uniformly dynamic and exciting, but also carries with it considerable upheaval and many challenges.


Millennials not getting married, not buying homes – can’t marketers see what’s in plain view?

When does a delay become a trend? When does a trend become a new norm? Bloomberg columnist Megan McArdle looks at why Millennials are not getting married and not buying homes – the traditional “life stage” activities that marketers have always relied on in deciding that the twentysomething market was so valuable.

But today, as McArdle notes:

They’re living at home in growing numbers. They’re not buying homes, which creates ripple effects throughout the housing market. They’re having more babies out of wedlock than in it. Why can’t millennials get it together?

It’s an excellent piece, and I only wished that more marketers would (finally) get clued in.

You can read it here: Millennials Skip the Ring and Mortgage   – Bloomberg View.

Is ‘temp’ the new ‘permanent’?

Are we becoming a nation of contract workers? According to business services firm MBO Partners, there were almost 18 million “independent workers” in the US last year – up 10% from only two years earlier. Is it a continuing reaction (or maybe over-reaction) to the recession? Is there something deeper at work? Could actually be a good thing – for both workers and employers?

Check out this report on It will give you plenty to think about. Many of the themes I’ve been blogging about in this space are play on a large scale:

For Americans who can’t find jobs, the booming demand for temp workers has been a path out of unemployment, but now many fear it’s a dead-end route.

With full-time work hard to find, these workers have built temping into a de facto career, minus vacation, sick days or insurance. The assignments might be temporary — a few months here, a year there — but labor economists warn that companies’ growing hunger for a workforce they can switch on and off could do permanent damage to these workers’ career trajectories and retirement plans.

This subject isn’t going away any time soon.

Guess what percent of recent college grads are in low-wage jobs earning $25,000 or less

OK – we know that recent college grads are struggling in the job market. But just how bad is it, really? Surely not everyone is a barista? And how do today’s trends compare with the past? January data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, reported in The Atlantic, offer a sobering – but not necessarily calamitous – picture.

Here is a link to the full article, by Jordan Weissmann. The story is summed up in two graphs.

The first shows that in 2012, about 44% of working young college grads were “underemployed” – that is, working in jobs that did not require their degree. Not good. But actually, the same rate as 1994.

The second graph makes a distinction between “good” non-college jobs (not requiring a degree, but paying $45,000 a year) and “low-wage” non-college jobs, paying $25,000 a year or less. Of the 44% of all grads in n0n-college jobs (Graph 1), about 20% of them are in “low-wage” jobs — meaning 9% of college grads are in “low-wage” jobs.

As Weissmann points out, “In a sense, this reflects a shift in the  broader economy; for more than a decade now, middle-class jobs have given way to low-wage service work. And young college graduates haven’t been spared the change.”

Perfectly true. And in a sense, this means that universities can’t bear 100% of the responsibility for lousy job prospects for so many grads. But that still doesn’t help when you factor in those skyrocketing tuition fees. You can expect more pressure on universities to get into the real world. And that can only be a good thing.