Last Sunday’s New York Times had an interesting article by Patricia Cohen—“Long Road to Adulthood is Growing Even Longer.”  It talks about how “young adulthood has undergone a profound shift.”  According to Frank Furstenberg, of the Foundation Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood, “people between 20-34 are taking longer to finish their educations, establish themselves in careers, marry, have children and become financially independent…a new period of life is emerging in which young people are no longer adolescents but not yet adults.”

A report by Princeton and the Brookings Institution indicates that …

..people not only view marriage as a lifestyle choice but parenthood as a lifestyle choice.  Love seeing findings like this! This is not only a view, but is language that reflects the position that parenthood is an Option, not destiny.

The article lays out the latest stats on delaying motherhood and marriage, including delaying motherhood stretches across all races and ethnic and income groups, according to Pew Research Center.  Also, “marriage has disappeared as definition of traditional adulthood;”  in 1990, births to unmarried mothers was 28%. Today, it is 40%.

Regarding childless stats at 20% for women in their 40s, Furstenberg points out that in the 50s this would have been seen as “bizarre or tragic” – it has come a long way now to be seen as a lifestyle choice.

We need to talk about being childfree more in these terms.  It is a linguistic frame that gets it away from starting with parenthood first, and characterizing “childless” or “childfree” based on something we are “not.”

On another channel, on the downside of the long road to the independence that comes with adulthood, the article indicates that in 2000 1/5th of 25 year old white men lived with their parents, and in 2007 this was the case for 1/4thof these men.  Furstenberg thinks that this is because we’ve not developed and strengthened institutions to serve young adults, such as nonresidential and community colleges and national service programs, “because we’re still living with the archaic idea that people enter adulthood in their late teens or early 20s.”

I think they still enter adulthood, but it’s the definition of adulthood that needs to change. It is not just that you are out of college and working and living on your own by early twenties.  Our economy has made this a longer road for this generation. Adulthood is more about actions that reflect taking responsibility for your own life and how you want to live it on your own terms.  This includes when and whether you reproduce.

The definition of parenthood seems to be changing too, at last.  As a “lifestyle choice” it helps to make it more OK to choose not to, as it is to have kids.

What do you think?

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