Jan and I have been unbelievably - and undeservedly - lucky in life. One thing we can take credit for, however, we had our children at a great time in our lives. As such we enjoyed our "golden" years at a time and in a way many cohorts behind will never know.
The old admonition, "Life begins when the kids leave home and the dog dies" has a bit of truth behind it. Our children were born when I was 26 and 29 respectively. Which means they left for college when we were in our mid to late forties - no age at all.
Better than that, they never came back, and more importantly achieved financial independence promptly after school. I have written how I was caught unaware by Aaron's return after nearly 15 years away, but that is another story. My point today is how - happy though we are right now - we marvel at the incredible years when we were still young enough to do anything we could afford, we could afford more than we had anticipated, and we were not yet caring for an older generation, or friends coping with health issues.
This life plan doesn't appear to be that common any more.
One in five people in their 20s and early 30s is currently living with his or her parents. And 60 percent of all young adults receive financial support from them. That’s a significant increase from a generation ago, when only one in 10 young adults moved back home and few received financial support. The common explanation for the shift is that people born in the late 1980s and early 1990s came of age amid several unfortunate and overlapping economic trends. Those who graduated college as the housing market and financial system were imploding faced the highest debt burden of any graduating class in history. Nearly 45 percent of 25-year-olds, for instance, have outstanding loans, with an average debt above $20,000. (Kasinecz still has about $60,000 to go.) And more than half of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed, meaning they make substandard wages in jobs that don’t require a college degree. According to Lisa B. Kahn, an economist at Yale University, the negative impact of graduating into a recession never fully disappears. Even 20 years later, the people who graduated into the recession of the early ’80s were making substantially less money than people lucky enough to have graduated a few years afterward, when the economy was booming.Some may hope that the boomerang generation represents an unfortunate but temporary blip — that the class of 2015 will be able to land great jobs out of college, and that they’ll reach financial independence soon after reaching the drinking age. But 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. [More]
Look, we loved being parents, but we were stunned by how much fun it was to have grown children. I suppose we missed the crazy times of being 20/30-somethings without spouses or children, but postponing them to 45 ain't the worst outcome in the world either.
Most crucially, we are learning that much of what is glittering beyond 65 is fool's gold. In addition to the scenario laid out above, longer-lived parents often surprise our retirement plans, so that postponed pleasure is being eroded from both sides.
Again, other than deciding two children were enough (which oddly we often regret) and having them early in our way-too-early marriage (I was 22, fer Pete's sake!), simple good fortune granted us a decade or more of hilarious freedom of action. I know, I know, it could all have been stolen by a health problem or similar life catastrophe, but at least we were in position to take advantage of the absence of calamity.
Our sons will be shifted slightly further down the life-track as they married and propagated at somewhat later ages, but I also know young people who may never see a grandchild, let alone her wedding. The timing just doesn't work.
I wonder if these life examples will move the trend of later marriages and families back to younger ages, or whether it will become astonishing to go on a camping trip with your grandparents when you are 12.
Re-reading this, it could be interpreted as not merely self-congratulatory, but anti-retirement planning. That certainly wasn't my point. I'm just thinking that birth control has delivered some unexpected cultural results that may take us generations to sort out.