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Milestones

July 24, 2011

We all experience milestones in our lives – specific times that have special meaning, or that evoke noteworthy memories. Some of these are related to people or events (births, deaths, marriages, divorces, school, friends, lovers, jobs, etc.); others are related to reaching a particular age (13, 16, 21, 30, 40, 50, 55 …)  This year (2011) represents age milestones for both my boys (30, 25), as well as my step-son (21) – and that got me thinking about where I was when I was their age, and how the lifestyle and career choices we make have changed in a single generation.

21When I was 21, I had been putting my ‘Certificate of Executive Office Administration’ to good use for just over three years.  I’d just moved on to my third employer (where I would stay – in one employment capacity or another – for 28 years), was married, and had owned a (small, two-bedroom) house for two years; I couldn’t afford a car.  About half my friends (i.e., people my age) were either married or in ‘committed’ relationships (i.e., planning to marry soon); the other half hoped to be ‘settled down’ by the time they were 25.

25By my 25th birthday, I had gotten a promotion to an ‘executive assistant’ position (at the local community college) where I helped to develop learning materials for students in various programs and a ‘Teacher Training Manual’ for new College faculty.  I was also charged that year with organizing and running the very first ‘Microcomputer Trade Show’ in southern Ontario, and facilitating a series of workshops on how to use computers in education (‘microcomputers’ were a brand new concept in 1978!) I took on whatever task was thrown my way, and volunteered for more!  I had also started teaching night school courses.  We’d put an addition on the back of the house (a new kitchen and family room), and added a deck, a pool, and a greenhouse.  I’d (finally) purchased my first car (a 1975 Firebird).  We’d been to Jamaica twice and Mexico once (all at Christmas-time, to avoid the ‘Whose parents’ house are we going to this year?’ conundrum).  I was very much what you would call ‘grown up’ and ‘settled’.

30At 30, I was living in a much larger (four bedroom, two bath, with a huge pool in the backyard) house, was teaching several night school courses, and had sold the Firebird in order to buy a Datsun station wagon – all because I was then the mother of a two-and-a-half year old (the son who just turned 30).  I chose to be a ‘stay-at-home Mom’ (although whoever coined that term certainly had no idea how infrequently you are at home when you have small children), and raise my children myself (i.e., vs. day care).  That was pretty much the ‘norm’ at the time – couples in my age bracket owned a house, had one or two kids, and the women stayed at home to raise them (some had part-time jobs, as I did, or took in one or two other children to earn a little extra money) while their husbands worked at ‘career jobs’ and spent their weekends mowing lawns, doing basic household maintenance, and exchanging small talk over the back fence with the neighbour, beer in hand.

Fast forward a generation.  Few 21 year olds have any idea what they want to ‘do’ for a living, never mind what type of career they can envision themselves in  for more than two years at a stretch (the ‘average’ time most individuals born in the 1980s stay in one job).  Quite a few ‘young ‘uns’ postpone the inevitable decision (“What do I want to do when I grow up?”) by enrolling in one post secondary program after another (i.e., not just progressing through Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD programs, but taking, say, Business Administration, then Computer Science, then Mechanical Engineering, or tacking a post-grad or degree program onto the end of a two-year diploma program).  NOTE: in my day we called those kind of people ‘professional students’ and disdained their reluctance to get out of school and get a ‘real job’!  In some circumstances, this has improved their job prospects; in others, not so much (but they have a lot more debt!)

Career PathIn Canada almost 16% of 16 to 24 year olds are unemployed, and in the UK a similar number are categorized as ‘NEETS’ (‘not in education, employment, or training’).  From my own observations (as a mother, aunt, friend-of-people-with-kids-the-same-age-as-mine, and recently retired College professor), a significant number of ‘young people’ are changing jobs with alarming frequency (i.e., every three to six months) and usually because there was some aspect of the job that didn’t ‘suit’ them (e.g., a critical boss, inflexible work schedule, annoying co-worker, etc.) rather than because something better comes along.  While it’s true that changing jobs ‘regularly’ can help build an adaptable skill set, it is still inadvisable to have a slew of jobs of less than a year in duration – or with huge gaps between them – on a resume; it indicates a poor attitude and/or work ethic and most employers hesitate to hire someone who appears unreliable. This generation doesn’t seem to see it that way – if they don’t like, it they walk away (our generation never would have done that – we’d either ‘suck it up’ or wait until we’d secured another job before leaving the one we were in!)

Home OwnershipHome ownership among the young set is also much, much lower than in my day.  A shocking number of under 30s still live at home – either because they’ve just never bothered moving out (i.e., their parents haven’t had the guts to hoof them out) or because they’ve returned home after college or when they’re ‘between jobs’.  Some are unemployed, others work part-time, still others are employed full time but are reluctant to spend their hard-earned dollars on such basics as accommodation and ‘living expenses’ (and I’m shocked when I hear how many parents don’t charge their grown children room and board!)  It’s certainly true (at least in this part of the country) that house prices (and apartment rent, condo fees, etc.) have risen significantly (some would say outrageously) over the years, but there are still affordable homes available outside major metropolitan areas.  It seems, however, that the notion of enjoying one’s ‘disposable income’ (buying cars, big-screen TVs, video game systems, and paying $300 a month for a cell phone) holds more appeal than the concept of ‘long term financial planning’ to this new generation.  Few will own their own homes; fewer still will ever pay them off (and most are already seriously in debt).

Family‘Kids’ are also getting married later (but living together more frequently, and with more partners over time), and the average age at which they start a family has shifted dramatically.  In the 1950s, most couples had children when they were in their early 20s; in the 1980s we started families when we were in our late 20s and early 30s; it’s not uncommon now for couples to wait until they are close to 40 before having children.  And, unfortunately (for everyone), more of these couples are choosing to put their children in day care (or some other arrangement, such as grandparent care) in order to keep working (yes, sometimes it’s necessary, but in many cases it’s a ‘life style choice’, not borne of necessity but of a desire for ‘more’ stuff).  More children are being ‘raised’ by someone other than their own parents today than ever before, and a lot of couples are still going to be putting their kids through college at just about the time they’d hoped to retire.

Disgruntled Employee TShirtSome pundits have suggested that young people are marrying and having children later – and even changing jobs more often – because they don’t want to suffer the same ‘fate’ as their parents (high divorce rates, job dissatisfaction, overall unhappiness with their life’s choices and outcomes) – yet there seems to be little variance in the end result.  Almost half of all marriages (and cohabitation relationships) still end in divorce, job-hopping (and/or dissatisfaction with job choices/options) remains rampant, and young families constantly ‘want’ more out of life.  (And personally, I find ‘young people’ to be generally more unhappy with just about everything they have – never mind what they don’t have – and more likely to complain about their jobs, work environment, and relationships than my generation did/does).

My children certainly have vastly different lifestyles that I did (when I was their ages) and they’ve certainly made radically different choices (with respect to schooling, jobs, relationships) than I did.  And while I might quietly (i.e., to myself) question some of them, I try to respect them and (generally) keep my opinions to myself.  I’m always willing to offer advice (when asked) and I truly hope that it all turns out well for them – despite the fact that their lives will always be vastly different from mine. 

But I do often find myself wondering when they’re going to ‘grow up’ – and what their lives will be like when they reach … the other side of 55.

The Kids Are Alright

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12 Comments
  1. Corby permalink
    August 5, 2011 11:46 pm

    Fortunately, there are some thirty(ish) year old’s with significant savings, investments, RRSP’s, TFSA’s, home ownership and a spouse who chooses to be a stay-at-home mom raising two beautiful little girls with RESP’s in place capitalizing on all the benefits that the government can provide, should they choose to go down that path when they grow older.

    And 30 is a great time since some of them can pay OFF their MASSIVE students loans (GREAT FEELING!) and can start to slow down to enjoy some finer aspects of maturity while life is just ramping up with the busyness set on with kids!

    And if they’ve played their cards right, rather than fighting traffic and working 60 hours a week in the office while missing out on what’s important in life, some of them might even have three meals a day with their kids and enjoy gymnastics and picking berries at the local berry patch…

    But those 30 year old’s can’t pat themselves too much on their back… NO WAY! Much of it was luck by being blessed with good parenting, brilliant mentors, provoking professors and inspiring teachers to keep those crazy kids in line and let them focus and find their dream!

    But then, that was a “you understood.” 😉

    Thanks Margo!

    • August 7, 2011 4:01 pm

      … not to mention incredible talent, a drive to succeed, and an exceptional work ethic. “If only” I’d had more students like you, I wouldn’t be quite so worried about how the world is going to end up!

      Margo

  2. July 25, 2011 11:16 am

    Well, hell….I could write pages on this one. Problem is – it would have to be about myself. You see, my son and daughter are in careers, have direction and, in my opinion, are quite successful. I’m trying to figure out who the used for their good example, Lol!
    Now well into the autumn of my life, I’m trying to figure out how I got to where I am. You see, I am the drifter and probably always will be.
    Army “settled” me some (or did it? One comes back from a war amped up bigtime….Really didn’t want my youngsters learning life’s lessons on the wrong end of a mortar round or RPG), but just wandered from job to job. Always have worked but never really settled….Hmmmm….
    But all is well that ends well. Look to have a bit of a pension as I go from autumn to winter. Maybe I’ll settle after all.
    Or maybe not….
    Later, Margo!

    • July 25, 2011 11:35 am

      I think our kids turn out the way they do regardless of our influence or circumstances – perhaps it’s just ‘luck of the draw’ or happenstance. I’m glad yours are settled and doing well; hope mine will (both) be soon (they’re doing okay but parents always seem to want ‘more’ from their progeny). I always used to joke that I wanted them to become ‘rich and famous’ so that they could keep me in a style to which I would like to become accustomed. LOL! Since that hasn’t happened, I think I, too, am just going to have to manage of my old age pension as well. (As for ‘settling’, I don’t think I’m quite ready for that, either!)

      Margo

  3. July 24, 2011 11:34 am

    Thought provoking as always. two things came to my mind –

    Parents: maybe its differing cultures but here in India, most of us do live with our parents. It is not seen as parent’s home but ‘our’ home. If need be, once we get a family of our own, we shift to a bigger home but the parents come with us. we live as one family.

    The simple reason for this (and it is something I believe in myself) is that it is considered a distasteful move to ‘leave’ parents to fend for themselves once we are all grown up. They looked after me my whole life, I can ensure their comfort and safety until they move on. Its one family, so we live together. (The idea of family charging rent to family would get you really, really queer looks here.)

    Jobs: I double-agree about the jobs. Most people in my class have already changed four jobs in the three years they began working. It is as if the smallest hint of discomfort is enough to get them scurrying. I often wonder how they plan to have a long-term career in this manner. But it doesn’t seem to bother them and that’s really creepy.

    • July 24, 2011 1:02 pm

      Our culture here in Canada is definately different from yours. Most ‘kids’ are expected (or used to be, anyway) to leave home and manage on their own by the time they’re ‘grown ups’ (whatever age that is, but generally it’s no later than a year after getting a full job or leaving school); often, ‘elders’ move in with their grown children much later in life (we also have a lot of long term care facilities, if the parents are in need of medical attention or care, and senior ‘residences’ where older folks can be independent but downsize their homes, etc.); my mother (at 93) lives with my brother and his family.

      I do agree that job jumping and not having solid career goals is a huge issue!

  4. July 24, 2011 11:08 am

    I was a stay-at-home mom too, though most of my peers chose careers. To them, I ‘didn’t work’. Ha, our place was where their kids lived after school because no one was home at their place!
    My biggest concern with people today is that they aren’t saving money for a rainy day. Their lives are ones of immediate gratification, and this doesn’t bode well for their retirement no matter what age they are right now.

    • July 24, 2011 1:33 pm

      I used to get riled when I’d see banks offering credit cards to first year college students in the front hall of the college where I used to teach. Far too many young people think a credit card is ‘free money’ and don’t understand that not only do they have to pay it all back, but at ridiculous interest rates. They get into debt faster (and deeper) than we ever did. I don’t think I owned a credit card until I was at least twenty-five (and I’ve always paid it off the end of every month!) They have little/no savings to speak of, can’t afford a down payment on a house, and don’t (as you say) put anything away for their futures, and far too many rely on the ‘Bank of Mom and Dad’ (not my kids – they know better!) My father used to jokingly say that we’d better not expect an inheritance – he planned to spend all his money before he died (he didn’t quite) and we had to earn our own (I took his words to heart). I have no idea what they’ll do when they reach ‘old age’ and realize they have nothing in the bank (and nothing to fall back on – at least we have our homes!)

  5. July 24, 2011 10:40 am

    My children are also 25 and 30. I found this very interesting comparing the generations. I think Texas has found a way to address professional students. Have to research further and will get back to you. I do hope I find the info I’m after.

    • July 24, 2011 11:06 am

      In Ontario, as long as they can pay the tuition (often with government loans, which they have to start paying back as soon as they secure employment), they can stay in school as long as they want. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always help them figure out what they want to do with their lives, or aid them in getting a job (I’ve had employers tell me ‘too broad an educational background’ often indicates an inability to focus on any one thing, and/or a lack of commitment to a field of endeavour!) And when they finally DO graduate and get a job, they’re so far in debt they can’t afford to save for a home, etc. It’s a no-win situation all around! I often despair of who is going to run our businesses (and our countries) when all of us ‘old timers’ retire – will there be anyone out there qualified enough (or who care enough) to get the job done? The limited number of ‘keeners’ (I’d say 10%) in this generation won’t be able to manage on their own!

      Margo

    • August 13, 2011 11:47 am

      Sorry for getting back so late. I just found the info on the second point. (1) In Texas, if students graduate not only within four years but within 3 credits of their degree plan they earn a $1,000 upon graduation. (2) Also, students cannot drop more than 6 (sounds excessive…huh?) classes. After 6 they have to stay in the class and take the grade they have (earned). So there is something in place to encourage students to get on with it….for better (1) or worse (2).

      • August 14, 2011 12:02 pm

        This is quite fascinating. Around here (in Ontario) students are ‘supposed’ to complete their diplomas/degrees in a specified amount of time (i.e., in College they have 5 years max to do a 2 year diploma) but there are always ‘extenuating circumstances’ whereby students fail, drop, or disappear from courses and as long as they pay their tuition the next term (or the one after that), they’re welcomed back (the College where by husband teaches insists they ‘sit out’ a semester – I’m not quite sure what that accomplishes, when they simply pick up where they left off when they return – bad habits and all). Similarly, there is ‘supposed’ to be a ‘three strike’ rule in place (i.e., you can only take/fail a course three times, then you are OUT of the program entirely). However, this also isn’t strictly enforced. I’m quite sorry to say that ‘academia’ has become more about bringing in money than about educating students! Thanks for the info!

        Margo

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