Sunday, May 31, 2015

Book Review: Twenty-Something: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?

I'm pleased to review the book Twenty-Something: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck? by the mother-daughter journalist pair of Robin Marantz Henig and Samantha Henig (respectively). I'm pretty sure I received my 2013 paperback version of the book as a complimentary copy from the publisher, given my teaching and research in this area, and I let the book sit for a long time (I'm chronically way behind on books I'm planning to read). I'm glad I got around to Twenty-Something, though.

Some readers of this blog may recall the splashy 2010 New York Times Magazine article on the transition to adulthood, featuring extensive interviews with Jeff Arnett and other researchers (link here). I did not initially make the connection, but Robin was also the author of that Times piece. Twenty-Something represents her attempt, with Samantha brought on board, to provide a book-length treatment of what she had started researching for the Times. Samantha, as a mid-late twenty-something during the book's writing, provides an insider's perspective.

Examples are all around us of young people taking their time to get married and establish a career, moving back home with their parents, and, in some cases, just floundering in general. There also seems to be a fairly widespread belief that such delays and other elements of today's young-adult life are totally new, uncharted territory. Some things, such as social media and Internet dating, unquestionably are new, but that doesn't mean everything is.

What sets this book apart from others on emerging adulthood is its systematic questioning of whether today's extended journey to adulthood is really as unprecedented as it's sometimes made out to be. Other than some authors pointing out that the post-World War II era in the U.S. was notable for its unusually young ages of first marriage,* thus accentuating today's marriage delay, there does not seem to be much critical examination of how new today's emerging-adult lifestyle really is.

Across the domains of education, careers, marriage, childbearing, health-risk behaviors, friendship, and parent-adult child relations, Henig and Henig compare today's young adults (specifically Millennials, who they define as being born between 1980-1990) to the Baby Boomer generation at the same ages. Each domain-specific chapter features a section marshaling arguments for "Now is New," another section making the case for "Same as it Ever Was," and a concluding section in which the authors declare a winner. Not to give away too much, but each side wins some of the time.

In drawing their conclusions, the authors draw both from published academic research and their own snowball survey of Robin's and Sam's friends and associates. The authors' collaborative writing style is also interesting. One of the two (usually Robin) took the lead in writing a given chapter, with the other inserting her own comments (set apart in italics). On the whole, Twenty-Something is informative and entertaining, and I highly recommend it.


*Amato, P. R. (2011). Transitions and sequences: Early family formation among women in emerging adulthood. In F. D. Fincham & M. Cui (Eds.), Romantic relationships in emerging adulthood (pp. 27–43). New York: Cambridge University Press.

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