Do today’s youth need more time to grow up?
In many countries around the world, people are legal adults when they reach age 16. It’s 18 in places like the U.S., Kenya and Nigeria. But a new Ipsos poll about youth attitudes and behaviors indicates that young people want some hallmarks of maturity to come later. What’s more, recent societal trends and scientific research agree.
The age people should reach before marriage is about 24 years old, according to an Ipsos poll of youth in 15 countries, on behalf of the Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers campaign. They also say the best age for a woman to have a child is about 25 or 26. They may be on to something.
Youth spend more time in adolescence
Developmentally, adolescence stretches to age 24, according to a study published in the Lancet. It says that while puberty starts it earlier and earlier, this period “now occupies a greater portion of the life course than ever before at a time when unprecedented social forces, including marketing and digital media, are affecting health and wellbeing across these years.” The study also calls for a broader definition of adolescence to better frame “laws, social policies, and service systems.”
While that could delay a host of legal rights and obligations for emerging adults, societal trends are already there.
Marriage and parenting ages at record highs
“I’m surprised that that average age is only 24 in terms of what youth think is the right age to get married because we’ve gone beyond that now,” says Dr. William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings institution. “It’s 27.4 for women and 29.5 for men in the U.S. as of 2017,” he adds, citing Census Bureau data. “The trend to delay marriage is strong, especially for Millennials and people who want to invest in their future and college,” he says. The median age of first marriage rose dramatically since the women’s movement of the 1970s and is at its highest age since the 1890s, Frey adds.
Similarly, American youth’s ideal age for parenthood lines up with the record high mean age of 26.6 for mothers at first births. That’s according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.
Adolescents are practicing those three behaviors from early childhood in many families in varying degrees. Nearly three in five youth globally do chores or care for family for a few hours to all day, per the Ipsos poll. That compares to about two in five American youth. Conversely, minors in the U.S. spend more time working for pay than their global peers. Roughly a third of American youth work for pay from a few hours to most of the day. One quarter of youth globally do that.
For some youth, pregnancy, economic and political turmoil, parental death and gun violence force them to grow up sooner. As a result, many young people feel more knowledgeable and interested in changing how their government handles things that directly affect their lives.
At the same time, young people push back on adulthood. They sparked a meme on social media about “adulting” to express their inability, and lack of interest or confidence to act like grown-ups. That meme reached its peak in 2016 and still is widely used today even amid backlash to it.
“All of this is putting off getting to the starting line of adulthood is because people are enlightened or forced to think about or getting signals from their parents that if you’re going to stand on your own two feet, you have to do a lot of preparation to get to that,” Frey says. He mused that as the economy improves, the generation that follows Millennials could be ready to be adults at lower ages.
Only time will tell.