Twixters Trouble.

As a parent if you want to read one scary article try TIME magazine’s Meet The Twixters.

In a piece with far ranging social implications, Lev Grossman outlines the dilemma of 20-28 year-olds who either won’t or CAN”T grow up. Here are some highlights.

1) WHAT IS A TWIXTER? [Social scientists are starting to realize that a permanent shift has taken place in the way we live our lives. In the past, people moved from childhood to adolescence and from adolescence to adulthood, but today there is a new, intermediate phase along the way. The years from 18 until 25 and even beyond have become a distinct and separate life stage, a strange, transitional never-never land between adolescence and adulthood in which people stall for a few extra years, putting off the iron cage of adult responsibility that constantly threatens to crash down on them. They’re betwixt and between. You could call them twixters. Where did the twixters come from? And what’s taking them so long to get where they’re going? Some of the sociologists, psychologists and demographers who study this new life stage see it as a good thing. The twixters aren’t lazy, the argument goes, they’re reaping the fruit of decades of American affluence and social liberation. This new period is a chance for young people to savor the pleasures of irresponsibility, search their souls and choose their life paths. But more historically and economically minded scholars see it differently. They are worried that twixters aren’t growing up because they can’t.]

2) They are college educated but can’t get jobs in their field. [College is the institution most of us entrust to watch over the transition to adulthood, but somewhere along the line that transition has slowed to a crawl. In a TIME poll of people ages 18 to 29, only 32% of those who attended college left school by age 21. In fact, the average college student takes five years to finish. The era of the four-year college degree is all but over. Swann graduated in 2002 as a newly minted cognitive scientist, but the job he finally got a few months later was as a waiter in Atlanta. He waited tables for the next year and a half. It proved to be a blessing in disguise. Swann says he learned more real-world skills working in restaurants than he ever did in school. “It taught me how to deal with people. What you learn as a waiter is how to treat people fairly, especially when they’re in a bad situation.” That’s especially valuable in his current job as an insurance-claims examiner. There are several lessons about twixters to be learned from Swann’s tale. One is that most colleges are seriously out of step with the real world in getting students ready to become workers in the postcollege world. Meanwhile, those expensive, time-sucking college diplomas have become worth less than ever. So many more people go to college now–a 53% increase since 1970–that the value of a degree on the job market has been diluted. The advantage in wages for college-degree holders hasn’t risen significantly since the late 1990s, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

3) They are fun oriented more than career or marriage oriented. [With everything else that’s going on–careers to be found, debts to be paid, bars to be hopped–love is somewhat secondary in the lives of the twixters. But that doesn’t mean they’re cynical about it. Au contraire: among our friends from Chicago–Michele, Ellen, Nathan, Corinne, Marcus and Jennie–all six say they are not ready for marriage yet but do want it someday, preferably with kids. Naturally, all that is comfortably situated in the eternally receding future. Thirty is no longer the looming deadline it once was. In fact, five of the Chicago six see marriage as a decidedly post-30 milestone. “It’s a long way down the road,” says Marcus Jones, 28, a comedian who works at Banana Republic by day. “I’m too self-involved. I don’t want to bring that into a relationship now.” He expects to get married in his mid- to late 30s. “My wife is currently a sophomore in high school,” he jokes.”I want to get married but not soon,” says Jennie Jiang, 26, a sixth-grade teacher. “I’m enjoying myself. There’s a lot I want to do by myself still.” “I have my career, and I’m too young,” says Michele Steele, 26, a TV producer. “It’s commitment and sacrifice, and I think it’s a hindrance. Lo and behold, people have come to the conclusion that it’s not much fun to get married and have kids right out of college.” ]

4) They are promiscuous romantics. [Marrying late also means that twixters tend to have more sexual partners than previous generations. The situation is analogous to their promiscuous job-hopping behavior–like Goldilocks, they want to find the one that’s just right–but it can give them a cynical, promiscuous vibe too. Arnett is worried that if anything, twixters are too romantic. In their universe, romance is totally detached from pragmatic concerns and societal pressures, so when twixters finally do marry, they’re going to do it for Love with a capital L and no other reason. “Everybody wants to find their soul mate now,” Arnett says, “whereas I think, for my parents’ generation–I’m 47–they looked at it much more practically. I think a lot of people are going to end up being disappointed with the person that’s snoring next to them by the time they’ve been married for a few years and they realize it doesn’t work that way.”]

5) Mom and Dad usually subsidize them so they are major consumers, spending their income on non-essentials (I thought they had college loans to pay and were distressed because they’ll never be able to afford a house of their own!). [Pop culture may reflect the changes in our lives, but it also plays its part in shaping them. Marketers have picked up on the fact that twixters on their personal voyages of discovery tend to buy lots of stuff along the way. “They are the optimum market to be going after for consumer electronics, Game Boys, flat-screen TVs, iPods, couture fashion, exotic vacations and so forth,” says David Morrison, president of Twentysomething Inc., a marketing consultancy based in Philadelphia. “Most of their needs are taken care of by Mom and Dad, so their income is largely discretionary. [Many twentysomethings] are living at home, but if you look, you’ll see flat-screen TVs in their bedrooms and brand-new cars in the driveway.” Some twixters may want to grow up, but corporations and advertisers have a real stake in keeping them in a tractable, exploitable, pre-adult state–living at home, spending their money on toys. ]

According to the Twixter Survey this is a generation that thinks they are adults, though they have not met their own definition of adulthood (moving out of their parent’s home, getting a good job and having their first child). They are deeply in debt, yet spend money on eating out, clothes and entertainment rather than paying off the debt and saving for their future. They took more than four years to finish college and still don’t know what they want to do professionally. Nobody likes to be labeled–not Boomer’s, X’er’s or Twixters, but it is difficult to read the description of this demographic without wanting to affix derogatory labels to a generation we love, but are subsidizing in a rootless, irresponsible holding pattern. Why not require them to do what centuries of humans have done–grow up.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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