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Millennials Turn 40! (Millennials Turn “Middle-Aged”)

Millennials Turn 40! (Millennials Turn “Middle-Aged”)

Jessica Grose, Opinion Writer for the New York Times has a wonderfully insightful essay on the current status of millennials – “This is a joke, right? Who has midlife-crisis money?”….she writes

I was born in 1982, and by some definitions of the term, that means I’m among the oldest millennials. My fellow ’82 babies will remember that when we turned 18, there was a mess of coverage around our coming-of-age as the class of 2000: CBS News published a whole book about us. Another tome, “Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation,” predicted a rosy future for us.

The class of 2000 turned 40 last year. And while many of us don’t want to claim the title “middle-aged,” chronologically we’re at the midpoint of our lives. In August, I asked readers born from 1977 to 1984 (Xennials, if you like) how they felt about their lives, whether they thought the term “middle-aged” applied to them and whether they identified with the idea of a midlife crisis. Over 1,300 people answered, and my colleagues and I read through every one of your responses.

I had many conversations with my fellow 40-somethings, read a ton of books about midlife throughout the generations and spoke to experts who’ve been studying middle age — a vastly understudied life stage — for decades. 

The overarching theme that emerged from those conversations and studies is that American 40-somethings grew up at a particularly stable time, economically and politically, amid a widely held expectation that prosperity would more or less be a constant. But instead, we’ve been struggling to gain a foothold in the housing market and our careers are erratic.

Culturally, a midlife crisis is thought of and depicted as a reaction to a staid, married and settled life. But if there wasn’t any stasis, what’s there to rebel against? To put it bluntly, as Elizabeth Hora, born in 1983 and living in Utah, did: “This is a joke, right? Who has midlife-crisis money? That’s a boomer problem, not a millennial problem. We just increase our Lexapro.”

An up-to-the minute example of this paradox is that a decade ago, some of our elders told us we should stop whining, stop wasting our money on avocado toast and lattes, and learn to code. Some millennials listened and took tech industry jobs, thinking that was the surest way to build a sturdy, upwardly-mobile future.

Well, this week, Meta announced plans to lay off 10,000 more workers and the Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse continues to reverberate throughout the tech sector. Taking that coding class didn’t exactly solve all our problems, did it?

It isn’t that millennials have it worse than every generation that came before. Folks in nearly every generation have been wracked by events beyond their control. Many generations clearly had it worse. My argument is that our generational problems aren’t, by and large, existential; they’re material, and very specific — and we need to recognize that if we’re going to have chance at solving them.

There’s one last thought, only a snippet of which made it into the essay, but that I loved and wanted to share in full, because it feels like a fixture of midlife for any generation. That’s the feeling that all of a sudden, pop culture no longer makes as much sense to you. Jess Durham, who was also born in 1982 and lives in Seattle, put it perfectly:

I have to make an effort for young person culture to make sense to me, like mom jeans and Emma Chamberlain. It’s effortless when you’re at the center of it all. It feels like the world has moved on … I realized an adult I met recently was born after the first Strokes album came out and it’s like the floor fell out from under me. Now I relentlessly assess all young people relative to “Is This It” and it sucks.

Doesn’t it, though?

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