How Our Generation is Different: 2 Perspectives

If you read nothing else today, then read these two pieces, both of which provide a strong opinion about how our generation is different than all those that came before.

First, from David Brooks, is a piece called The Experience Economy. In it, Brooks argues that changes in the lifestyle preferences of the well-educated U.S. twenty-somethings may make it more difficult for the U.S. economy to create jobs and escape from its so-called mountain of debt. He points out that the emerging U.S. corporate giants like Facebook and Google employ far fewer people than their predecessors, such as Ford, GE, or Caterpillar.

Photo Credit: New York Times

Brooks argues that

in an industrial economy people develop a materialist mind-set and believe that improving their income is the same thing as improving their quality of life. But in an affluent information-driven world, people embrace the postmaterialist mind-set. They realize they can improve their quality of life without actually producing more wealth.”

He creates a hypothetical twentysomething named Jared and describes him like this:

Jared, was born in 1978. Jared wasn’t really drawn to the brake-systems business, which was withering in America. He works at a company that organizes conferences. He brings together fascinating speakers for lifelong learning. He writes a blog on modern art and takes his family on vacations that are more daring and exciting than any Sam experienced.

Jared lives a much more intellectually diverse life than Sam. He loves Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and his iPhone apps. But many of these things are produced outside the conventional monetized economy. Most of the products are produced by people working for free. They cost nothing to consume.

for Jared, wealth and living standards have diverged. He is more interested in the latter than the former. This means that Jared has some rich and meaningful experiences, but it has also led to problems. Every few months, new gizmos come out. Jared feels his life is getting better. Because he doesn’t fully grasp the increasingly important distinction between wealth and standard of living, he has the impression that he is also getting richer. As a result, he lives beyond his means. As Cowen notes, many of our recent difficulties stem from the fact that many Americans think they are richer than they are.

Second is a more provocative opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal titled “Where Have The Good Men Gone?” by Kay Hymowitz.

Photo Credit: Wall Street Journal

pre-adulthood represents a momentous sociological development. It’s no exaggeration to say that having large numbers of single young men and women living independently, while also having enough disposable income to avoid ever messing up their kitchens, is something entirely new in human experience.

What also makes pre-adulthood something new is its radical reversal of the sexual hierarchy. Among pre-adults, women are the first sex. They graduate from college in greater numbers (among Americans ages 25 to 34, 34% of women now have a bachelor’s degree but just 27% of men), and they have higher GPAs. As most professors tell it, they also have more confidence and drive.

The past decades’ economic expansion and the digital revolution have transformed the high-end labor market into a fierce competition for the most stimulating, creative and glamorous jobs. Fields that attract ambitious young men and women often require years of moving between school and internships, between internships and jobs, laterally and horizontally between jobs, and between cities in the U.S. and abroad. The knowledge economy gives the educated young an unprecedented opportunity to think about work in personal terms. They are looking not just for jobs but for “careers,” work in which they can exercise their talents and express their deepest passions. They expect their careers to give shape to their identity. For today’s pre-adults, “what you do” is almost synonymous with “who you are,” and starting a family is seldom part of the picture.

like adolescence, pre-adulthood is a class-based social phenomenon, reserved for the relatively well-to-do. Those who don’t get a four-year college degree are not in a position to compete for the more satisfying jobs of the knowledge economy.

pre-adults don’t know what is supposed to come next. For them, marriage and parenthood come in many forms, or can be skipped altogether. In 1970, just 16% of Americans ages 25 to 29 had never been married; today that’s true of an astonishing 55% of the age group.

Pre-adulthood has also confounded the primordial search for a mate. It has delayed a stable sense of identity, dramatically expanded the pool of possible spouses, mystified courtship routines and helped to throw into doubt the very meaning of marriage.

Today’s pre-adult male is like an actor in a drama in which he only knows what he shouldn’t say. He has to compete in a fierce job market, but he can’t act too bossy or self-confident. He should be sensitive but not paternalistic, smart but not cocky. To deepen his predicament, because he is single, his advisers and confidants are generally undomesticated guys just like him.

So are they right?

Is Hymowitz spot-on or missing the point when she suggests that the role of men in a knowledge-based society is in a state of growing pains as we adjust to the new gender parity?

Is Brooks making a premature generalization when he says that our generation consciously looks for experiences instead of wealth? Are we really content to have a meaningful job as long as it allows us a moderately comfortable standard of living, but now ambitious to generate wealth for wealth’s sake?

Are we content to settle for meaningful jobs and a post-materialist jobs even if means that we are a little less rich, a little less productive, and a little less competitive?

And is this really a problem?

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2 Comments

Filed under Life, Our Generation

2 responses to “How Our Generation is Different: 2 Perspectives

  1. Jory

    Good post Dave. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this paradigm shift, isnt it the way it should be?

  2. Pingback: Every Vacation Must End | not just wandering

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