There’s been a societal backlash against 20 and 30-somethings returning home when they can’t find a job after college. Pundits endlessly debate whether this is a societal, economic or generational issue, but according to Johns Hopkins professor Katherine Newman, the “accordion” or multigenerational family is all of the above.
In a revealing interview with Salon.com the author explained:
Generation Y was caught in “a series of unfortunate, overlapping trends.” Downsizing, outsourcing and employers’ general unease has slimmed the job pickings for Generation Y. They’re underpaid, languishing for years in dead-end jobs and taking unpaid internships just for the shot at having a real, fulfilling career.
Unlike their parents, who didn’t graduate into a crowded market, they’ve been forced to return home because they need someplace to live if they’re going to achieve what’s expected of them. “It’s just a bunch of really bad circumstances that have coincided and affected this generation in ways that have not been the case before,” Newman said.
Baby boomers and Gen Y have differing views on maturation. The former defined adulthood as having a home, tying the knot in their mid-twenties then going on to start a family. Today, a record 49 per cent of U.S. adults are unmarried and almost one in five men ages 25-34 is living at home. The difference? Baby boomers benefitted from post-second world war affluence—including higher wages and the GI Bill—that enabled them to live on their own and define that period of time to themselves as “normal.”
With boomers outnumbering millennials, it’s easy to define their experience as “normal,” but Newman said “it wasn’t normal before them and might not be after them.” Even before World War II, middle class families relied on every members’ wages to get ahead.
How we perceive accordion families differs by country and socio-economic status. Poor familes have lived in accordion families for decades, says Newman, pooling money and contributions from every member just to get by. But having meaningful work and viewing one’s career as part of one’s identity—not just a way to put a roof over your head—became intrinsic to American middle class values with the boomer generation.
Our views differ by country as well: Newman said Japanese view men living at home past their 30s as “overgrown babies” whereas Spain and Italy, two countries where accordion families are predominant, don’t see a problem at all.
Read the rest of Newman’s interview on Salon.com.
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