Times Discovers 33-Year-Olds Are 17

The Times checks in again on an old story about the pampered young, once again telling us what we already know.

That the New York Times Thursday Styles section sometimes repeats itself has been established.

Today, at first glance, it appeared as though Styles had done it again — dusted off an old “trend” story and presented it as new. Upon closer examination, however, we see that today’s story is less of a rehash of a previous piece and more of, well, let’s call it an update.

Back in July of 2005, Thursday Styles’ Stephanie Rosenbloom reported that some parents were turning the other cheek as their visiting adult children made off with small-ticket items from their homes (toilet paper, razors, socks, maybe a chair). These entitled young people pinched from their parents in order to “cut costs” or avoid “paying for incidentals,” part of a trend, we were told, called “emerging adulthood” (aka perpetual adolescence).

Today, in a Thursday Styles piece headlined, “The Bank of Mom and Dad,” reporter Anna Bahney informs us that parents are ponying up to pay their adult children’s rent or otherwise subsidizing their offspring’s lives to the tune of thousands of dollars per year — again, evidence that more young adults today “take the scenic route from adolescence to adulthood.”

From swiped toiletries to cash subsidies in less than a year? Slippery slope, indeed.

But for parents worried that their generosity is actually driving Junior to put off adulthood, fear not! Bob Scheni, an associate professor at the University of Michigan, conducted a study on just this topic which, Bahney reports, “suggested that extended education, the exploration of career options and delayed marriage are the causes of the long transition to self-sufficiency. Parental support ‘is not the driver of a delayed transition, it is a response to it.’” In other words, parents aren’t causing their 33-year-olds to behave as 19-year-olds, but they are subsidizing that behavior. (After all, the decision to “extend” your education and go for that PhD in medieval poetry is undoubtedly a lot easier to make when you know Mom will pay your way — and pick up your cable bill, to boot.)

A hallmark of trend-sniffing pieces (TSP’s to connoisseurs) of this sort is a reliance on multiple experts like Dr. Scheni (who also made an appearance in Rosenbloom’s piece of last July), whose quotes, the reporter hopes, lend an aura of authority to what is otherwise a motley collection of anecdotes. Today’s story includes three such voices — an academic, a think tanker/author, and a developmental psychologist/author.

Sometimes, however, the reporter’s quest for legitimacy goes too far and an expert is called upon to tell readers something that their common sense could cover. For example, in today’s piece, Bahney writes: “Other experts say that young adults with material support from families make a smoother transition into adulthood than those struggling entirely on their own.”

You mean there are twenty-somethings out there who don’t get checks from mom and dad and they sometimes have a hard time making rent and pursuing their dreams of becoming America’s next top model?

We won’t hold our breath for a Styles piece on those unlucky kids.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.