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April 17, 2012

Why 30 is Not the New 20

Posted by tbrmaureen

Dr. Meg Jay, a therapist for twentysomethings, and author of THE DEFINING DECADE --- on-sale today --- tells us why your 20s matter and how tomake the most of them now

A “thirty-is-the-new-twenty culture” tells us that the twentysomething years don’t matter. Some say they are an extended adolescence, others call them an emerging adulthood. This so-called “changing timetable for adulthood” hasdemoted twentysomethings “not-quite-adults” just when they need to engage the most.

Of course it is better to go to college before you get married, and to have your kids in your 20s and 30s rather than your teens. But the “slower path to adulthood” message has been widely misunderstood by the media and by twentysomethings themselves to mean that doing something later—and later and later—is somehow automatically the same as doing something better.  Twentysomethings everywhere have been caught in a swirl of hype and misunderstanding, much of which has trivialized what is actually the most defining decade of our adult lives.

Consider this.

80% of life’s most defining moments take place by age 35.  70% of lifetime wage growth happens in the first ten years of a career, and salaries peak and plateau in our 40s.  More than 50% of Americans are married, or are dating or living with their future partner, by age 30, while female fertility peaks at about age 28. In addition, the brain caps off its last growth spurt in our 20s, meaning that our twentysomething lives are still wiring us to be the adults we will be.  Personality can change more during our 20s than at any other time in life.

Far from being an irrelevant downtime, our 20s are a developmental sweet spot that comes only once.  These years are a crucial, pivotal time when the things we do --- and the things we don’t do --- will have an enormous effect across years and even generations to come.

I know this because even more compelling than my work with twentysomethings are my sessions with the earliest postponers, the now-thirtysomethings and fortysomethings who wish they’d done things differently. I have witnessed the true heartache that accompanies the realization that life is not going to add up. Too many smart, well-meaning thirtysomethings and fortysomethings grieve a little as they face a lifetime of trying to catch up.  They look at themselves --- and at me sitting across the room --- and say about their 20s, “What was I doing? What was I thinking?”  We may hear that thirty is the new twenty, but when it comes to love and work and the brain and the body, forty is definitely not the new thirty.

I urge twentysomethings everywhere to reclaim their twenties, their status as adults, and their futures. Don’t be defined by what you didn’t know or didn’t do. You are deciding your life right now.