Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?


What does it mean to be young today?

In the summer of 2010, Robin Marantz Henig wrote a provocative article for the New York Times Magazine called “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” It generated enormous reader response and started a conversation that included both millennials and baby boomers. Now, working with her millennial daughter Samantha, she expands the project to give us a full portrait of what it means to be in your twenties today.


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Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?

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What does it mean to be young today?

In the summer of 2010, Robin Marantz Henig wrote a provocative article for the New York Times Magazine called “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” It generated enormous reader response and started a conversation that included both millennials and baby boomers. Now, working with her millennial daughter Samantha, she expands the project to give us a full portrait of what it means to be in your twenties today.

Looking through many lenses, the Henigs ask whether emerging adulthood has truly become a new rite of passage. They examine the latest neuroscience and psychological research, the financial pressures young people face now, changing cultural expectations, the aftereffects of helicopter parenting, and the changes that have arisen from social media and all things Internet. Most important, they have surveyed more than 120 millennials and baby boomers to give voice to both viewpoints of a conversation that is usually one-sided.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

What began as a New York Times Magazine piece and then a viral sensation became a full-bodied, lively exchange of generational opinions and practices about everything from dating, friendship, and marriage to schooling, debt, birth control, and childbearing. The most advantageous way for Millennials to meet Baby Boomers.

Publishers Weekly
After New York Times Magazine writer Henig penned a piece on 20-somethings that went “viral,” she teamed up with her 27-year-old daughter, Samantha (NYT Magazine online news editor), to explore the topic in greater depth. The mother-daughter duo covers schooling, career choices, love and marriage, having babies, moving away from home, and other milestones, concluding that many of these issues are now delayed by at least five years. The authors base their findings on an admittedly nonscientific sampling of 127 respondents who answered their questionnaire as well as on current scientific research, and wrap up each chapter with a final judgment on whether the issue is either the “Same as It Ever Was” (as in friendship and marriage) or “Now is New” (as in schooling and childbearing). Many of their conclusions resonate with the work of psychologist Jeffrey Arnett, who has argued that there is a new developmental stage called “emerging adulthood,” characterized by identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between, and seeing a sense of possibilities. While Boomers and “Millennials” have much in common, clearly this generation of 20-somethings confronts some unprecedented difficulties and changes, including escalating college costs and debt, the option to use reproductive technology for later childbearing, and the belief that access to the Internet is a fundamental human need, right up there with air and water. With humor and insight, the authors deftly volley commentary and observation across the generation gap. (Nov.)
Kirkus Reviews
A mother and daughter examine the millennials, children born in the United States from 1980 through 1990. New York Times Magazine contributing writer Robin Henig (Pandora's Baby: How the First Test Tube Babies Sparked the Reproductive Revolution, 2004, etc.) and daughter Samantha--online news editor at the same magazine--expand on a feature article by Robin that appeared in that magazine in 2010. The millennial generation has been stereotyped as lazy, unable to find meaningful jobs and much more--most of it uncomplimentary. The authors keep their primary focus on whether the millenials are really that different from Baby Boomers and other generations. In nine substantive chapters, each built around a specific issue (career choices, marriage, parenthood, friendship, etc.), the Henigs present evidence and issue a verdict about whether the millennial generation is indeed different from earlier generations. When the point of view switches from mother to daughter, a frequently refreshing change that is never confusing, the change is stated directly or a new typeface appears. Robin and Samantha do not hide all their disagreements, within the nuclear family or as collaborating authors, but they seem to agree on most of the issues. The three realms they conclude are substantially different from generations past are whether and when to become parents; whether and how to pay for education beyond high school; and sorting through a wider range of choices when reaching personal or professional crossroads. Some of the realms that apparently have not changed much include career prospects, how to stay healthy, and the importance of close friends. An examination that escapes the dangers of overgeneralization to provide provocative information presented compellingly.
From the Publisher
Must Read for November 2012
Oprah Magazine

"The fullest guide through this territory...a densely researched report on the state of middle-class young people today."
The New Yorker
“Provocative information presented compellingly”
“With humor and insight, the authors deftly volley commentary and observation across the generation gap”
Publishers Weekly

 “In this provocative, comprehensive, and often very funny examination of the phenomenon of 'twentysomething,' Robin Marantz Henig and Samantha Henig provide the perspective of two generations on this new stage of life. Anyone who is twentysomething, is related to a twentysomething, or works with a twentysomething, will want to read this book."

—Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project

“Parents will love this fascinating, fact-packed mother-daughter dialogue, and so will their 'emerging adult' sons and daughters. If you think today's young people are another species entirely, you've forgotten way too much about your own early struggles and screwups.”

—Katha Pollitt, author of Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories

“Losing sleep because you think your grown kids are behaving like the characters in the HBO series, 'Girls'? Twentysomething will calm your nerves. Smart, well-researched, down-to-earth and lively, this mother-daughter collaboration is chock full of important insight into the newest generation coming of age.”
—Jane Isay, author of Walking on Eggshells and Mom Still Likes You Best

“Mixing rigorous empirical evidence, testimony from twentysomethings themselves, and the astute observations of a mother and her twentysomething daughter, this insightful and engaging book shows us that sound bites and slogans are just not up to the task of capturing life as it being lived by young adults. Highly recommended!"

—Barry Schwartz, Ph.D. author of The Paradox of Choice and Practical Wisdom

“If you want to understand young people in the decade after college graduation—their anxiety about work and relationships, intensity of friendships, and feelings of drive and dislocation—this book is the perfect guide. Robin Marantz Henig and Samantha Henig weave the relevant research into an entertaining narrative, and their mother-daughter patter is a pure delight.”

—Emily Bazelon, author of Sticks and Stones: The New Problem of Bullying and How To Solve It

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594630965
  • Publisher: Hudson Street Press
  • Publication date: 11/8/2012
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,517,416
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Meet the Author

Acclaimed science journalist ROBIN MARANTZ HENIG is the author of eight books and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine. In 2010 she received a lifetime achievement award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors and a Guggenheim Foundation grant.

SAMANTHA HENIG is the online news editor of the New York Times Magazine.

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Read an Excerpt

What follows is some of the best and most relevant research available—not about the statistics of college debt or unemployment, but about the psychology of being on the verge of the rest of your life.

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