Why 30 is not the new 20

In her Ted Talk “Why 30 is not the new 20,” psychologist Meg Jay argues young adults are doing themselves a developmental disservice by viewing their 20’s as a time of purposeless exploration. Jay makes  the following claims and instructions throughout her presentation:

  • 80% of life’s defining moments occur before the age of 35.
  • A person’s 20’s are now seen by some researchers as an extended adolescence.
  • 20-somethings need identity capital (meaningful experience such as internships or work).
  • Personality changes more in the 20’s than in any other developmental stage (excluding ages 0-5).
  • Don’t limit yourself with a small friend group; rather, make many weak ties to increase opportunities.
  • Be as “intentional with love as you are with work.”
  • “Claim your adulthood.”

Jay’s indirect and underlying message is that instead of pushing back developmental milestones with greater longevity, we as humans should be striving to achieve ever higher levels of development. With more time, we should be searching for a greater sense of self and looking to larger outside issues we wouldn’t ordinarily have time to address, instead of killing time.

One argument against calling 30’s the new 20’s Jay doesn’t mention is that regardless of the fact that humans have more time, we are still 20-somethings only once. Our time is still limited. We can’t compare the time we have to the time past generations had as extra because it is the norm for our generation. Time is not a matter for comparison: it is a gift we should actively utilize to achieve ever higher goals.

Jonathan Haidt is another notable psychologist who argues the 20s are developmentally essential.In his novel The Happiness Hypothesis, Haidt mentions an adversity sweet spot during early adulthood (20s) in which people experience the most growth following adversity. For example, Haidt cites longitudinal studies of young people during World War II and The Great Depression. Those who were in their 20’s when they first experienced strong adversity like this were more likely to bounce back and contribute to society following the adversity than people who were 30 or older facing the same trauma.

The 20’s mark a vital period of growth. Instead of avoiding the pressures they entail, Meg Jay encourages 20-somethings to “claim your adulthood.”




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