Not growing up

The New York Times has a fascinating article about “Why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up?“. It deals with the broader issue of how and when young adults move through phases of adulthood and how this has changed over the last 40 years.

It’s based on US research, so the parallel to South Africa isn’t perfect. On the other hand, it may prove predictive for our population.

A few snippets (it’s a long article, but well worth reading the whole thing):

  1. The median age at first marriage in the early 1970s was 21 for women and 23 for men; by 2009 it had climbed to 26 for women and 28 for men
  2. Definitions of adulthood vary widely – people can vote at 18, but in some states they don’t age out of foster care until 21. They can join the military at 18, but they can’t drink until 21. They can drive at 16, but they can’t rent a car until 25 without some hefty surcharges. If they are full-time students, the Internal Revenue Service considers them dependents until 24; those without health insurance will soon be able to stay on their parents’ plans even if they’re not in school until age 26, or up to 30 in some states.
  3. Definitions of adulthood are clearly not just a function of age. (and so our marketing to them should consider more subtle measures than simply age ~ David Kirk)
  4. As “emerging adults”, young men and women are more self-focused than at any other time of life, less certain about the future and yet also more optimistic, no matter what their economic background. This is where the “sense of possibilities” comes in, he says; they have not yet tempered their ideal­istic visions of what awaits. “The dreary, dead-end jobs, the bitter divorces, the disappointing and disrespectful children . . . none of them imagine that this is what the future holds for them”. Ask them if they agree with the statement “I am very sure that someday I will get to where I want to be in life,” and 96 percent of them will say yes.
  5. But despite elements that are exciting, even exhilarating, about being this age, there is a downside, too: dread, frustration, uncertainty, a sense of not quite understanding the rules of the game. More than positive or negative feelings, what Arnett heard most often was ambivalence — beginning with his finding that 60 percent of his subjects told him they felt like both grown-ups and not-quite-grown-ups.
  6. The 20s are when most people accumulate almost all of their formal education; when most people meet their future spouses and the friends they will keep; when most people start on the careers that they will stay with for many years. This is when adventures, experiments, travels, relationships are embarked on with an abandon that probably will not happen again.

This is thought-provoking stuff.

Marketing to this demographic must factor in South Africa’s demographic, social, economic and political changes over the last 40 years (and continuing development).

Further, marketers and communicators must consider how this changing pattern of early adulthood will affect these adults later in life. How it will affect their views and preferences, the goods they demand, who they listen to and what marketing works.

Published by David Kirk

The opinions expressed on this site are those of the author and other commenters and are not necessarily those of his employer or any other organisation. David Kirk runs Milliman’s actuarial consulting practice in Africa. He is an actuary and is the creator of New Business Margin on Revenue. He specialises in risk and capital management, regulatory change and insurance strategy . He also has extensive experience in embedded value reporting, insurance-related IFRS and share option valuation.

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