4 Ways Our 20s Are Different Than Our Parents' 20s

When my dad prefaces a story with, "When I was in my 20s," it's a signal to my siblings and me that we'd better find a comfy seat — we're in for a long talk. Each of us in various stages of our 20s (although Mary has just a few sweet weeks left), we often fall victim to these chats.

Don't get me wrong; my dad's stories of his yesteryears are almost always entertaining, and usually prove to be relatively helpful. Nonetheless, more than anything, they time and time again show how different our parents' 20s were from ours. Some differences are clearly positive, others are not as obviously good or bad, but there's no doubt that multiple differences contribute to the fact that being in your 20s today is a whole 'nother ball game than it was for our parents.

1. We're not married, and we don't have plans to be anytime soon

For our parents, their 20s was "the decade of marriage and babies." In 1980, the average age of men at their first marriage was about 25 years old; the average age for women was about 22. Although these averages were higher than decades past, they are low compared to marital statistics now.

Today, marriage, which was formerly the next logical step after graduation, is something that rarely factors into milliennials' near-future plans. Instead, men on average marry at an age about two years older than their fathers were when they first wed, and women are about three years older than their mothers were. When Princess Di walked down the aisle in 1981, she had just turned 21; Kate Middleton was 29 when she married Prince William in 2011, making her the oldest royal bride to be married for the first time and demonstrating the obvious shift in marital expectations from then to now. 

Of course, some still marry in their early 20s today and everyone has a friend of a friend from Alabama who was busy planning her wedding during finals, but these situations are few and far between. Instead, 20-somethings are delaying marriage, and bonus — we're living together first, something that was far rarer when our parents were our age. The societal expectation to get married in our 20s has disappeared, and has arguably been replaced with a stigma against those who do choose to marry young. Nowadays, 20-somethings are expected to enjoy the single life, with our 30s being the new 20s as far as marriage and babies are concerned.

2. We have Facebook, cell phones, and tons of other technologies at our fingertips

Facebook, cell phones, and other modern technologies have changed everything. When our parents wanted to get to know someone, they had to speak to that person face to face (crazy, I know). As awkward 20-somethings, they had to work up the courage to talk to that person, and then eventually ask for his or her number — not a cell phone number that could be used to send a nonchalant text, but a home number that they'd plan to call at a certain time.

Facebook and cell phones particularly, but social media as a whole, has changed all of that. Facebook certainly has its perks. It makes it easier to meet people, and stay in touch. You have a place to share your photos. You can even argue that Facebook allows you to keep up with current affairs (if by "current affairs," you mean the everyday activities of your ex, of course). The downside to Facebook is that we're addicted, and many of us in our 20s today spend more time on Facebook than actually interacting face to face.

The average American spends eight hours a month on Facebook, with millennials spending a particularly substantial amount of their free time on the website. As a generation, we miss out on the face-to-face interactions that our parents had with their peers. We seem to be just as content online than actually with friends, and when we do make plans, we're that much more likely to break them since all it takes is a simple text message twenty minutes before the scheduled meet-up time. For our parents, cancelling plans was rarely an option, as it was logistically nearly impossible unless it was done well in advance. Without a doubt, the advent of social media has created a major divide between the social conventions of our parents' 20s and those of ours.

3. We don't know how to date

In large part, perhaps, because we have Facebook and cell phones, those of us in our 20s today don't know how to date, at least as far as dating goes as defined by our parents. When our parents were our age, dating someone meant what I think it's supposed to mean; they went on actual dates to dances, the movies, whatever.

Nowadays, it's considered a date if he (or she) invites you over to order in Chinese and smoke while watching Game of Thrones. Our generation has created, and thus is a product of, the hook up culture. Recently exposed in Alex Williams's "The End of Courtship?" published in the New York Times, the 20-somethings dating scene is all about decoding cryptic texts and undergoing multiple tests just to become someone's "sort of" significant other. While some embrace the hook up culture (mostly non-committal guys, but also women who claim to find it empowering), most see it as a slippery slope, and instead long for the traditional dating of our parents' generation. The fewer times I have to decipher what "meeting up" may actually entail, the better.

4. We don't have everything figured out yet, and that's okay. In fact, it's celebrated

Say what you will about whether Hannah is the voice of our generation or not, Girls has one thing spot on: Our generation has very little figured out. The show's slogan, "Almost getting it kind of together," exemplifies this. Unlike when our parents were in their 20s and had definite plans for the future, our 20s are focused on self-discovery and using this decade, the "prime of our lives" if you will, to figure out exactly what it is that we want — so we'll have it together by our 30s, I suppose.

Considering the economy and the fact that our generation has been plagued by a lack of available jobs, there's hardly any stigma attached to being jobless in your 20s. Much more so than our parents, we're encouraged — often, in fact, by our parents — to use our 20s as a time to be selfish. Our 20s are seen as the time to find ourselves and what makes us happy, whether that means working odd jobs till you land your dream one, quitting your job to travel for six months (because when else will you be able to if not in your 20s), or leaving your high-paying finance job to start a blog. 

Of course, this is the romanticized version of our current 20s that we find in shows such as Girls that celebrate the fact that few 20-somethings have any semblance of a plan. Some of us have to turn down these "finding ourselves" opportunities due to financial or familial pressures. Yet though some boundaries may still exist, our generation of 20-somethings are much less burdened by a societal expectation, at least, that our future plans need to be cemented upon graduation. Instead, our 20s are considered our "learning and growing" years — the time to figure out what we want before we reach our 30s, which are arguably the new 20s. So maybe the next time my dad begins telling one of his 20-something stories, I'll tuck away the tips for when I reach my 30s.