David Brooks, coined a new term for 20-45 year olds in a recent Op Ed piece in the New York Times: the Odyssey Generation
There used to be four common life phases: childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. Now, there are at least six: childhood, adolescence, odyssey, adulthood, active retirement and old age. Of the new ones, the least understood is odyssey, the decade of wandering that frequently occurs between adolescence and adulthood.
During this decade, 20-somethings go to school and take breaks from school. They live with friends and they live at home. They fall in and out of love. They try one career and then try another.
Hmm - reminds you of the characters on 'Friends'.
Their parents grow increasingly anxious. These parents understand that there's bound to be a transition phase between student life and adult life. But when they look at their own grown children, they see the transition stretching five years, seven and beyond. The parents don't even detect a clear sense of direction in their children's lives. They look at them and see the things that are being delayed.
They see that people in this age bracket are delaying marriage. They're delaying having children. They're delaying permanent employment...In 1960, roughly 70 percent of 30-year-olds had achieved these things. By 2000, fewer than 40 percent of 30-year-olds had done the same.
Brroks believes this trend will become more pronounced because that's how it is in Europe. He quotes William Galston of the Brookings Institute who notes that Europeans delay marriage even longer than Americans and spend even more years shifting around jobs, careers, degrees.
And of course, we're seeing all this happening in India also - although in small pockets. Social pressures in India are far stronger but young men and women who are economically independent and strong-willed are deferring marriage, for starters. Quitting your job to go 'back to studies' is acceptable (especially for MBAs), even with spouse and kid in tow. Even drastic career switches are not shocking and unheard of.
And kids from affluent families with liberal-minded parents are living very experimentally in their 20s. Taking up one job after the other merely to 'try it out'. Going abroad for esoteric courses with little or no employment value. Living without a real plan or idea of 'where I will be 5 years from now'.
All things considered however, I see more scope in India for odyssey in careers, education and search for overall meaning than odyssey in personal relationships. There are a few, very few young people who 'live in' but generally even they formalise the arrangement in due course. As one close friend who is getting married put it,"Nothing will change after marriage... but at least we can attend the Society dinner without having to answer awkward questions."
And overall sab log kitne khush hain. Both sides of the family are busy shopping and planning and plotting the various ceremonies and simply for the sake of the smiles on your grandmother's face you say, "Heck, kar lete hain."
Aur uske baad ek-do bachche wachche bhi.
So we in India will see the modified odyssey. The thodyssey. The urge to paraglide at 35. Get six pack abs at 40. Wear jeans - perhaps forever.
The warm cocoon of the Great Indian Family is hard to resist. We're a tropical species... Beyond may lie great adventures, but it can be lonely and cold.