Stages of Adulthood: Is Age A Number Or A Concept?

Does your actual age tell you anything about where you *are* in adulthood?

I got to thinking about this lately after two public policy proposals emerged that explicitly addressed this very question.

The first was a recommendation earlier this summer in Japan to lower the official age of adulthood from 20 to 18. The reasoning? To encourage young adults to vote, participate in society more and assume their own credit card debt. In short:  to cultivate a greater sense of responsibility, that hallmark of adulthood.

The second is a proposal thrown out at the Conservative Party Conference in the UK last week to raise the official retirement age in this country to 66 (It is currently 65 for men and 60 for women). The logic here is predominantly fiscal – to shore up budget deficits by paying out less in government pension schemes. But Conservative Party Leader David Cameron also noted that with average life expectancy at 86 (up from 81 five years ago), people can now be more productive at an older age. The upshot: we can elevate the age at which it is “reasonable” to stop working.

Me? At the risk of sounding like a Juicy Fruit commercial, I’ve always thought about the stages of adulthood as more of a feeling than a flavor. Which is to say, I don’t think numbers mean all that much when talking about things like responsibility and productivity. (Some nagging feeling tells me I’ve gotten my 1970s chewing gum commercials mixed up…perhaps another inadvertent sign of aging.)

Take middle age. As noted in this recent article in the Times On Line, middle age can technically be defined as lying anywhere between 35 and 65. But as the author points out, “middle age” is much more of an attitude than a precise time of life.

I was reminded of this over the weekend, when my husband and I had a younger colleague and his wife over for lunch. They were both probably in their early 30s – maybe 10 or 12 years younger than us – so not such a huge age difference. But what really struck me most as we talked was what a different place they were at in life. To wit:

1. Choosing what kind of job best suited their career ambitions vs. rethinking career entirely.

2. Exploring neighborhoods in London to find the best fit vs. grimly routing out rodents in effort to come to peace with (exceedingly well-located) closet.

3. Sleeping in until 11 am vs. not being able to remember a time when 7 didn’t feel self-indulgent.

I don’t say any of this with envy. (OK, maybe a tinge of envy.) I very much embrace the idea of life as one giant adventure, into which we never quite “settle in.” And I like to think that this is the feeling that carries us through the different stages of adulthood. Indeed, that is – in many ways – what this blog is all about.

But that lunch did serve one of those “aha” moments in life where you suddenly realize that you’ve…grown up. To wit: as soon as they departed, my husband began grumbling about needing to change his contact lenses. And I said that my back hurt and I really needed to go home and do my exercises.

Yup, folks. We’re middle aged.

*****

One of my quiet obsessions these days is what’s going on with the European Left. Here’s my post in yesterday’s PoliticsDaily.com about Ten Reasons the Left is Failing in Europe.

Image: The Taste is Gonna Mooova Ya by Pirate Johnny via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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5 Responses to Stages of Adulthood: Is Age A Number Or A Concept?

  1. Hi Delia – I just discovered your blog – nice! I’m glad I clicked over from the Happiness Project. I think middle age consists of act one, two, and three, and each act being is unique in its own right. Your example really illuminates that. Those 10 to 12 years don’t seem like much on the face of it, but dig a little deeper and they’re huge. Thanks for the thought provoking post!

  2. […] Yesterday, I talked about middle age as a set of attitudes. Today I’d like to complement that idea with five concrete signs that you’re middle aged: […]

  3. daryl boylan says:

    Since I’ve long since been & done the middle-age thing and am struggling with what comes later, I’m not the best target for these blogs — but!!! The Politics Daily pieces on abortion & the decline of the left really speak to me.

  4. […] In light of my own musings about whether or not stages of adulthood correspond with age, I found this article in the New York Times on redefining the financial age of adulthood to be […]

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