In poorer households, these accordion families have always been there. There’s nothing new there, because lower-income people have had to pool their incomes for generations, because to keep the household afloat you had to have everybody working and everybody contributing – and by the way, that was true for many middle-class households before the Second World War.
So this period of time which we come to see as normal – of young people leaving home; and spending time on their own before they marry; and their parents having an empty nest – that’s a phenomenon of the post-Second World War period of great affluence. It created a huge boom in wages, and burgeoning opportunities in the white-collar world. We’re not there anymore and we might not be again. We think of it as normal – and I think this is an important point – because the generations that experienced that “normal” are so huge. They dominate the social scene. They’re the baby-boom generation. That was their normal, but it wasn’t normal before them and it may not be after them.
A number of college grads not having a really clear, defined career path are often returning home to “figure out what to do next.” Is this a privilege of class or reflective of a deeper social or cultural value?
Class has something to do with it, but there is something else going on. When I [used to] talk to my grandparents, they never thought that work was something that gave you meaning – it was just the way you put the roof over your head. But suddenly in the boomer generation, you have a very different way of thinking about work: It’s to be valuable, meaningful, honorable, enjoyable, a source of identity. That has now become a kind of standard for the way we think work should be. We have accepted the notion that our children ought to have jobs that are meaningful, not just a job that puts a roof over your head.
She took the words right outta my mouth, she did. It’s like Emerson said — “…a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.” No shame here, though; I’m just glad to hear someone else saying it.
I wonder, though, if her book addresses one of the most far-reaching consequences of this likely return to prewar standards of living; namely, the loss of the ne plus ultra of Internet insults, the scarlet L of loserdom: accusations of dwelling in the basement of one’s parents.