It is no secret that those in my generation, the millennial generation, have been known for trying to extend adolescence and the simple joys of youth well past the point where past generations would have settled down, married and had kids, and otherwise started doing things we associate with being a real grownup.
Of course, this is by no means universal and is probably overplayed. But it does seem true that it is more common for people in my generation to delay things like marriage, child-bearing, home ownership, and other milestones of adulthood. The trope of men in their late twenties or early thirties who go to work in the day to pay the bills and then return to the apartment or house they share with multiple roommates and play video games until bed is not based on nothing.
The other day I saw something, a meme specifically, that got me thinking: could part of the reason millennials aren't so quick to fill the traditional roles adulthood (marriage, kids, demanding career) is because older generations have been so quick to tell millennials how terrible life is when you get older? From our pessimistic parents lamenting how life is just always out to get you, to older adults taunting younger adults about life only gets way harder, could it be that somewhere along the line, younger people just got to thinking that if older people seem so unhappy, maybe it makes sense to not live like older people do? If all you hear about marriage is how much married people don't like each other and either tolerate each other or get divorced, might that take some of the luster out of marriage? If all you hear about having kids is how hard and draining and life-consuming it is, is it crazy to think that maybe it isn't for you? If all we heard is how much it sucks to adult, then is it any wonder why we aren't so quick to start adulting?
I mean, there are surely other factors to take into account. The great recession and broader economic declines that began even before it have made it much more difficult for millennials to get a real job and get their lives going. Helicopter parenting and participation trophy culture have created more and more young adults who have trouble dealing with disappointment. The decline of Judeo-Christian values and religion in America surely comes into play. Marriage seems less necessary when pre-marital sex is acceptable - although we can largely thank baby boomers and to some extent their parents for making this so. And there's also simply the fact that as people live longer and the world changes, it makes sense and isn't necessarily a bad thing that people don't jump fully into complete adulthood at as young of an age. In ancient times, it was normal to marry and have kids in your early to mid teens because life expectancy was low and the world was a different place. But no one is stressing about women being old maids because they are unmarried at age 20 because what worked then isn't what works now.
Nevertheless, I think the pessimism and negativity of baby boomers plays into it as well. Why wouldn't it? If all you ever hear growing up is how life will just make you miserable, how the best days of your life are when you're young and can play video games all day, how being an adult with kids and responsibilities to others sucks, why would you be eager to jump into that world. The same people in their 50s and 60s who think they are so clever with memes addressing young people saying "life hasn't even begun to f**k you over yet" are the same people who lament that people in their mid-twenties choose to live a different life than they did. If life is so much better when you have no kids and live with roommates and play video games after work, why should we be shocked that people in their mid-twenties do that instead of marrying the first person who will take them and start having kids at age 22 because of some vague societal expectations that don't even really exist anymore?
Of course, perhaps life isn't actually better living with roommates and playing video games. Although that life is easier and more fun, maybe being a real grownup and getting married and having kids and following that path actually makes life more worth living. Maybe just because life gets harder when you have kids and get married doesn't mean that life doesn't also get better. Some older people (older than me at 28 I mean) have said as much to me. Maybe if the attitude was more along the lines of "the best things in life take work and sacrifice to have" and less "you may think life sucks now but this is the best it will ever be," millennials might be more willing to follow int he footsteps of past generations. Maybe if the same people who lament millennials waiting to grow up more than is necessary weren't the same people taunting millennials with how life only gets worse as you grow up, maybe millenials would be more eager to grow up?