Even though we may now have a name for it, I don't think that the "Odyssey" stage of life is fundamentally new. Young people have always not know what they want from life -- what's new is that they can get away without picking something for long periods of time. This may lead to more optimal choices when they're eventually made, or it may just waste time. Your mileage may vary.

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.

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. People who were born before 1964 tend to define adulthood by certain accomplishments — moving away from home, becoming financially independent, getting married and starting a family.

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.

This may all be for the good. Perhaps some "mid-life crises" will be avoided if young people aren't forced by circumstance to make decisions they aren't comfortable with. On the other hand, some people may never make decisions without a kick in the pants, and those people will likely suffer. As with most societal changes, some win and some lose.

A brief note about why the Odyssey stage has become possible: Western Civilization's vast, nearly incomprehensible wealth. Wealth creates choices, and new choices inevitably lead to momentary indecision. As with most societal changes provoked by wealth, I expect this one will turn out to have more upside than down.

(HT: Nick.)

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