Shifting frontiers of adulthood

Fellow Sioux Falls journalist Kristi Eaton is writing a blog about “quarterlife crises” — the pressure and problems 20-somethings can feel as they grow into full adulthood. Her most recent post contained a passing anecdote that struck me:

Remember “Ally McBeal” from the 1990s? I never watched any episodes but was well aware of the show and how popular it was. I knew she was a lawyer living in New York City (I think?) and seemed to be so grown up. Guess how old she was? 27. Today a similarly career-focused woman is on TV: Liz Lemon from “30 Rock.” She’s another woman freaking out about whether she’ll never have the opportunity to have kids because of her age. She was 36 when the series started, a full decade older than Ally McBeal.

One simple pop culture comparison that summarizes up so much. Medicine has advanced, allowing safe childbirth later and later for more and more women. Family-formation norms have shifted, with more and more people delaying childbirth until their careers are established. The economic change from the boom years of the 1990s to the less-vibrant economy of 2006 (when “30 Rock” premiered) to the recession a few years later has forced people to delay having expensive children. Modern-day careers require more delays, as young adults pursue internships and graduate degrees before they can even enter the workforce.

Some of those changes seem enduring, others perhaps transitory. It’ll be interesting what things look like in another decade with regards to expected ages for various milestones of adulthood.