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Apr. 2 2010 - 9:10 am | 465 views | 1 recommendation | 14 comments

Parental Coddling and the Class Divide

Family Dinner

Image by Jeffrey Beall via Flickr

The inclusion of a provision in the recent health care reform bill allowing young adults up to 26 to be covered under their parents’ health insurance plans  seemed to signal open season on rehashing the entitled youth of today trope, but with new spins  – the rise of recessionary coddling by the parents of Millennials and the corresponding consequences when it comes to youthful independence. Putting aside the most egregious boundary overstepping examples in the WaPo piece (If your parents are calling your boss to bitch about your work schedule, go straight to Intervention, do not pass Go and do not collect $200), is it a positive for parents of Millennials to provide their offspring with such a soft place to land? Where does reasonable parental support end and enabling a protracted state of adolescence begin?

Should hard times be avoided at all costs? While most responsible parents wouldn’t stand by and let their offspring flounder in true poverty if they had the means to help, what’s so bad about Junior having to learn about budgeting, delayed gratification and the truth that you can’t always get what you want the hard way, i.e., by actually living the lessons.  Aren’t crappy apartments and ramen a character-building rite of passage?

Of course, you could also approach the argument from the other side, namely that factors such as high unemployment, the ongoing recession and crippling student debt loads mean that middle-class Millennials are facing an uphill battle when it comes to independently achieving the same standard of living that they enjoyed growing up or reaching the same material milestones (i.e., a house in the suburbs, retirement at 65, etc.) that their parents could be reasonably sure of attaining simply by way of  being gainfully employed in the white collar world. In light of these obstacles, why shouldn’t parents with the means to do so give their kids every advantage when it comes to making their way in the world?

But what about parents (and their offspring) without the means? Who’s talking to and about them?  By focusing on middle class twentysomethings facing hard times or nouveau phenomenon such as hipsters on food stamps (unthropology, as a fellow internet pundit refers to this field of trend invention) these pieces (and pro and anti-parental support arguments that flow from them) are just another example of media coverage of Millennials/Gen Y that sidesteps the very real issues of socioeconomic class that stubbornly defy attempts to homogenize the experiences, mindsets and attributes of those who happened to be born during a certain span of years.

So, I ask you, what about young adults who don’t have support systems to fall back on, for whom moving home isn’t a viable option, whose families don’t have the resources to float them a loan and/or who don’t have crushing student loan debt only because they didn’t have reasonable access to post-secondary education in the first place? Where is the hand wringing and ink spilling over their plight? Does their lack of purchasing power and consumer might (driving factors behind the newfound fascination with all things Millennial; let’s not kid ourselves)  mean that their overdue day under the media microscope will never come?


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  1. collapse expand

    You know that class is the third rail of American conversation. We all do. No one wants to deal with the reality that you raise here — many young adults have nowhere else to go and no one handing them cash or parents who don’t have insurance either.

    The poor are forever un-sexy as a subject, which means they should be getting 10x the media attention. But, hey, how many middle-class journos know or are willing to call up and treat thoughtfully someone living in poverty?

    Don’t hold your breath — and read T/Ser Megan Cottrell.

    • collapse expand

      I’m reminded of the NYT (I think?)article from this week about the rise of poverty experiments, wherein middle-class folk attempt to live on $1/day or food stamps or in a yurt for some predetermined amount of time and then blog and/or write a book about the experience and what it “taught” them. There’s got to be a better way to tell stories about class effects that doesn’t involve poverty theater or treating those without resources as curiosities to be exploited for the “edification” of the “haves.”

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    I wonder, too, if we’re not exacerbating the entitlement thing by making our colleges into country clubs. This past weekend, my husband and I went to visit his son at the University of Arizona and I was stunned by the world class facilities on this remote campus in Tuscon. State-of-the-art libraries and “integrated learning” study rooms; a student gym that rivals the ones at pricey spas; stadiums and ball fields immaculately maintained; new dorm construction on every block; and new science and engineering buildings that look to be no more than five years old. On some level, I understand the impulse to provide the very best to students, given the insane tuition price tags these days–people want to know what they’re getting for $50K per year. But that said, the more kids are exposed to the “good life” at school, the less likely they’re going to want to live in a crappy apartment in Brooklyn and go back to Mom’s house instead. This is not to excuse the parents for not kicking them out of the house, just a possible explanation for the phenomenon.

  3. collapse expand

    I think that there is plenty of ‘coddling’ where poorer parents and grown children are concerned, but it’s much more costly. The poor and less wealthy will extend a lot of rope to their kids who are having financial troubles or an inability to fly out of the nest. And it tends to have a more grievous effect on the family’s combined bottom line because wealth that was accumulated at a significant cost earlier in life by the parents tends to go up in smoke more quickly. However, because it tends to be less showy (i.e. you’re a nurse’s aide and you’re subsidizing your 24 year old basement dwellers internet porn habit, rather than you’re a partner at a law firm paying for your 23 year old unemployed daughter’s BMW), it casts less of a shadow.

  4. collapse expand

    Fine line between genuine, loving support and coddling. Who gets to make the distinction? Me thinks that is up to the parents, poor or otherwise.

  5. collapse expand

    Let’s remember…this was written into the bill by rich democrats….the democrats in congress wrote the bill in secret, and most of them are millionaires

  6. collapse expand

    I don’t see providing health insurance for young adults as coddling. My daughter is 20 years old. She works between 40 and 50 hours a week at an internship while taking two classes. She needs meds for her OCD. The fact that she can still be covered by her father’s insurance is a relief for all of us.

    Of course I want her to learn self sufficiency, how to budget, handle a crisis, etc. I try not to coddle her by floating her loans or coming to her rescue every time she calls (she’s doing her internship in another state) with a problem. I just don’t think making sure she has the proper health care falls under coddling.

  7. collapse expand

    This argument assumes that all of this is being done for the benefit of the 26-year-old. It’s not. Here’s how the rest of us benefit:

    1. Keeps young people in the insurance system, rather than opting out because of cost. So there’s extra money coming in on a family plan instead of a single or single plus other plan, and still the 26-year-old isn’t using insurance much, thus helping to support the system.

    2. Keeps young people who get sick, even for routine illnesses, out of the emergency room, the most expensive place for care.

    3. Keeps young people from waiting until they’re absolutely, seriously sick to see a doctor, thus reaping benefits from prevention (such as lower costs overall for a few shekels upfront).

    4. Encourages, perhaps, young people to take jobs at start-ups, small companies or become entrepreneurs themselves, because they don’t have to worry about benefits.

  8. collapse expand

    Most of the assistance provided by low-income families to their young adult offspring that I’ve observed comes in the form of free childcare. Grandma watches the kids so that mom can go to her minimum wage job. Hardly the type of story that is going to sell newspapers to middle-aged affluent readers.

  9. collapse expand

    Wow, absolutely spot on Maureen re: class and support systems. I’ve been mouthing off in private for a while now about how coverage on “Millennials” does not touch on class. So many of the prognostications and “observed trends” around this set have been largely irrelevant outside of the middle-class.

  10. collapse expand

    I guess I suck I’m suck and I still live with my parents. I wish I could afford one of those crappy apartments, but an efficiency would take over half my salary in the area where I live.

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    Part-time writer, freelance sophist, around-the-clock navel gazer and full-time white collar worker.

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