Living: Proceeding With Caution

The twentysomething generation is balking at work, marriage and baby-boomer values. Why are today's young adults so skeptical?

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As a result, twentysomething people are staying single longer and often living together before marrying. Studying the 20-to-24 age group in 1988, the U.S. Census Bureau found that 77% of men and 61% of women had never married, up sharply from 55% and 36%, respectively, in 1970. Among those 25 to 29, the unmarrieds included 43% of men and 29% of women in 1988, vs. 19% and 10% in 1970. The sheer disposability of marriage breeds skepticism. Kasey Geoghegan, 20, a student at the University of Denver and a child of divorced parents, believes nuptial vows have lost their credibility. Says she: "When people get married, ideally it's permanent, but once problems set in, they don't bother to work things out."


Finding a date on a Saturday night, let alone a mate, is a challenge for a generation that has elevated casual commitment to an art form. Despite their nostalgia for family values, few in their 20s are eager to revive a 1950s mentality about pairing off. Rick Bruno, 22, who will enter Yale Medical School in the fall, would rather think of himself as a free agent. Says he: "Not getting hurt is a big priority with me." Others are concerned that the generation is too detached to form caring relationships. "People are afraid to like each other," says Leslie Boorstein, 21, a photographer from Great Neck, N.Y.

For those who try to make meaningful connections -- often through video dating services, party lines and personals ads -- the risks of modern love are greater than ever. AIDS casts a pall over a generation that fully expected to reap the benefits of the sexual revolution. Responsibility is the watchword. Only on college campuses do remnants of libertinism linger. That worries public-health officials, who are witnessing an explosion of sexually transmitted diseases, particularly genital warts. "There is a high degree of students who believe oral contraception protects them from the AIDS virus. It doesn't," says Wally Brewer, coordinator of a study of HIV infection on U.S. campuses. "Obviously it's a big educational challenge."


Because they are fewer in number, today's young adults have the power to wreak havoc in the workplace. Companies are discovering that to win the best talent, they must cater to a young work force that is considered overly sensitive at best and lazy at worst. During the next several years, employers will have to double their recruiting efforts. According to American Demographics, the pool of entry-level workers 16 to 24 will shrink about 500,000 a year through 1995, to 21 million. These youngsters are starting to use their bargaining power to get more of what they feel is coming to them. They want flexibility, access to decision making and a return to the sacredness of work-free weekends. "I want a work environment concerned about my personal growth," says Jennifer Peters, 22, one of the youngest candidates ever to be admitted to the State Bar of California. "I don't want to go to work and feel I'll be burned out two or three years down the road."

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