Give Millennials A Break

A new Pew study finds that the Internet hasn’t totally eroded the reading habits of Generation Y:

Millennials, like each generation that was young before them, tend to attract all kinds of ire from their elders for being superficial, self-obsessed, anti-intellectuals. But a study … from the Pew Research Center offers some vindication for the younger set. Millennials are reading more books than the over-30 crowd, Pew found in a survey of more than 6,000 Americans.

Some 88 percent of Americans younger than 30 said they read a book in the past year compared with 79 percent of those older than 30. At the same time, American readers’ relationship with public libraries is changing—with younger readers less likely to see public libraries as essential in their communities.

Meanwhile, Susan J. Matt, author of Homesickness: An American Historydefends the 22 percent of adults in their 20s and 30s who live with their parents. The idea that young adults should leave home, she argues, only took off in the 20th century:

By mid-century, experts were arguing that tightly bonded families were out of place in America. Sociologist W. Lloyd Warner explained that because the economy required individuals to move frequently, “families cannot be too closely attached to their kindred. . . or they will be held to one location, socially and economically maladapted.” Those who tried to maintain strong kin ties were criticized. In 1951, psychiatrist Edward Strecker, preoccupied with the Cold War and the need for a mobile fighting force, accused American mothers of keeping their “children enwombed psychologically,” failing to “untie the emotional apron string … which binds her children to her.” He dubbed these women the nation’s “gravest menace.”

Today, we continue to believe young adults should leave home. When they don’t, their living choices are chalked up to poor employment prospects. While economic realities surely play a part in their residential choices, the media give short shrift to other motives. The idea that families might be drawn together by feelings of affection is left out of the equation, as is the possibility that this generation wants to become something other than mobile individualists. Yet there’s considerable evidence that millennials hold values that center more on family and less on high powered careers. A recent poll found them far less concerned with financial success than the population at large. They also are closer to their parents, whom they fight with less, and talk with more than earlier generations.