Parents always hope that their children will end up better off than they were.
Whether that cliché manifests itself in terms of wealth, prosperity, happiness or success it had generally been true, at least throughout the past few generations. And now economists are saying that this generation — our generation —will be the first in a long while to not surpass the success of our parents.
The idea of generational shift is fascinating for a multitude of reasons, but most importantly because in thinking about this concept, we are afforded to opportunity to do some valuable introspection and think about what defines us. We, as individuals, play an important role in the shaping of our generation.
Although we are each insignificant in our own right, we, in a communal sense, make up our generation and when aggregated, our actions define this generation.
There’s no denying that things have changed since our parents were our age. According to the 1980 census, the average marrying age for women was 23; in 2010, the average was almost 27.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 17 percent of the male population over 25 attained a Bachelor’s degree or higher in 1977; 10 percent for their female counterparts. In 2012, these figures escalated to 30 and 29 percent respectively. Although these statistics are only a few examples, there are infinitely many to choose from that prove my point: this generation has been granted much more opportunity than our forbearers due to the simple fact that they worked for it.
We have those who came before us to thank for everything that we now have. In our everyday actions that may seem inconsequential, we are representing them; everything that they stood for, everything that they fought for. Depending on what our parents were born, they witnessed the resurgence of the women’s movement; the end of the Cold War, inaugurating a new era for international relations; the Iran-Contra scandal and the subsequent first round of conflict in Iraq. Many of these events likely occurred before they even graduated from college or got married. Despite many of these hardships, they emerged victorious in the nineties—the most economically prosperous era this country had seen since the 1950s.
And then we were born; the American Dream still a-flourish. Determination, drive and a healthy 401K on our parent’s minds, they procreated; furthering the two car garage, 2.5 kid model one Christmas card at a time. Fast-forward a few years, and now we’re in college, quickly approaching our first careers, our first friends getting married, having children and beginning the next generation. It’s about time to start thinking about the way that we have represented ourselves thus far.
While I recognize that many of us have worked tirelessly to earn everything that we have achieved, a notable contingent drives the publicity around this generation. And although they may be in the minority, there are some who have become reckless, apathetic and altogether disrespectful when faced with the opportunity to make a difference. And unfortunately, with the increased role of social media and virtual footprints, these individuals are entirely transparent and have begun to make a name for our generation.
Every time that we make a decision, we mustn’t think only of ourselves, but also of how it may impact future generations and how it reflects upon our respect for those who came before us and fought for the rights that we now take for granted. I think we’re starting to realize that life is not limitless; our resources are finite, as is the patience of those who watch us squander our opportunities. Before we know it, we will be at the advent of theory and hearsay, with both of them becoming actuality. And however scary it may be, at some point we have to admit that we can no longer discount the future.
Isaac Newton said: “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” This quote is displayed to us every day as we walk past that interesting sculpture by the food trucks. Our generation has been given all of the puzzle pieces (thanks Mom and Dad), and with a deep breath of polluted air, it’s time to accept our genuine responsibility to future generations.
As we all know, history repeats itself. Whether or not the history that we leave is one worthy of being repeated is truly up to us.
Geneva Mueller is a senior political science and international studies double major. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.