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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Woes Of Twenty-Somethings Span The Centuries

Young people at a Civil War reenactment in Michigan. A historian studying youth in 19th century America says young people who fought in the Civil War and young people now share many of the same anxieties. (Wigwam Jones/Flickr)

Young people at a Civil War reenactment in Michigan. A historian studying youth in 19th century America says young people who fought in the Civil War and young people now share many of the same anxieties. (Wigwam Jones/Flickr)

The complaints of twenty-somethings seem all the same:

“I am beginning my twenty-sixth year. I ought to be a man, but I seem to be a long way off from the condition of a man in society.”

It sounds pretty familiar, even if the language is a little antiquated. It was written in 1864 by Union army soldier Oliver Wilcox Norton, in a letter to his sister.

Turns out the worries of twenty-somethings today are pretty much the same as twenty-somethings in the 1800s.

Jon Grinspan, a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution, is writing a book on young people and 19th century American politics.

He tells Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti that the social themes that are comparable between the “young Victorians” and Millennials include a quickly-changing economy, more mobility and an older average marriage age.

Grinspan says tumult and insecurity are the historical conditions of American youth.

“If you look at the lives you think of as traditional or normal — this 1950s or 1960s society which you get married straight out of high school, and you get a job, and you hold that job for 50 years — that’s an incredibly unusual way to live one’s life,” Grinspan said. “That’s the historical outlier.”

Guest

  • Jon Grinspan, a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution.

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