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How do Pandemics Affect Young Adults Coming-of-Age Milestones?

By Molly McCarthy

This paper was also written in response to an assignment in English 121 that asked students to write an analytical essay about entering adulthood in 2020 and use some resources.

Before the Novel Coronavirus came to the United States, there was a freshly graduated pilot. He had everything set to reach his goal of becoming an airline transport pilot, which is a pilot that works for a major airline. He was already a commercial pilot, meaning that he could already be paid to fly, but he wanted the stability of working for a major airline. He wanted to reach this goal by the age of 21, but due to the current pandemic, that chance is quickly slipping away. This is becoming an unfortunate reality for many young adults due to COVID-19. It doesn’t help that these societal and economic disruptions tend to hit young adults the hardest, as they are trying to figure out their space in the world and thrive while doing so. Being a young adult is already a highly stressful and tumultuous time, and adding the disruptions that occur during a pandemic makes this transition period that much harder. Young adults who are coming of age during a pandemic struggle both socially and economically, as the changes and milestones that are normal for young adults to experience, such as moving out from home, getting a full-time job, and getting married, are becoming extremely difficult to get to and maintain.

Moving out of their parent’s house is a milestone that every 20-something yearns to reach. This is something that COVID-19 has ruined for many young adults. Even if they had previously moved out, many young adults are returning home due to losing their jobs, or just general fear of the virus. According to Benjamin Oreskes from the LA Times, these “…decisions to stay or go have been made under pressure, sometimes in haste” because the future is so uncertain and fear is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Something else that is very difficult for a lot of families is gaining that extra person back into their lives. As everyone involved in the situation is now adults, “…there’s a fine balance that parents need to strike between communicating the seriousness of following rules and young people’s desire for the independence they had when they were living on their own” (Oreskes). This can cause a lot of issues and tension in a household, as it is challenging to find the perfect balance for each family, as there is no magic solution. But, there is also a movement of some young adults to take this quarantine as an opportunity to try moving in with their significant others, a situation that many are calling “quarantining together”. For example, my childhood best friend, who wasn’t quite ready to sign a lease with her boyfriend, has basically moved in with him and is using this quarantine as a “trial period” for living together. So, no matter what side of the spectrum a young adult falls on, their housing situation has most likely changed, which brings more uncertainty and unease into their life.

In this current COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment rate is skyrocketing at rates that have not been seen in dozens of years, which feeds into the fear and general anxiety that young adults are feeling right now. While this affects everyone of all age groups, unemployment disproportionately affects younger workers. This is because they have been working for less time and pay, and are therefore less of a risk to let go of for the company. Also, many young adults who are still in college or who are just graduating, do not work full-time. Part-time workers, which are what most college students and fresh graduates are, are let go of on a much higher scale because of their perceived expendability. According to Malcolm Farr, a writer for The Guardian in Australia, “lower-income earners are twice as likely to have their jobs taken away from them…” at this time, due to the reasoning outlined previously. Many young adults are making whatever is considered minimum wage for their field, or are quite literally only making minimum wage because they haven’t gotten into their chosen field yet. This is in direct correlation to why many young adults are struggling to meet the milestone of getting their first full-time job.

Another huge milestone for young adults is getting married and having children. Now, it is too early into COVID-19 to know precisely what is going to happen in this current pandemic, but we can deduce from examining the evidence from earlier, similar pandemics. For example, during the Spanish Flu, there is information about childbirth and marriage in New Zealand, and how that pandemic affected those numbers. According to Nick Wilson and his colleagues from the New Zealand Medical Journal, there was “…reduced sexual activity among couples at the time the pandemic struck…” and that is a possible explanation for the decrease in childbirths in 1919. They also found that “…influenza infection is associated with embryonic/fetal loss…” and, with the Spanish Flu being an influenza type pandemic, there was equivalent to about 3,000 fewer births in New Zealand. But, this data on embryonic and fetal loss will not necessarily hold true for COVID-19, as this is a coronavirus-type virus, not an influenza-type virus, like the Spanish Flu. There is a small bit of relieving data: in 1918, in the height of the Spanish Flu, marriage actually didn’t decline that much and definitely didn’t decline enough to impact the number of childbirths (Wilson). So, while there are some things that do not line up between then and now, there are still some trends and predictions that can be gleaned from the past about possible effects of COVID-19.

Pandemics do greatly impact young adult’s ability to reach coming-of-age milestones. In the job market, the economy, and in personal life, this virus is extremely disruptive and destructive as we all struggle to find a new normal. Many dreams and goals are being crushed or postponed, much like what happened to the pilot. His goal was to be a pilot for a major airline before he was 21. With all of the shutdowns and an uncertain end date for quarantine, that time frame is no longer attainable. That is a very hard reality to grapple with, especially when he was so close to reaching his goal. This is just one example of the disruptions that young adults are struggling with, and as there continue to be more changes within our lives and the way we live them, we need to remember that we’re all human. Everyone is struggling in one way or another, some more than others, but it’s important that we remember to be there for each other and to listen and support. You never know how this pandemic is affecting someone.

Works Cited

Farr, Malcolm. “Unemployment Could Go as High as 16% amid Coronavirus as Low-Income Earners Worst Hit.” The Guardian, 19 Apr. 2020, www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/20/lower-income-earners-more-likely-to-lose-jobs-due-to-coronavirus.

Oreskes, Benjamin. “Coronavirus Is Prompting Young Adults to Move Home with Mom and Dad. But Should They?” Los Angeles Times, 11 Apr. 2020, www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-04-11/coronavirus-milennial-parents-roommates-isolation.

Wilson, Nick, et al. “One Hundred Years Ago in 1919: New Zealand’s Birth Reduction Shock Associated with an Influenza Pandemic.” The New Zealand Medical Journal (Online), vol. 132, no. 1507, Dec 13 2019, pp. 57-62, ProQuest, search-proquest-com.lcc.idm.oclc.org/docview/2333650269/CB7753ED144204PQ/2?accountid=1599.

 

Professor Jill Reglin appreciated her student Molly McCarthy’s use of both her current experience and relevant sources to write about something that is happening right now. Molly really had the big picture, and though her instructor thought she might have worked on the style of what she was saying—she thought she made good use of her time revising and refining her idea. Professor Reglin valued how Molly kept reworking her thinking to focus and come to terms with a contemporary  issue. “I like it when a student puts their twist on a topic.”

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