Millennials and The Quarter-Life Crisis

You no longer have to be 40 to feel depressingly old

16 May 2018

The ‘midlife crisis’ has haunted men and women in their 40s and 50s for decades now. It’s usually defined as a period in one’s life of extreme introspection and worry, as the realisation comes that death is inevitable and your life accomplishments are ultimately minimal. Whether or not the latter is actually true, a midlife crisis is based on a feeling of deep inadequacy. Nowadays, though, you don’t have to be in your 40s or 50s to experience that ongoing sensation. We even have a name for it.

The term, ‘quarter-life crisis,’ is something I’ve heard thrown around a lot recently. It mostly comes from teenagers and people in their 20s, those who are in the prime of life.

Instead of feeling as if you haven’t accomplished anything, a quarter-life crisis concerns what you will accomplish in the future and the direction your life is headed down.

This isn’t a concept unique to my generation but nowhere is it more prevalent than in millennials. You’ve left high school and you don’t know what to do. You’ve left university, and you don’t know what to do. You’re climbing the corporate ladder, and you’re unenthused about what comes next.

The real world is daunting, especially for those straight out of the relatively simple and predictable institutions we call school. In those cases, it can be easy to stick with what you know best, becoming more and more educated but losing out on actual experience.

What constitutes many millennials’ quarter-life crises is a general lack of direction, be that socially or career-wise. Trading social conservatism for liberalism has changed the expectations young people have for their future.

No longer is marriage and children the epoch of personal human achievement. Instead, something vaguer and more subjective has replaced it. Only about a third of millennials are married despite constituting a majority of the adult (but not elderly) population.

How could we marry if most of us are still living at home?

There is a myriad of reasons as to why this generation’s young fail to move out at the age expected, but no matter the state of the economy or job market, behaviour and personality will always play a big part, especially when millennials are typified as wanting to recapture their childhoods.

One of the worst parts of a midlife crisis is how you tend to think that your best years are behind you, and this is happening alarmingly early for young people. Millennials are the nostalgia generation. If you’ve been on the internet, you’ve seen vapid articles like ‘75 Things That Will Make You Say “Shit, I Miss Being A Kid”’ and ‘48 Reasons ‘90s Kids Had The Best Childhood.’

Nostalgia has become such an intrinsic part of our youth culture that it’s a marketing strategy. While 50-year-olds are fantasising about being 20 again, 20-year-olds are fantasising about being children again.

The rosy tint of nostalgia is dangerous because it takes focus away from what should be happening in the here and now. As we continue to long for a time of no responsibilities—delaying adulthood—we deny the next generation a chance to live.

The quarter-life crises many millennials are facing cannot be fixed through a one-size-fits-all solution. The reasons behind this growing phenomenon are uncertain, but the blame should not be squarely placed on the current generation.

If millions of young people are still living at home, what are their parents doing to get them up and out? Are the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers just as complicit? If the millennials are the most educated generation, then don’t they have the most student debt to live with? You also have to take into account that our lives will be longer than our parents,’ so milestones like marriage and children may come a little later down the line.

Millennials tend to think that their problems come from society and the economy rather than themselves, and older generations like to think that all the pitfalls of modern society stem from today’s young people. The answer, like it often does, lies snuggly in the middle.


  1. “If the millennials are the most educated generation”

    Forgive me but what constitutes modern education? Since such “education” has not helped to develop the critical thinking abilities of the students, it is not surprising that the most educated generation lacks understanding,

    I would not blame the victims but at the same time I would not give them a free pass either. The fact that they do not move on to adult things (roles) like marriage (they fear commitment and responsibility) and family formation tells us that they are remaining locked in a prolonged period of adolescence. This generation holds the future of America. A pity many of us won’t be around to see what future they will give the country.


    • I mentioned that millennials are the most educated generation because they have the most university graduates compared to other generations. However, this void of understanding and lack of direction many young people have is probably not due to schooling nor lack of schooling. It has to do with the shift in culture and how parents talk to their children nowadays. I do agree that millennials have delayed adulthood for too long.


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