BBC Series ‘Your Money and Your Life’ Asks Why Millennials Can’t Follow Life’s Linear Path

Job, marriage, homeownership, parenting. (Apparently.)

Photo credit: John Morgan, CC BY 2.0.

This week, a Billfolder asked me if I had started listening to the new BBC series “Your Money and Your Life,” and I hadn’t—so I made time to settle in with the first episode.

Over the next few weeks, the BBC is going to look at money issues for people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and so on. The first episode, which focuses on twenty-somethings, doesn’t contain a lot of information we don’t already know: young people are having trouble finding good-paying jobs, they’re saddled with a lot of student loan debt, and they’re worried about whether they’ll someday be able to afford a home.

The BBC puts this critical lens over these twenty-somethings’ choices, announcing in concerned voices that they have either missed the milestones of adulthood—job, marriage, homeownership, parenting—or, worse, done them out of order. I seriously had to listen to an Oxford sociologist go on about life’s “linear pathway” and how today’s young people were going off-path by having babies out of wedlock:

Now, it’s not possible to say that that linear pathway is something which applies to everybody. In the past you would have marriage, then childbirth; now you’re going to have childbirth, no marriage; childbirth, then marriage; childbirth, childbirth, marriage, you know.

I am not a sociologist, but I’m pretty sure that so-called “linear pathway” has never applied to everybody.

I’m also pretty sure that the BBC’s other big concern point, the fact that twenty-somethings are using “The Bank of Mom and Dad” to help finance big-ticket items like down payments, is not a new phenomenon. Money and resources have been passed down from parents to children as long as there have been resources to pass down.

So I listened to this half-hour radio show with a combination of “yeah, that’s right” and “no, wait, that’s totally wrong.” Yes, this generation has enormous amounts of debt and fewer job opportunities. Yes, fewer Millennials in their 20s have children than in previous generations, and fewer are married.

But the linear pathway, where we march proudly from college to job to marriage to homeownership to parenting without any help from Mom and Dad, has never been the only path, and Millennials are not the first people to diverge from it.

I’ll let you know what I think of the next episode.