For Part 1, which is primarily about books, click here. This post is more philosophical.
Age is relative. At twenty-five, I’m young compared to my eighty-year-old grandmother, and old compared to my one-year-old cousin. That is fairly obvious. It is less obvious to compare me to a twenty-year-old or a thirty-year-old. Most likely, I’ll be old compared to the former and young compared to the latter, all things being equal.
Wait, “all things being equal”? What sort of things? Maturity levels? Experience? Job status? Marital status? Parental status? Physical health?
Throughout our lives, we are constantly shifting between young and old. Even a child is younger and older than other people she interacts with. We adults might find it cute that a four-year-old says “when I was little” to mean when they were three, but they are quite serious. Four feels a lot older than two or three. Ten feels positively ancient compared to four. So-called pre-teens and teenagers really don’t feel like little kids anymore and hate when they are treated as such. Likewise, they think we adults “don’t get them” because they still feel so much younger.
It is no different as we age. Adults are still shifting between young and old, often more easily than children. We also age more slowly and are able to understand people younger than us and older than us more easily. The twenty-five-year-old and the thirty-five-year-old may be best friends or married to each other, but the five-year-old and the fifteen-year-old would not be able to relate to each other.
Somehow, a general social consensus in North America is that an adult is no longer young at about age thirty, and certainly not by age forty. Nonetheless, depending on their outlook on life, their social milieu, and their workplace, they might still be quite young. If a forty-year-old is constantly surrounded by seventy-year-olds, they are still considered young, while the same person might be quite old surrounded by twenty-somethings.
There are certain socially-accepted rites of passage into adulthood. In general, these are finishing one’s formal education, getting a permanent job or career, marrying, and having children. (Acquiring certain property might also count, such as a vehicle or home.) However, only the first one is guaranteed (at some point, one will finish one’s formal education, no matter what the level and whether or not one actually graduates); the others are highly subjective. Does completing all of these rites of passage mean one is no longer a young adult? What if one accomplishes them all by age twenty? What if one does not accomplish them all? Are they always a young adult, even when elderly? As a result, I think that these are poor indicators of young adulthood.
I would like to think that ‘young adulthood’ really doesn’t end, at least insofar as we continue to learn and grow throughout our lives. Yes, our bodies and minds age. We have mature moments and immature moments. We continue to grow socially, spiritually and intellectually.
But how does that relate to books? Don’t we just have to define young adults to a certain age group, even if it’s not really accurate?
I really don’t know the answer to that. We need to target certain audiences for library programming, and of course marketers need to have a target audience for their products. But by shoehorning young adults into teenage brackets, we are actually cutting off a large portion of young adults who are not teenagers, but not older adults yet. And by cutting off young adults from general adults, we are further promoting a rift that would not exist otherwise. After all, it would be silly to have a market of books for older adults, wouldn’t it? On the other hand, maybe that’s not a bad idea…