What will you do with your extra decade?


A quick question for all of you out there in your late teens or early 20s. What will you do with your extra decade?

Life expectancy in Australia is increasing.  See, for example, here. This is likely to continue. So today’s young people will probably have a decade of extra life compared to their parents or grandparents. What are they planning to do with it?

It strikes me that you can take the extra 10 years at either end of your life. But social change means that by default young people are taking it when they are young. On average, young people get married later and start a family later than their parents. This means they have an extra decade to do other things. Many seem to use this extra decade in career building. But I wonder if this is the best use of their time?

An extra decade of ’20s’ provides an opportunity for young people to take risks that become difficult or impossible once they have family commitments. You can start the dream business and it doesn’t really matter if it fails. You can continue with further study because it really doesn’t matter whether you start your career in your early 20s or late 20s. You can carry out your dreams before entering the formal workforce. There are many things that you can do with an extra decade but I do worry that many young people simply waste it.

Ten years is a long time and a lot of extra life. But in your 20s it is also a great time to pursue your dreams.

7 Responses to "What will you do with your extra decade?"
  1. Tristan, I am not sure what you mean? The average 65 year old is significantly fitter and healthier than a 65 year old in the 1960s. Most people stay stable (in terms of fitness) until the last five years of their life (at least going by hospitalisation costs). The big deterioration is in the last 18 months of life. So, today, the average Australian should expect to be healthy and active into their seventies. This is likely to be extended to their eighties by the time today’s 20 year old hits 80.
    So my kids will have a decade longer of healthy life (on average) than their grandparents.

  2. It seems that over the last few decades more people are spending more of their 20’s in tertiary education. We are now experiencing credential inflation where masters degrees and Phd’s are now required to be in contention for jobs that in the 80’s required only a degree and in the 60’s required only on the job training.
    Maybe the 10 years will be split between extra education and later retirement

  3. Stephen, I am an early-20s university student , and don’t think this idea has ever been presented to me this way. Many of my high school peers seem to (in my view) waste time doing not much of anything – a chance to go to more music festivals and defer more semesters of study while their parents support them. Perhaps this is ‘life experience’ that pays off later. Others like me take the opportunity to try lots of careers before we settle – internships, time spent overseas, volunteering, graduate work. But this has had an unexpected consequence that we are “paralysed by choice” as it is now believed that your life/career must be deeply purposeful and not merely about having an income, and this is very intimidating to someone entering the workforce. http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2012/03/08/millennials-paralyzed-by-choice/

  4. It seems to me that this ‘extra decade’ applies to young men, not young people.

    Women don’t really have the option of putting off family life until their 40s as men can.

  5. Agreeing with Edi. Unless women’s period of fertility is extended, the majority of 20-30 year olds won’t see an extra 10 years of youth in which to take risks and experiment.

  6. Edi and Nick. The statistics show that the age of mother at first birth and the average age of mother at birth have both been rising steadily over time. From the ABS:
    “Although the proportion of first births to all births remained relatively steady between 1993 and 1999, there was a change in the age distribution of mothers having their first birth. Women experiencing their first birth in 1999 tended to be older than women having a first birth in 1993. Approximately 28% of all first births in 1993 were to women aged 30 years and over. By 1999 this had increased to 34%. In contrast, 31% of all first births in 1999 were to women aged 15-24 years (down from 37% in 1993).”
    So women are having families later – partly because medical advances have reduced the risks of having a first child after 30. Women – like men – are getting extra years (and probably an extra decade) relative to their contemporaries in the 1960s.

    For more details look under ABS “Family Formation: Older mothers”.

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