Ten reasons 30 isn’t the new 20 (apparently)

You may have heard that, since people are living longer, and marrying, having kids, and establishing their careers later in life, 30 is the new 20. But, according to pyschologist Meg Jay, who “specializes” in 20somethings, 30 is just 30. It is most definitely NOT the new 20. So, 30 year-olds who are unmarried….be afraid… be very afraid.

Jay recently gave a talk at TED–the nonprofit dedicated to “ideas worth spreading,” so brilliantly satirized by the Onion–which I listened to so you don’t have to. I will now present the top 10 highlights of this speech, my reaction as a member of the demographic (I’m 31) thoroughly shat upon by its deliverer, and finally, my reaction in GIF form.

#1. Jay recalls her first psychotherapy client, Alex, aged 26. Alex walked into Jay’s office wearing a “slouchy top” and “kicked off her flats.” Red flags numbers one and two. Responsible 20-somethings wear fitted tops and keep their shoes on.


#2.Alex wanted to talk about guy problems. Jay was so relieved: “My classmate got an arsonist and my first client wanted to talk about boys. This, I thought, I could handle. But I didn’t handle it.” Just what didn’t Jay handle? You’ll have to read on.

supense 2

#3. Jay ominously continued: “’30’s the new 20,’ Alex would say. And as far as I could tell, she was right. Work happened later, marriage happened later, kids happened later, even death happened later. 20-somethings like Alex and I had nothing but time. But my supervisor pushed me to push Alex about her love life. I pushed back: I said, ‘Sure, she’s dating down, she’s sleeping with a knuckle head. But it’s not like she’s gonna marry the guy.’ And then my supervisor said, ‘not yet. But she might marry the next one. Besides, the best time to work on Alex’s marriage is before she has one.’  That’s what psychologists call an ah-ha moment, that was the moment I realized, 30’s not the new 20. Yes, people settle down later than they used to, but that didn’t make Alex’s 20s a developmental down time, that made Alex’s 20s a developmental sweet spot and we were sitting their blowing it.” 

Shouldn’t the ah-ah moment have been “I’m not a very good therapist.” Shouldn’t you discourage your client from “dating down” and “sleeping with knuckle heads” regardless of his or her age? And who blows a “developmental sweet spot”?  That would have been my ah-ha moment.


#4. “These are the facts. We know that 80% of life’s most defining moments take place by age 35. That means that 8 of 10 of the decisions and experiences and ah-ah moments that make your life what it is will have happened by your mid thirties. People who are over 40, don’t panic. This crowd is going to be fine, I think.”

Why is this crowd going to be OK? Because they are at TED? And get to hear her speech?


#5. “Leonard Bernstein said that to achieve great things you need a plan and not quite enough time. Isn’t that true? So what do you think happens when you pat a 20 something on the head and say you have 10 extra years to start your life? Nothing happens. You have robbed that person of his urgency and ambition and absolutely nothing happens.”

I wonder if Jay knows that Leonard Berstein didn’t get married until his thirties. And he was a gay man, who married a woman. But hey, still a useful quote.


#6. “The Post-millennial midlife crisis isn’t buying a red sports car. It’s realizing, you can’t have that career you now want. It’s realizing you can’t have that child you now want. Or you can’t give your child a sibling. Too many 30-somethings and 40-somethings look at themselves and at me, sitting across the room, and say about their twenties, ‘What was I doing, what was I thinking?'”

I mostly think what was I wearing?

#7.  “Now you may be thinking that thirty actually is a better time to settle down than 29 or even 25, And I agree with you. But grabbing whoever you’re living with or sleeping with when everyone on Facebook starts walking down the aisle  is not progress.”

Or when everyone on Facebook starts posting engagement photos! Those are the worst!

#8. “But that’s what I love about working with 20-somethings. They are so easy to help.”



#9. “20-somethings are like airplanes, just leaving LAX, bound for somewhere West. Rightafter take-off a slight change in course is the difference between landing in Alaska or Fiji.”

And what are we 30-somethings? Leaving LAX and then descending into the Pacific or crashing into a densely populated building?


#10. “At 21 or 25 or even 29, one good conversation, one good break, one good TED talk could have an enormous effect across the years and even generations to come. So here’s an idea worth spreading to every  20-something you know….30 is not the new 20, so claim your adulthood…. Don’t be defined by what you didn’t know or didn’t do. You’re deciding your life right now.”

And for us who have already gone through our twenties…?

In all seriousness, I think Dr. Jay needs to read a copy of Samhita’s book and call me in the morning.


Born and raised on the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, Katie Halper is a comic, writer, blogger, satirist and filmmaker based in New York. Katie graduated from The Dalton School (where she teaches history) and Wesleyan University (where she learned that labels are for jars.) A director of Living Liberally and co-founder/performer in Laughing Liberally, Katie has performed at Town Hall, Symphony Space, The Culture Project, D.C. Comedy Festival, all five Netroots Nations, and The Nation Magazine Cruise, where she made Howard Dean laugh! and has appeared with Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, The Yes Men, Cynthia Nixon and Jim Hightower. Her writing and videos have appeared in The New York Times, Comedy Central, The Nation Magazine, Gawker, Nerve, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Alternet and Katie has been featured in/on NY Magazine, LA Times, In These Times, Gawker,Jezebel, MSNBC, Air America, GritTV, the Alan Colmes Show, Sirius radio (which hung up on her once) and the National Review, which called Katie “cute and some what brainy.” Katie co-produced Tim Robbins’s film Embedded, (Venice Film Festival, Sundance Channel); Estela Bravo’s Free to Fly (Havana Film Festival, LA Latino Film Festival); was outreach director for The Take, Naomi Klein/Avi Lewis documentary about Argentine workers (Toronto & Venice Film Festivals, Film Forum); co-directed New Yorkers Remember the Spanish Civil War, a video for Museum of the City of NY exhibit, and wrote/directed viral satiric videos including Jews/ Women/ Gays for McCain.

Katie is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, and New Yorker.

Read more about Katie

Join the Conversation