Friday, August 10, 2012

The 25-year-old teen mom

The topic du jour is that girls on their parents' health insurance often don't have coverage for pregnancy. But as the first episode of "Girls" demonstrated, "girls" remain "girls," and "boys" "boys," throughout the 20s, at least when it comes to financial dependence on parents. Not that everyone 22-30 (or younger, for that matter) is financially dependent on their parents, and let all of us in that age range who are not take this moment to pat ourselves on the back, albeit less so if we graduated pre-recession. But, certainly post-2008, it's no longer considered a sign that you're failing at life if you are.

"Dependence," of course, can mean a wide range of situations. In the case of the new rule allowing those up to age 26 to stay on their parents' coverage, as I understand it, there's no implication that those taking advantage of it are living with or financially dependent on their parents. They may have their own jobs, pay their own rent, even have the option of getting insurance from their own employers.

The discussion thus far seems to go as follows: some point out that if you can't procure your own health insurance, you're in no position to have a kid. Others counter that life happens. It's unfair to the babies born to these young women that they'll have missed out on prenatal care. An entirely legitimate use of 'think of the children.'

But the more striking development is that we're defining adulthood to start later and later. The new rule is a response to the reality of life for those in their early 20s (and I wouldn't have minded it, having been uninsured for a few months at that age), but also might backfire, encouraging even large, corporate employers not to offer insurance with entry-level work, presumably by calling those jobs "internships," and once they're at it, why pay at all?

But the fact that having a kid in your early-mid 20s remains relatively non-controversial - and that by 30 on the dot (I'm 29 these days, so by all means, remind me) women are expected to get to it ASAP - reminds us that 25 is old. OK, not "old," but definitively adult. Not merely fertile in the biological sense, or 'prepared to become a mother' in the horniness sense that can get you there indirectly, but old enough to settle down. It reminds us that 25-year-olds who do depend on their parents - partially or entirely - are in an incredibly awkward spot, far more so than 17 or 19-year-olds who might feel bad about going out on a weeknight, say, when they know their parents, who are supporting them, wouldn't approve.

There comes a time when it feels wrong to be defined as a child. This need not be defined in financial terms - in eras of serfs and aristocracy, or even of a haute bourgeoisie living off investments, the ability to live on your own on your salary, or even that of your spouse, was not the line between childhood and adulthood - but in our times, it kind of is. Parent's don't know if helping a 25-year-old is enabling or morally equivalent to helping a 17-year-old. Nor do 25-year-olds know if working for no pay is a wise investment in their futures or a waste of time. We as a society haven't exactly opted to separate "adulthood" from "financial self-sufficiency," except when we have. As for where to place the dividing line, it would seem that if you're old enough that your parents' weighing in on your sexual and reproductive choices seems utterly bizarre, you are unavoidably an adult.


caryatis said...

Actually, right now the rule does not require that under-26-year-olds be covered by the parent's plan if they have employer-provided coverage, although that will change in 2014.

I wonder if you could make the case that not offering insurance for entry-level jobs amounts to age discrimination? Since under-26-year-olds will be fine, but older people in those jobs would have to pay out of pocket. Although 26-to-40 year-olds are not a protected class, as I understand it.

It always seemed bizarre to me for my parents to weigh in on my reproductive choices.

Phoebe said...

Right - I was going with where the law will be soon, not its current state, but good point.

In terms of discrimination, I can't imagine a company saying it will provide health insurance to workers past entry level, unless the new "entry level" is called an internship.

"It always seemed bizarre to me for my parents to weigh in on my reproductive choices."

I think that's true in terms of things like whether parents could compel a 15-year-old to have or not to have an abortion. But it's not bizarre for a 15-year-old's parents to tell her - or him! - that sleepovers with the significant other aren't allowed. Your parents, when you're actually, physically living under their roof and under 18, can't prevent you from having sex, but they can make it plenty difficult. But with (residential) college, the roof becomes metaphorical, financial. Even if your parents aren't paying much of your tuition, the dynamic hasn't really changed, just your location. If your parents are paying with the implicit or explicit condition that you not do anything they wouldn't approve of, then sure, you can do whatever you want, but if the evidence gets back to them, you may find yourself cut off, and even if it doesn't, just knowing that your choices are ones they're paying for probably does inhibit some. Not many, as I recall from college, but some.

PG said...

I'm sure this has been said many times before, but it seems reasonable that as our living and working and even reproducing lifespans extend, childhood and dependency will get drawn out longer. Older people hang onto jobs not so much for the insurance (at least once they're Medicare aged) but because they fear they haven't saved enough money for a life that could be really... really... long. And possibly involve some kind of half-life on a pacemaker necessitating professional nursing. So there's less space in the workplace for younger people.

Pregnancy makes this extension especially discomforting because biologically, 25 is getting old to have your first kid. (Says a childless woman older and longer married than Phoebe.) That we've been able to use technology to draw out fertility doesn't mean that it doesn't still start as early (indeed, earlier) as it ever did. Though I'm not sure I'm ready to join Toni Morrison in saying that teen pregnancy isn't the problem; the lack of support for childrearing in communities and society is.

Phoebe said...


What you say makes sense and is indeed said quite often. I'm trying here to push a bit beyond that, by pointing out that what's happening isn't as straightforward as adulthood progressing at a different rate. We're simultaneously living in the old and new orders, such that a 25-year-old feels simultaneously 1955's 25 and 2012's 25, which are two very different things.

And where reproduction enters into it is, we don't think it's outrageous for a 25-year-old woman to have a baby. But we do think it's a problem (well, most of us do) for a 15-year-old to do so. And these days, 25 kind of is 15 in a lot of ways, but also kind of not.

To go with an example from your world - law - I'm still amazed that if you want to get financial aid from law school, you need to provide your parents' financial info., even if they don't plan on paying a cent, even if you're 28 (and it seems in some cases even if you're 58). And a 28-year-old woman having a kid, that's incredibly non-outrageous-sounding, right?

PG said...


I don't think it's totally crazy for the law schools to do that inasmuch as most people are funding law school through government-backed student loans (which I don't recall asking for parental info), not through grants. Presumably *someone* in my class got some grants from the school itself, but of everyone of whose situation I knew,the few who got grants got their free money from a scholarship funded by someone else (e.g. by a foreign law firm encouraging the study of international transactional law).

I don't know of any schools that ask for the parental income info beyond 30. Isn't it kind of outdated to ask for spousal income as well? Lots of people get married but keep their finances separate and would not consider it appropriate for one spouse to fund grad school from the other's earnings. Law schools want to avoid giving out the money; they are there to take in the money. There's a limited pool of grant money and the school justifiably wants to ensure its money, when based on need instead of merit, goes to the neediest.

Phoebe said...


I don't have strong feelings either way about what law schools should do, but I think you're missing the bigger picture here, which is that if a 28-year-old's neediness-or-lack-thereof is being determined according to parental finances, that defines 28 as childhood. The reality of where law school money comes from - i.e. that this doesn't impact that many students' funding - is almost beside the point. Presumably many more are reporting their parents' income than are in any way benefiting from having done so.

You'd know better than I would, but I'm not sure how they'd get around asking about spousal income. Could you have you kid apply to private school, and then say that mom's picking up the tab, so please ignore dad's income? I'd think people within your household have more of a duty to pay for law school (if you agree as a couple that this makes sense) than parents who you haven't even lived with for a decade. Not that parents or a spouse would have to pay for it, but the person with whom you're sharing expenses (however you divide it up) would seem the more likely candidate. As for why married and 28 would be different from married and 35, that's also worth examining.