In case you haven't heard, your 20s and 30s are the best years of your life – at least, that's what older generations and popular culture constantly tell us. But for more than half of millennials, the time between their mid-20s and early 30s is a time full of anxiety, panic, and insecurity. For a long time, worried feelings surrounding career, relationships, and finances didn't hit until mid-life, but quarter-life crises are becoming more and more common.
What is causing these crises so early on? We surveyed over 1,000 people aged 23 to 39 to get a better idea of which factors affect life satisfaction, and how many individuals are actually struggling through life's "best years."
Foundations for Freakout
Quarter-life crises may not be as well-known as midlife crises, but 2 in 3 people aged 23 to 39 have experienced one. Almost 70 percent traced the cause back to lower than desired earnings. Surprisingly, family-related pressures like long-term relationships, marriage, and babies weren't major stressors leading to crises. Rather, these difficult times were mostly brought on by financial and career-related stressors. In fact, millennials seem to be the first generation that is turning away from building a family believing instead that education and a career are the true markers of adulthood.
Pressure to Succeed
So where is all this pressure to succeed coming from? For over half of people, they were their own biggest source of pressure. This could be holding millennials back: Studies have shown this generation to be extra critical of themselves due to endless comparison to their peers and mentors. While comparison and self-accountability can fuel motivation and success, too much can result in the same anxiety and disappointment the majority are feeling.
(Can't Get No) Satisfaction
According to scientific studies, people experience a peak in life satisfaction at 23 years old. But for those going through a quarter-life crisis, only 32 percent were satisfied with their career, and around 52 percent were satisfied with their love life. Regardless of whether they had a current crisis, past crisis, or no crisis at all, respondents reported feeling the least satisfied with their finances compared to their career and love life. Only 24 percent of those going through a quarter-life crisis were satisfied with their finances, which may be linked to their average earnings of $38,000 – the lowest of all three groups.
"Job hopping" is a term usually used as a jab toward those with longer resumes, but the stigma surrounding more frequent job changes is slowly fading. Although millennials are thought to be job hopping more than any other generation, those who have gone through a quarter-life crisis changed careers more often than those currently in a crisis and those who have never experienced one.
Overall, the majority were content with their decision to change careers and did so around the age of 27. While studies have shown job satisfaction increases with age, how long one has been working at an organization also plays a major role. Staying longer actually decreases job satisfaction, so changing career paths may help in starting the satisfaction cycle over again.
Changing careers doesn't always end in satisfaction, though. While 50 percent of those currently going through a crisis changed their career, only 46 percent were satisfied with their new path. Satisfaction levels were also shown to vary by industry. Respondents working in the finance and insurance industry reported the highest level of satisfaction, followed by those in legal, and then education. Only 26 percent of respondents in the hotel, food services, and hospitality industry reported being satisfied with their career, the least of all industries studied.
Finding a lifetime partner, getting married, and having babies may not be the biggest stressors in our respondents' lives, but having a quarter-life crisis definitely was a factor in how people viewed their spouses and love life. Although the majority of respondents (regardless of whether or not they did or did not have a quarter-life crisis) reported being positive they made the right decision in getting married when they did, those who had never experienced a crisis were less likely to report making the wrong decision.
Unfortunately, it's not always about timing. Thirty percent of married people who were currently going through a quarter-life crisis believed they settled for their spouse. However, feelings of settling do not necessarily lead to divorce. This age group has actually been waiting longer to tie the knot and tends to stay married, shrinking the high divorce rate.
Becoming a parent is heavily tied to financial status, so how do those going through a crisis feel about welcoming a child into the world? Almost 65 percent felt positive they made the right decision to have a child when they did, with only 20 percent feeling unsure about their decision. Still, people who were going through or had previously experienced a crisis were more likely to believe they became a parent at the wrong time, compared to those who had never experienced a quarter-life crisis.
Coping Through Crisis
Experiencing a quarter-life crisis can lead people to make changes in their careers and personal lives, but unhealthy coping mechanisms can also develop. For some people, feelings of anxiety and depression fuel drinking as a way of numbing or escaping the negative feelings. So, what effect does a quarter-life crisis have on drinking habits? We measured respondents' alcohol consumption, drinking behaviors, and alcohol-related problems using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), and found those currently going through a quarter-life crisis ranked closer to hazardous or harmful alcohol use compared to those who had previously experienced a crisis and those who never had. With a score of 8 indicating hazardous or harmful alcohol use, respondents currently in crisis scored a 6.4, while those who had previously gone through a crisis scored a 5.5.
People who had never experienced a quarter-life crisis and those who'd never compared themselves to their friends scored the lowest on the AUDIT – an average score of 4.5 and 4.3, respectively. Of course, comparison is part of what makes us human, with the potential to either boost our self-esteem or cause it to come crashing down. But when comparison becomes standard in every interaction, the likelihood of harmful alcohol use increases. Respondents who reported always comparing themselves to their friends scored an 8.1 on the AUDIT, while scores slowly decreased with frequency of comparison.
Midlife crises usually occur at a time when many things change psychologically, emotionally, and physically. However, as times change and millennials flood the workforce, it seems like midlife crises are happening much earlier – so much so that the quarter-life crisis has become the new midlife crisis. While people in their 20s and 30s aren't going through as many physical changes, the stress brought on by careers and finances can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression. At BodyLogicMD, we have all the information you need to learn about Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy for those seeking treatment for the physical side effects of aging, so you can figure out which treatment is right for you. Visit us online today so we can connect you to expertly trained affiliated physicians and get you back to feeling like yourself.
We surveyed 1,015 people aged 23 to 39 years old using Amazon's Mechanical Turk to collect the data shown in this project. All respondents were American. 40.2 percent were men, and 52.8 percent were women. The average age of respondents was 31 years old with a standard deviation of 4.7. Of the 1,015 respondents, 355 people admitted to currently experiencing a quarter-life crisis, 313 claimed they had previously experienced a quarter-life crisis, and the remaining 347 people claimed that they were not currently experiencing, nor had they ever experienced, a quarter-life crisis. We asked participants the following question and whether they were currently experiencing a quarter-life crisis, had previously experienced a quarter-life crisis, or had never experienced a quarter-life crisis:
"Do you believe that you have gone or are going through a quarter-life crisis in your mid-20s or early 30s? A quarter-life crisis is described as a period of insecurity and doubt that many people in their mid-20s to early 30s go through surrounding their career, relationships, and finances."
As with any survey that relies on self-reported data, there are limitations to the strength of the data. Specifically, we asked respondents to self-report on whether or not they had experienced a quarter-life crisis and were unable to verify their claims. Future research into the topic could use more rigorous methods of testing to produce more accurate results.
Fair Use Statement
Are you feeling the pressures of a quarter-life crisis? Well, there's no need to worry about sharing this study. We grant you permission to share the graphics and content of this project for noncommercial purposes. Just don't forget to link back to this page to give the authors proper credit.