Adulthood, once squarely a social right of passage facilitated by friends, family, sewing circles, and high-school home-ec classes, increasingly seems like a luxury. “Adulting,” the term often used by millennials to refer to activities like doing laundry, cooking, and filing taxes, is something you do, not something you are, because you can’t take it for granted, at least not in this economy. It was only a matter of time before people with credit scores would pay for it.
The Los Angeles Times reports that more and more college students and postgrads are enrolling in “adulting” classes, which vary in approach but tend to offer instruction on how to conduct relationships and hold down jobs. The piece focuses on UC Berkeley’s “adulting” course, in which students learn to “create and stick to a personal budget, build a résumé and apply for jobs, and navigate romantic relationships in a time when online interactions are eclipsing face-to-face encounters.” The course is designed and operated by undergrads as part of the university’s DeCal (Democratic Education at Cal) program.
But instruction in the ways of adulting reportedly takes a variety of forms, including private classes, student-run courses at tuition-based colleges, and support networks provided by blogs and social networks. “Similar classes or in-person workshops have popped up at libraries and universities across the country,” the Times, notes. Among these is the Adulting School of Portland, Maine, whose clients are “typically in their 20s and 30s” and come seeking guidance in “interviewing, conflict resolution and making friends … personal finance and basic home maintenance.”
The article suggests that adulting classes could be filling a need in the marketplace due to the decline of home economics classes for elementary and high school students, noting that many schools have abandoned “life skills” courses. The piece suggests a few possible reasons for this, including the dominion of standardized tests and the perception that home ec is outdated, perhaps because it was originally founded in the early 1900s based on gender essentialist notions of “women’s work.” (On the other hand, the goal of home-ec classes, at least initially, was to promote feminized work and move it out of the home.)
The adulting movement, tiny but growing, seems also to be rooted in the economic anxieties of its moment, featuring rising income inequality, a generous offering of soul-crushing employment options that may or may not pay the bills, and a relatively weak (but resurgent) labor movement. It looks like a rebranding of home ec, when really it’s more like a logical corollary to receiving an expensive college education: It’s another way to pay money to become an adult.