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The three life stages of the American Professional

Sociology tips by Donald K.. Burleson

March 2010

George Will had an interesting column titled "Basement Boys" in NEWSWEEK about how young people today seem to be perpetual adolescents.  I really enjoyed this profound observation:

"Playboy magazine, a harbinger of perpetual adolescence, sold trinkets for would-be social dropouts: "Join the beat generation! Buy a beat generation tieclasp." Think about that."

Ha!  Let's be nonconformist with a beatnik tie clasp! 

But the baby boomers were not really perpetual adolescents, we just looked like that to our parents because we stayed in college halfway through our 20's.

I think that George misses the point because it takes longer and longer to be able to enter the professionals workplace. 

The amount of technology to learn increases and it's not enough today to have a master degree.  In the areas of engineering, computer science and Information Systems, post graduate learning is often required to remain competitive and it can take a decade of college study to prepare for a professional career.

When my father entered the workforce (the 1930's), having a high school diploma was the equivalent of a bachelors degree.  When I started working professionally (the 1980's) you needed a master degree, and my son's generation (the 2010's) a professional needs a terminal degree to distinguish yourself and be competitive.

For each successive generation, education seems to take longer and longer, yet the retirement age remains fixed at 45-50 years old, with more time learning and less time spent working.

Preparing for the professional workplace takes more time and education with each passing generation, but they all tend to retire at about the same age (45-50):

  • The Greatest Generation:  My father (Born 1914, average life expectancy 56 years) spent his first 20 years getting ready to enter the workplace, 20 years working., and 20 years in retirement. 

  • The Baby Boomer generation:  I was born in 1956 (average life expectancy 70 years), and I spent about 25 years educated (MBA), about 25 years working, and hopefully, I will live to get 25 years of retirement.

  • Generation Y:  My son Andrew Burleson (born 1986, average life expectancy 75 years) will have spent 30 years getting his JD/MBA before he enters the professional workplace.  But his generation is different.  He should be able to retire at about the same age has his forefathers (mod 40's), and enjoy a much longer retirement.

The three stages of a professional's life

I found it interesting that, despite the changes, that the life of an American professional seems to be divided into thirds:

The American professionals life is divided into thirds

It's interesting that Generation Y will spend more time growing up and getting educated than being in the workplace!

But this one-third rule is shifting, which each generation getting more leisure years at the backend.

My father got about 20 years in retirement, I hope to get 30, and my son's generation should get 40 years of retirement, after only working for 15-20 years!

While my son will be nearly 30 years old when he enters the workplace, he will earn far beyond what me and my father did (in net present value dollars), and have will have earned his first million dollars before he is 35 and he should be able to retire at age 45, about the same time as his father and grandfather.

The difference is, of course, that he will live much longer and have far more years to enjoy life than preceding generations. 





Note: The opinions expressed on these pages are the sole opinion of Donald K. Burleson and do not reflect the opinions of Burleson Enterprises Inc. or any of its subsidiaries.

Suggestions?  We are always seeking new tips for the professional at leisure, and any suggestions would be most welcome.  If you find an error or have a suggestion for improving our content, we would appreciate your feedback. 

Copyright � 1996 -  2010 by Donald K Burleson. All rights reserved.