Coming of Age in the Age of Possibility


PortiCo Research spent four months in 2001 getting to know 16 young adults between the ages of 21 and 25 in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. We conducted in-depth interviews with them in their apartments, met their friends, and went to their clubs, parties and dance classes.

Our goal was to get behind the labels for a group – an elusive demographic coveted by marketers – that has been dubbed everything from “twentysomethings” to the “options generation” to the “last of the Gen X-ers.” We wanted to find out who these young consumers really are-what they think about themselves, others and the world.

The resulting study, “Coming of Age in the Age of Possibility,” surprised and intrigued us. We found the following main themes:

  • Creating a Culture of Possibility
    21-25 year olds are busy creating a culture of possibility. These young people see every aspect of life as an open opportunity for self-expression and self-fulfillment. Approaching work, fun, friendships, art, music, home decorating and world travel with almost equal levels of enthusiasm and determination, they place their personal stamp upon every endeavor-and expect to learn and grow through each one.
  • Strengthening the Self
    Twentysomethings’ culture of possibility is part of a growing trend of self-complexity among American consumers, who are developing multiple identities to build their resilience in an increasingly hectic world. For the 21-25 year old, the youthful tendency to embrace ideas and experiences leads this age group to throw themselves even more wholeheartedly into all of their endeavors. By fully investing themselves in everything they do, they can reap the self-awareness and self-confidence that will strengthen them for the next stage, the next project, the next lesson.
  • Values and Vulnerability
    At the same time, young adults’ still-developing selves can become overwhelmed by the sheer range of possibilities open to them. In addition to having high expectations for themselves, they are highly introspective, questioning and assessing themselves with regularity. With their emphasis on personal effort and responsibility, they tend to take on a lot, and judge the results of everything they do according to strict, if highly personal standards.