These days, when my college-educated, gainfully employed thirtysomething friends and I get together, we talk about money. Not how much we paid for that new Jetta or Prius, not the house we're thinking of buying or where we're going to spend our end-of-the-year bonuses. We talk about our inadequate health insurance and whether we can afford it, about how to juggle credit card payments and crushing student loans, how to both work and pay for child care or whether we feel we can afford to have children at all.
I'll be honest: this wasn't the life I'd expected. I grew up as the only child in a dual-income, middle-class household in the 1970s. My father was a sales representative for a textbook publishing company and my mother was a third-grade teacher. Even at the height of their careers, even with investments taken into account, their combined income never crossed over into the six figures. Yet we lived in a comfortable four-bedroom house in a comfortable residential neighborhood in Seattle. I attended private schools from kindergarten on and most years we took at least one family vacation.
We weren't rolling in it but we weren't scrambling either. Most of the families I knew were the same. They ranged from middle to upper class, though as a child I had only the vaguest sense which was which. There seemed little outward difference between those families headed by doctors or architects, stockbrokers or college professors. Everyone owned a house and a car. Some of my peers went to private colleges, others went to the University of Washington, some vacationed in Hawaii, others on the Oregon Coast.
My parents worked hard and spent sensibly, fleshing out their incomes with conservative investments in the stock market and conscientiously saving for retirement. Both received generous health