“Adulting Hard!” Using Data Science to Learn the Why and How of this Millennial Trend

Posted by Megan Risdal on 8/25/16 12:04 PM, Last updated 04/29/2017
Megan Risdal
When you hear someone sigh (or tweet) the phrase, “Adulting is soo hard,” you immediately know you’re listening to a Millennial. Ever the wordsmiths, Generation Y young adults have turned the noun “adult” into a verb (to adult) and back into a noun (adulting). As one of the American Dialect Society’s nominated words of the year in 2015, the popular word is a sign of the times. In this blog post, I take a data-driven approach to What is adulting structured and unstructured data analysisunderstanding this phenomenon using some natural language processing techniques. Before diving into what may look like a foreign language to some, it helps to flesh out the context a bit. Generation Y, raised by parents who were coddling and optimistic during the Clinton era, are now weathering the brunt of a harsh new reality: student loan debt and, until recently, unfavorable job prospects that make post-Millennial Generation Z much more skeptical and cautious. While suspended in this awkward chasm (not quite a kid, not quite a grownup), Millennials were crushed by soaring college costs, but could still safely come home to their parents’ to have their laundry done for them. Now that many have graduated and boomeranged back to their parents’ spare bedrooms (32% of Millennials live at home), what’s next?


For certain young adults, adulting remains out of grasp (a fact which they may lament), but for others it means (finally) buying a first home, (finally) getting married, or maybe even just getting the bills paid on time. In any case, adulting represents any small victory that can be managed in face of ever-increasing odds. So what does this shibboleth of the Millennial generation mean? What are they doing when they’re “adulting”? How do they feel about “adulting”? To find out, I collected about 5,000 tweets from Twitter using R, an open-source statistical programming language, that contained the word (or hashtag) “adulting.”

How do they feel?

Using sentiment analysis, words from the tweets were assigned to eight basic emotions (trust, fear, sadness, anger, joy, surprise, anticipation, disgust) and two sentiments (positive and negative). These classifications were made using the NRC emotion lexicon which was annotated manually through crowdsourced efforts. The figure below shows the percentage of words used according to each emotion and sentiment classification. For example, about 2% of all words were classified as conveying “disgust.”

Millennials marketing opportunity sentiment

Are you surprised to see that the most common sentiment expressed by “adulters” is positive? Adulting is a source of pride, after all, and over 7% of the words they use have a positive valence. The next most common emotions are anticipation, trust, negative, and joy. A fair number are negative, as well—about 5% of words used. We’ll figure out why in the next section when we look more closely at the individual words.

What words are people using?

So what words are people using to express each of the emotions as they talk about adulting their way through life? Natural language processing techniques Millennials You can see how the words correspond well with their emotions! It seems that the majority of all negatively classified words is made up of “hate.” So that 5% of all words being negative is coming mostly from this single word. A few bad, or hateful, apples! In fact, I checked and 98% of the tweets don’t contain the word “hate.” Other more positive emotion words appear to express readiness to begin something new. The next most common emotion, “anticipation” includes words like “time”, “start”, “tomorrow”, and “excited”. Another common word is “finally.” You’ll also notice that a lot of words center on financial topics like “money”, “credit”, and “shopping.”

What are people talking about?

To see what exactly people are talking about when they are “adulting,” I performed a Latent Dirichlet allocation (LDA), which is an unsupervised learning algorithm that, in our case, automatically groups sets of tweets into themes, also known as topics, based on the words used in them. For example, say I use the word “sand” in my tweet. Am I more likely to be talking about the topic of “research” or the topic of “Hawaii”?



From the LDA model, we can identify a number of “adulting” themes which provide insight into what the collected tweets are about without having to painstakingly read and synthesize them all. The following image shows the relevance (relative frequency of a word and its probability given a topic) of words to each of ten themes:



Here are some of the interesting themes that came out of the topic modeling analysis that show what Millennials are up to when they’re adulting:

1. Paying bills.  This topic includes relevant words like “bills”, “money”, “credit”, “paying”, and “bank.” Having and paying bills is a definite first step towards adulthood worth tweeting about. As you can see from the highlighted topic in the figure above, Millennials are love-hate when it comes to paying bills. For some it’s a positive source of pride while others are clearly more reluctantly flung into “adulting.” Unstructured data analysis twitter

2. Making appointments. Whether they’re scheduling their first doctor’s appointment without mom’s help or going to a job interview, words like “appointment”, “scheduled”, “doctor’s”, “dentist”, “interview”, and “insurance” are not too surprising to hear coming from these “adulters.”Unstructured data analysis twitter

3. Stress! Being an adult is stressful and anxiety-inducing for Millennials, and they go to Twitter to vent their growing pains. In doing so, they use words like: “hard”, “sucks”, “stressful”, “scary”, “tough”, and “crying.”Unstructured data analysis twitter

4. Starting college. Younger Millennials are heading off to new adventures at college. With much anticipation, Millennials announce they’re “adulting hard” on the eve of their first days of school with words like: “start”, “college”, “school”, “tomorrow”, “officially”, “moment”, and “ready.” Given the growing financial responsibility that comes with college attendance, this theme is truly worth its “adult” status now more than ever.Unstructured data analysis twitterWhile there are a number of other topics that crop up like cleaning the house and doing the laundry without mom’s help, I hope this provides a bit of insight into what “adulting” is all about from the words of likely Millennials themselves (and some of what text analytics makes possible). The biggest realization for me is that adulting is a generally positive moment of pride that young adults in this generation have been eagerly awaiting. With many obstacles suddenly placed in their way, it’s very understandable that they celebrate small victories.

There’s so much to learn from analyzing unstructured data. If you need help, we’ll find the insights in yours.



Topics: Data

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