Madeleine Watson, 29, a resident of Vancouver, British Columbia, said: “I’ve been to, maybe, three or four house parties in the last couple of years, and they’re always Halloween or New Year’s or a holiday event. And it’s always the same house and the same people throwing it.”
Christine Vines, 27, said in her first couple of years in Brooklyn, she and her roommate hosted, maybe, two house parties. “That was a trial,” she said. “We decided it was more effort than it was worth. I went to a handful a year, usually Halloween or New Year’s.”
Sneeze at these comments as anecdotal evidence cherry-picked for another nebulous hypothesis about millennials, or cite the all-night rager you attended last weekend as disproof. Yet some data does suggest that 20-somethings are scaling back.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average number of hours per day 15- to 24-year-olds spent attending or hosting social events on weekends or holidays — the times they are most likely to go to parties — declined sharply from 2003 to 2014 to nine minutes from 15. (That may not seem like much, but consider that this is the average of all those who fit the demographic.) The percentage who participated in these activities dropped to 4.1 from 7.1 over the same span.
Their tame night lives began in high school. According to a nationwide annual survey by the University of California, Los Angeles, the time high school seniors devoted to partying has slid drastically over the decades. Except for a few years, the number of homebodies who never attended parties as high school seniors has steadily increased, to 41.3% in 2014 from 11.7% in 1987, and it’s accelerated in the new millennium, more than doubling since 2001. Over a third of Gen X high schoolers fought for their right to party at the tail end of the Reagan administration, spending more than six hours per week at gatherings; just 10.7% of the most recent Obama-era high school seniors did.
While the drop may be attributed mostly to the rigorous academic requirements needed to get into college nowadays and the revelry-stifling presence of helicopter parents, technological innovations are likely to be playing a role, too.
In his controversial 2000 book “Bowling Alone,” Robert Putnam argued that community participation has been disintegrating for decades. Mr. Richman’s lyrics pin part of the blame on television: “People are moving to California who hate the beach and things / I think they’d rather watch TV than hear a real person sing.”
“It’s gonna get easier and easier, and more and more convenient, and more and more pleasurable, to be alone with images on a screen,” David Foster Wallace predicted in his 1996 interview in the book “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself” (a line that is also quoted in the new literary biopic “The End of the Tour”).
There are a number of obvious reasons the modern Internet may make parties an unpalatable option on a Saturday night compared to the pleasures of a screen. First, there’s the communal connection one may get without much emotional strain from social media, texting or instant messaging. The panoply of at-home entertainment options now immediately available renders quaint the impoverished selection at a 1990s Blockbuster. And if you’re looking for a new romantic partner, swiping for 10 minutes on Tinder may be more efficient than trekking an hour each way only to encounter the same people you always see.
Social media may have made it a snap to invite people to a gathering, but technological innovations have also made it easier for them to cancel.
“I can imagine trying to throw a big party,” Mr. Friedman said, “inviting a bunch of people on Facebook and counting the RSVPs who said ‘attending,’ and then watching them text me one by one that night that they’re just too tired to make it. Texting makes flaking out extremely simple.”
Moreover, the threat of digital exposure when you haven’t asked over a specific person is a headache some would rather avoid. “I have a friend who still won’t talk to me,” Ms. Watson said, “because she didn’t make the tiniest guest list for a Christmas party I had — my own sister didn’t get invited — that she saw pictures of on the Internet.”
The rise of foodie culture, too, has stabbed a Ginsu knife of culinary anxiety into the hearts of potential hosts; Mr. Richman’s “potato chips sitting there” won’t cut it in the Kale Age. Ms. Watson used to hold an annual Christmas party but stopped two years ago because it was too much work to meet the unspoken dietary expectations of her guests, who are used to “spreads of gluten-free sprouted crackers,” she said. “It took me four days to make all the food, and I put a huge amount of pressure on myself.”
As for alcohol, her friends have top-shelf taste. “Now it’s bourbon — and not just any bourbon,” she said, “but Woodford Reserve. And where I live, it’s all about craft beer. You bring your own growler.”
Personalized growlers are quite a change from the 40-ounce bottles of Olde English 800 that once served as a common vessel for young partygoers.
“I don’t remember food ever being served at the house parties I went to when I was young,” said Christopher Bollen, 39, a novelist and an editor at large for Interview magazine, who moved to New York in 1996. “If there was, it was laced with something. Alcohol would just be beer or cheap vodka in a plastic container, wine coolers, Zima, that moment when Jägermeister was really popular.”
Today’s imported cheeses and microbrewed beers are costly, as well, an expenditure that millennials with limited funds aren’t always eager to make. (According to the Pew Research Center, 16 percent of them in 2013 lived in poverty, higher than Gen Xers and baby boomers in comparable eras).
“It’s a monetary issue for me of having to buy all the refreshments and snacks myself and not wanting to be in the awkward position of asking people for money,” Mr. Friedman said.
More financially injurious, however, is the exorbitant rents that millennials often pay, and that it situates them in neighborhoods where their friends don’t go (or, even less appealingly, with their parents). In New York, gentrification has led to a multiborough diaspora of the city’s young adults. No longer does a high concentration live in one relatively inexpensive, centrally located area, as was the case in Greenwich Village in the 1960s or the East Village of the ’90s.
“My friends live all over the place,” said Mr. Friedman, who recently moved to Bedford-Stuyvesant from Bushwick. “And I think the chance that enough people are actually up for making it through two transfers after midnight on the way home is pretty unlikely.”
Location has also presented challenges for Ms. Watson in Vancouver’s pricey real estate market.
“Everyone’s been pushed out of the downtown center,” she said. ”We’re so isolated. I live over one bridge that takes a half-hour to walk to, which I chose based on cost, and everyone else thinks I’m in the middle of nowhere. Young people used to live in houses near the university, but now only families can afford them. Little shacks that college kids used to live in are now $2 million homes.”
Ms. Watson’s residence doesn’t provide much in the way of entertainment space, either.
“I have 400 square feet,” she said. “Even if I wanted to throw these parties, I don’t want people having to sit on my bed. I’m limited to five or six people. All my friends live in condos. No one I know has a backyard. No one has a kitchen table. I don’t even have chairs in my apartment.”
Perhaps millennials are also taking their downsizing cues from the establishment. It has often been noted that New York literary parties are now a shell of their former grandeur in an industry that no longer has the profit margins to indulge in such fripperies.
More common convening spots are readings at bookstores, which aren’t “really a party,” said Ms. Vines, an M.F.A. student of fiction at Cornell. “They have little plastic glasses of wine sometimes. Then people sometimes go out to a bar nearby. This is not sounding very cool, the more I say it aloud.”
Anthony Haden-Guest, 78, a British-American writer and socialite who came to New York in the late 1970s, partied through its most riotous post-Vietnam and Watergate heyday.
“In the literary world, there was no online competition,” he said. “Books mattered. Now a lot of the socializing happens online.”
It was also an era in which more established writers could afford New York instead of dispersing to M.F.A. programs around the country, and they would regularly assemble at George Plimpton’s famed parties for The Paris Review.
The literary salons these days are fewer and not nearly as glamorous. “All that is sadly diminished into obscurity,” Mr. Haden-Guest said.
Yet even industries flush with cash have less raucous galas now.
“There’s more money than there used to be” in the downtown art scene that Mr. Bollen has frequented since the mid-’90s, he said, “but the parties aren’t as fun. Everything is now run by the P.R. agency that plans the party as opposed to a gallery’s word of mouth. There’s an ulterior motive to get media coverage; it’s basically advertising.”
Of course, it’s entirely possible that millennials are enjoying themselves more than any previous generation and that those senior to them are just nostalgically embittered. As Mr. Richman’s ballad demonstrates, elders grousing about how things were better in their day is a perennial avocation.
“You’re always told things used to be more fun,” Mr. Bollen said. “When I was young, there was that obnoxious person in the corner who wouldn’t shut up about the early ’80s.”