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Last week, the United States Census Bureau published a study entitled “The Changing Economics and Demographics of Young Adulthood: 1975–2016,” which highlights how Millennials views and experiences of adulthood differ from those who were young adults in 1975, generally speaking, how Millennials’ views and experiences of adulthood differ from their parents.
The study is fascinating and it doesn’t reveal anything surprising or new, per se, to those of us who study Millennials. However, it does confirm for us a lot of thoughts and “stereotypes” we have about Millennials.
As I have written about at length on this blog, Millennials are generally seen to be a generation of young people who can’t stop looking at their phones long enough to move out of their parents’ houses, get married, and start a family—three of the historical “markers” of adulthood. This stereotype is just that: a generalization that has some truth to it but should not be applied to everyone born between 1980ish and 1995ish.
This newest data does, however, affirm this common stereotype of Millennials.
Let’s look at some of the data.
Here is a chart from the Census report depicting how Millennials see different life experiences as varying degrees of “important” when it comes to “becoming an adult.”
In short, Millennials view “adulthood” as more of a professionally- or career-oriented achievement than a social- or family-oriented one.
When it comes to “becoming an adult” American young people simply do not see “starting a family” as a high priority. Their priorities are more professionally-oriented milestones like completing school or getting a full-time job.
Notice that Millennials are sort of split when it comes to whether or not they believe living outside of their parents’ home is important for becoming an adult: 26% say it is very important, 56% say it is somewhat important, and 19% say it’s not important at all.
This is a telling statistic that comes into play later.
According to the Census Bureau, there are four “common milestones” of adulthood, and they are: living away from parents, being married (at some point), living with a child, and being in the labor force.
In 1975, 45% of adults ages 25-34 had achieved all four of these milestones. In 2016, just 24% of young adults (older Millennials) had reached all four of those milestones. Here’s a chart:
Notice, the second-most common “adulthood status” of young adults in 1975 and 2016 are quite different.
In 1975, 22% of young adults lived away from their parents, were married or divorced, and had a child (6% in 2016).
In 2016, 23% of young adults lived away from parents and were in the labor force (6% in 1975). Yet more evidence showing that today’s young adults simply have different priorities than there parents may have had when they were their age.
Why might young adults in 2016 place a higher priority on getting through school and getting a job than perhaps their parents did? For the same reason many of today’s young adults are living at home with those parents: the economy.
Today, the American economy is in working order, relatively-speaking anyway. People aren’t losing their homes and their jobs by thousands each month, anyway.
However, the relative economic stability young adults (and all Americans) are experiencing today is very different from the economic tumult their experienced in some of their most formative years.
I’ve written here before about how my dad lost his job of 27 years at IBM when I was a senior in high school, just as we were figuring out how to pay for college, by no fault of his own. Until that point we never had to worry about money or job security or anything like that. In a month all of that drastically changed.
My experience is not uncommon. Many Millennials who are between the ages of 25-34 today (I’m 26) experienced varying levels of difficulty just as they were trying to leave home to go to college, get a degree, and find a job of their own.
Because of the past economic instability, many Millennials today are choosing (or have no other option than) to live in their parents’ homes.
According to this report: 33% of Americans ages 18-34 live in their parents’ homes.
Now, before you start ranting about how Millennials are a bunch of sissies, you have to take into account one factor: Millennials are going to college at a higher rate than any generation in history, and this report counts Millennial college students as “living at home with parents.” So, part (not all) of the reason this number is so high is because more Millennials are in or went to college than any generation before them.
All of that to say: a lot of Millennials live at home, and a lot of them think it’s fine (see “How Millennials View Adulthood” above).
Many Millennials, being unmarried and without children, would rather live at their parents’ house and save money for their own house rather than live in an apartment and throw money away at rent. I understand this feeling—apartment living wasn’t all bad, but throwing money away at rent was the worst.
Because many of them scraped through college on ramen and cheap beer and because Millennials have more student debt than anyone else in American history, they’re looking to save pennies wherever they can, and living with mom and dad worth the extra savings.
It is interesting to see the trend broken down into different racial categories, which I had never seen before. Here is a chart with that data:
I wrote an entire blog post on the subject of Millennials living with their parents a while back, click here to read more on it if you’d like.