Being Young Is Not What It Used to Be

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In the 1970s, eight of 10 Americans were married by the time they reached 30 years of age. In 2016, eight in 10 of Americans weren’t married until they reached the age of 45.

That’s not the only change in the young adult (18 to 34 years of age) population in the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau has just published a report titled “The Changing Economics and Demographics of Young Adulthood: 1975 — 2016” that illuminates the differences that have evolved over four decades in what it is to be a young adult.

The report compares what is now called the millennial generation and the boomer generation that fell into the 18 to 34-year-old age range in 1975. The Census Bureau notes that “today’s young adults look different from prior generations in almost every regard ….”

Here are several of the ways young adults today different from the young adults of 1975:

More young people today live in their parents’ home than in any other arrangement: 1 in 3 young people, or about 24 million 18- to 34-year-olds, lived in their parents’ home in 2015.

In 2005, the majority of young adults lived independently in their own household, which was the predominant living arrangement in 35 states. A decade later, by 2015, the number of states where the majority of young people lived independently fell to just six.

More young men are falling to the bottom of the income ladder. In 1975, only 25 percent of men, aged 25 to 34, had incomes of less than $30,000 per year. By 2016, that share rose to 41 percent of young men. (Incomes for both years are in 2015 dollars.)

Between 1975 and 2016, the share of young women who were homemakers fell from 43 percent to 14 percent of all women aged 25 to 34.

Of young people living in their parents’ home, 1 in 4 are idle, that is they neither go to school nor work. This figure represents about 2.2 million 25- to 34-year-olds.

Among the milestone experiences of becoming an adult, Americans who were surveyed by the Census Bureau ranked completing a formal education as extremely important (61%) and more than half (52%) said it was extremely important to have a full-time job. Fully half said being capable of financially supporting a family was also extremely important. Only 12% said getting married is extremely important and 10% said having a child was extremely important.

In 1975, 45% of 25- to 34-year-olds had reached the four common milestones — getting married, having a child, working and living independently — of adulthood. In 2016, just 24% of similarly aged young adults had reached the same four milestones. The percentage of young adults who have lived away from the parents, ever been married and lived with a child has dropped from 22% in 1975 to just 8% in 2016.

As a percentage of the total 25- to 34-year-old population, women in the workforce grew from 49.3% in 1975 to 70.4% in 2016. The percentage of men in that age group in the workforce dipped from 84.9% to 83.7%. Women have also advanced more in educational attainment, more than doubling the percentage with at least a bachelor’s degree from 18.4% to 40.0%. The percentage of men in the age group with at least a bachelor’s degree rose from 27.4% to 34.0%.

Visit the Census Bureau website for more data and the methodology used in the report.