The average young adult today has many fundamental differences from young adults in 1975.
The U.S. Census Bureau released a study Wednesday looking at people ages 18-34 in both 1975 and 2016 and found several major economic and behavioral differences – including that millennials tend to be more educated than previous generations but are much less likely to own a home.
“In prior generations, young adults were expected to have finished school, found a job, and set up their own household during their 20s—most often with their spouse and with a child soon to follow,” the study says. “Today’s young adults take longer to experience these milestones. What was once ubiquitous during their 20s is now not commonplace until their 30s.”
Education is seen as the most important milestone to becoming an adult by millennials. More than 60 percent of 18-34-year-olds in 2016 said education was “extremely important,” and 37 percent had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 23 percent in 1975.
That issue helps explain the lack of homeownership, as young people take on more debt to finish school today than before.
“In 2013, 41 percent of young families had student debt, up from 17 percent in 1989,” the census study says. “Not only do more young families have student debt, they are deeper in debt too. The amount owed on student loans nearly tripled, rising from a median of $6,000 to $17,300 across the same period (in 2013 dollars).”
Perhaps because of that debt, fewer Americans think moving out of their parents’ homes is an important part of adulthood, even though half see economic security, having a full-time job and being able to support a family as very important.
Only 29 percent of those 18-34 in 2016 said they own a home, compared to 52 percent in 1975.
Millennials are still getting married and having children at the same rate of previous generations, but they tend to do so later in life. By age 24, 57 percent of women and 38 percent of men in 1976 had married. In 2014, only 17 percent of women and 10 percent of men were married by the same age.
About 70 percent of women had a child by age 29 in 1976, compared to 50 percent of women having a child by the same age today.
“Parenthood now precedes marriage for many women,” the census study says. “Nearly 40 percent of all births in the United States are to unmarried women.”
Young adults today are also more likely to live alone, with an unmarried partner or with their parents than they were in 1975. They are less likely to live with a spouse, as young adults are “trading marriage for cohabitation.”
“Over the last 40 years, the number of young people living with a boyfriend or girlfriend has increased more than 12 times, making it the fastest growing living arrangement among young adults,” the study says. “Not only are they living together without being married, they are doing so at the same age that earlier generations were settling down to marry.”
The study concludes that young adults in 1975 were more likely to hit the four milestones of adulthood: living away from your parents, being in the labor force, getting married and having children. While the milestones have remained the same, “the pathways are more diverse” for millennials.