Four decades ago, getting married and having babies meant you’d reached adulthood. But today’s young people don't find those milestones nearly as important.
Barely more consequential to young adults: moving out of mom's and dad's house. Only 1 in 4 people aged 18 to 34 felt living independently was a precursor for adulthood, according to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report called "The Changing Economics and Demographics of Young Adulthood from 1975 to 2016."
Instead, today’s young people – the millennial generation – see getting an education and finding work as the most important steps to becoming an adult.
That’s because millennials’ earnings aren’t keeping up with the rising cost of living, said Todd Graham, a Metropolitan Council demographer.
“Young adults… are in an economically precarious situation in which their earnings power is not really comparable to the baby boomer’s experience in 1975, or even what Generation X experienced,” Graham said.
The number of 25- to 34-year-olds who are employed, married, have a child and live away from home today is nearly half what it was in 1975. It’s just not as important to young adults, the report said.
Meanwhile, most Americans expect adults to have finished schooling by age 22 and be financially independent by 21, according to a 2012 survey.
The ideal age to marry, Americans say, is 25.
Most young adults don’t meet those expectations.
Graham blames low wages, despite the economy’s general growth since the Great Recession.
“Overall, we’ve got a healthy economy,” Graham said, adding that wages for the age group peaked in the ‘80s and ‘90s. “But employers still need to make that adjustment of designing pay packages and wages that get past where we were in the last recession, when so many employers had scaled back.”
On top of that, baby boomers, with generally higher incomes than millennials, still dominate the housing market. Price levels, then, reflect the salaries of older generations instead of younger.
So millennials choose to stay home. Until 2005, most unmarried young people lived outside of their parents' homes. Ten years later, it flipped. In 2005, there were 35 states where the majority of young adults lived indepenedently. Now it's down to six.
In Minnesota, about half of young adults live independently, down slightly from about 56 percent a decade ago.
Still, millennials today aren’t worse off than their 1975 counterparts. More young adults — especially women — are obtaining a college degree, a strong predictor of higher income.
For young women, that increase follows them into the workforce, where more than two-thirds of them work, as compared to under half in 1975.
And women no longer cite staying home to take care of the family as a reason for unemployment, according to the report.
“It’s not that young adults aren’t making any of these milestones,” said Jonathan Vespa, a Census Bureau demographer who authored the report. They’re just taking longer to get there.
Jessie Bekker is a student at the University of Minnesota on assignment for the Star Tribune.