Highly Educated, Highly Indebted: The Lives of Today's 27-Year-Olds, In Charts

A new study by the Department of Education offers up a statistical picture of young-adult life in the wake of the Great Recession.
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What are today's young adults really like? For those who've spent too much time gazing into the dark recesses of Thought Catalog or obsessing over "Girls," the Department of Education has a new report that offers up some enlightening answers.  

In the spring of 2002, the government's researchers began tracking a group of roughly 15,000 high school sophomores—most of whom would be roughly age 27 today—with the intention of following them through early adulthood. Like myself, many of those students graduated college in 2008, just in time to grab a front-row seat for the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the economic gore fest that ensued. In 2012, the government’s researchers handed their subjects an enormous survey about their lives in the real world. Here, I've pulled together the most interesting findings.

(One important note: I've shorthanded this group as "today's 27-year-olds." But again, not all of the study participants are precisely that age.) 

1. More than 84 percent of today's 27-year-olds have some college education. Only a third have a bachelor's degree.

Ever hear someone say that "a college degree is the new high school diploma"? It's not really true. But getting at least a bit of higher education is now the norm.

2. Asians are far more likely to have a bachelor's degree than blacks, Hispanics, or whites.  

3. School was hard. Of those sophomores who expected to eventually earn a bachelor's degree, 34 percent did it. 

But school was easier if your mom and dad had money. Of students whose parents were in the top quarter of earners, 60 percent attained a bachelor's degree or higher. Of students whose parents were in the bottom quarter of earners, only 14.5 percent pulled that off. 

4. About half of today's 27-year-olds borrowed students loans.

The math: About 84 percent of this group started college. About 60 percent of the college goers took out loans.

What about other debt? About 79 percent of today's 27-year-olds owe some money, whether that's on a credit card or mortgage. About 55 percent owe more than $10,000. 

5. In 2012, college dropouts were almost three times more likely to be unemployed than college graduates.  

6. Since Obama came into office, 40 percent have spent some time unemployed.

Personally, I'm shocked it's that low. Meanwhile, less than one-third have actually lost a job since January 2006. 

7. One in ten say they have already fulfilled their career goals.

Lucky them.

8. At age 25, they were pretty broke. 

In 2011, today's 27-year-olds were more likely to be earning less than $15,000 a year from work than they were to be earning more than $40,000.

Perhaps related: At every single education level, more than 80 percent say their finances are at least somewhat stressful. At least 15 percent say finances are extremely stressful. 

9. They were more likely to be living with their parents than with roommates.

Even bachelor's-degree holders. 

I guess East and West Coast urbanites are the only ones who actually live with roommates if they're financially stable and old enough to rent a car. 

9. More than half lived less than 10 miles from their high-school home. 

This seems related to the whole living with parents thing.

10. Fewer than half were single.

Among all of today's 27 year olds, 28.2 percent were married in 2012 and 30.9 percent were living with a significant other. The majority of bachelor's degree holders, however, reported they were still single. (To clarify: that just means neither married nor cohabitating. I'm sure plenty were in relationships). 

11. High school dropouts are almost six-times more likely to have a child than a bachelor's-degree holder. 

Note: 68 percent of high-school dropouts have children. Only 53 percent are either married or cohabitating. 

12. One in five owns a home or pays a mortgage. 

Associate's degree holders are both most likely to be married or a home owner. They, apparently, are the grown ups at this age.  

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Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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