With education comes opportunity. That's the deal, as this generation understood it. Now, they're the highest-educated generation in American history, and they've graduated into ... this.
When adults wonder what's the matter with the Millennial generation that has increasingly chosen to live with their parents and put off marriage and homeownership, the first thing to say is that they're using the word "chosen" wrong. Nobody chose this. The economy chose for them.
In August 2010, Robin Marantz Henig observed in New York Times Magazine that Generation Y (the Millennials) has pushed
back each of the five milestones of adulthood: completing school,
leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying, and having a kid. Why won't Millennials grow up? she wondered.
The biggest reason is they can't, according to the Pew Research Center's fantastic new survey "Young, Underemployed, and Optimistic." It begins with school.
The good news is that more young adults are enrolled in school than ever. The share of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled has increased by 50% since 1990. That's awesome. Less awesome is that the cost of college is rising, too. Average debt for public college students doubled between 1996 and 2006. It's less advisable to invest in marriage with $30,000 in student debt as a couple. "More than one-in-five young adults ages 18 to 34 (22%) say they have
postponed having a baby because of the bad economy," Pew reported. "Roughly the same
proportion say they have postponed getting married."
If school years delayed financial independence, the Great Recession just about shattered it. Due to economic conditions, 24% of young adults have moved back in with their parents for a significant period of time. "Among
those ages 25 to 29, the share moving back home rises to 34%," Pew reports. One in three!
The new economic reality is changing the way we think about adulthood. It's not that adulthood has changed, necessarily, but that the road to financial independence is getting longer and more fraught. In 1993, a Newsweek poll found that 80% of
parents said their young children should be financially
independent by 22. Now that up to one-third of those very same parents are still living with their kids, one-third of today's parents say
children "shouldn't have to be on their own financially until age 25 or
Many in this "boomerang" generation that leaves the nest only to fly back home for their 20s are still in school. But many actually have jobs that just don't pay enough to make an independent life affordable or desirable given the overhang of debt and the option to live at home.
The years between 2007 and 2011 weren't good for any generation. The pain of the Great Recession didn't discriminate by age. But the hardest hit in terms of pay were the youngest. Their median weekly earnings fell 6% in those four years, considerably worse than any other group. Meanwhile, the cost of college tripled since