Millions of 20- and 30-somethings have adult freedoms without all the responsibilities.
Comparing the experiences of Americans 18-34 years old now with the same age group in the 1970s by the U.S. Census Bureau, “there has been a sea change,” observes Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post columnist.
“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 report stated. If adulthood ever equated with marrying and settling down, it doesn’t now, interprets Samuelson.
Asked on Census Bureau opinion surveys what defines becoming an adult, 18-34 year olds cite completing schooling, having a full-time job as much more important than getting married and having a child. Young Americans are delaying marriage. Million still live with their parents.
Men seem to have it hardest. In 1975, only about a quarter of men 25-34 had income less than $30,000 a year. By 2016, that had risen to 41 percent (adjusted for inflation). Although the same female age group had lower median wages than their male counterparts, their wages increased faster than the men’s.
The most powerful factors, Samuelson believes, are women’s massive entry into the labor force and contraception. “Women and men suddenly had choices that had been largely confined to traditional marriage,” he states. Marriage has been devalued. Cohabitation describes roughly one-eighth of the 18-34 population, up from about 1 percent in the mid-1970s. Newborns to unwedded mothers now represent more than 40 percent of U.S. births.
Meanwhile, by their early 40s, 85 percent of American women have married and have children, down from 90 percent in 1976–but still high. Is this a trend toward tradition? The Census Bureau and Samuelson conclude it’s too early to tell.
Traditional trend or not, Horizonte, Salt Lake City School District’s alternative high school and adult education center, with it’s privately funded college scholarship program, believes a high school and college education are imperative in equipping all Americans to arrive at adult decisions about their and the country’s future.