Are Today’s Young Adults Better Off Than Their Parents? Yes and No

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By Jonathan Vespa

Compared with prior generations, young people today, those 18 to 34 years old, are more educated and, in some parts of the country, earn more. However, they are also less likely to be employed and more likely to live in poverty than their counterparts were in 1980.

Blog_Img1Although today’s typical 18- to 34-year-old earns about $2,000 less per year (adjusted for inflation) than their counterpart in 1980, the range varies widely across the country. Among the states with the largest growth in earnings for young adults is Massachusetts where they earn $6,500 more, and Virginia where they earn $4,100 more than the average young adult earned 30 years ago. Among the lowest are Michigan, Wyoming and Alaska where young adults earn at least $9,000 less than they did 30 years ago.



Similar geographic patterns play out for education, poverty and living arrangements, revealing that the generation of young adults who are doing better than their parents are concentrated in certain parts of the country.

Hubs in the Northeast (New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts) and South (Virginia, Maryland) have experienced near-double-digit growth in young college graduates, while the rest of the country has lagged. Since the 1960s, the Midwest has been a net loser of young adults who are college educated, as they have moved throughout the West and South.

The share of young adults who lived in their parents’ home stayed about the same level in 1980, 1990 and 2000 (at about a quarter). Since 2000, however, the proportion has shot up, from 23 percent to 30 percent. In states where housing markets collapsed during the recession, such as Nevada, Florida and California, there was a sharp increase in young adults living in their parents’ home. Similarly, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana — states also hit hard by the recession — saw some of the biggest growth in young adults living in poverty.


Young adults’ experiences may reflect a rise in inequality. Since the 1980s, income inequality for households and families has gone up at the same time as the country as a whole has become more educated. The picture that emerges from these statistics reveals a generation of young adults who may be, at once, both better and worse off than their parents.

Want to see how today’s young adults age 18-34 compare with their counterparts in 1980, 1990 and 2000? Check out Young Adults: Then and Now,” the latest edition of Census Explorer, our interactive data tool. The new edition displays multiple characteristics of young adults over time. Users can “zoom in” to see data variations at the state, county, metro and tract levels.

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Census Bureau to Host Pre-Release Webinar on New Set of American Community Survey Statistics for Communities Nationwide

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More Education Means Less Chance of Living with Mom and Dad

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Written by: Ellyn Arevalo Steidl, David Ihrke and Jonathan Vespa

Our last blog on young adults looked at trends over the last 40 years of young adults living with their parents. Today we take a closer look at this group and try to answer the question: Are young college grads moving back in with their parents?

The data shows a relationship between young adults’ education and living with parents. A quarter of 25- to 34-year-olds who have a college degree live in the parental home (see figure 1), while 44 percent of those with only a high school diploma live at home.

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For young adults who can’t afford to live on their own, moving in with a parent may offer a kind of safety net. (Note that the data also include some young adults who were already living with their parents and moved to a new address with them.) In 2013, young adults living with a parent were more likely to say that they had moved in because they lost their job or were looking for work, or experienced a change in their marital status. Between 2009 and 2012, in the aftermath of the Great Recession, moving because of a job loss was cited more than twice as often by young adults living with a parent than by those living on their own (see figure 2).


Marriage may also have been a factor. In 2010, there was a spike in young adults who reported a change in marital status as the reason for moving in with a parent (see figure 2). Most of these people, 65 percent, were either divorced or separated. In contrast, most of their peers who were living independently and had moved because of a change in marital status did so because they were getting married (74 percent).

Overall, young adults who live with a parent typically have less education and fewer economic resources than those who live independently. These patterns challenge the idea of college grads who move back home to avoid living on their own. Instead, family may be a safety net that helps protect against the economic shocks that often accompany job loss and divorce.

And, don’t forget next week you’ll be able to see more characteristics of young adults for your community with the newest release of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

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For the Most Part, Few Young Adults Live With Their Parents

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By Jonathan Vespa, David Ihrke and Ellyn Arevalo Steidl

People may think that today’s young adults, often called “millennials” — the so-called “boomerang generation”— are flocking to their parents’ basement instead of moving out on their own.

However, a look at the data suggest that the anecdotal “truth” is a bit of an exaggeration. Although it is true that a record number of young adults live in their parents’ home, in reality only a small fraction actually do so. For every 100 people age 25 to 34, 14 lived in a parent’s household last year (see figure). Before the Great Recession, which lasted from 2007 to 2009, that number was just 12 out of 100. Far more young adults — 44 of out 100 — were married and living with their spouse last year and not living with a parent.


The rise in the percentage of young adults living with parents has been a demographic trend that actually began with the baby boomers, years before the current generation. For much of the 1960s and 1970s, the share of young adults living with a parent stayed around 8 percent. That number swelled throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, the same time as many baby boomers were reaching the 25-34 year old age group, and climbed to 12 percent by 1995.

After a dip that began at the end of the 1990s and lasted a decade, the number began rising again in 2006 — notably before the Great Recession began. In other words, today’s young adults are repeating the behaviors of their boomer parents who, a generation earlier, swelled the ranks of young adults who were living with mom and dad.

This isn’t to say that the recent recession had no effect; we’ll look at its role in our next blog. Over the last 40 years, however, there has not always been an increase in living with a parent following downturns in the economy. When put in a broader context, the recent rise in living with a parent is quite modest and, in fact, follows a long-term demographic shift in the nation’s population. So instead of describing millennials as failing to launch, it may be more appropriate to say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Want to see how the trend has gone in your hometown? Check back next week for more information from the Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey data release.

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Demographics of Handheld-Only Households

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Written By: Thom File, Sociologist, Education and Social Stratification Statistics Branch

As computing and Internet technology have evolved, many people have started accessing the Internet with hand-held devices, such as smartphones. Overall, about 83.8 percent of households reported owning some type of computer last year, with 63.6 percent reporting owning hand-held devices, and 78.5 percent owning more traditional desktops or laptops.

Regardless of the type of device, computer-owning households were more likely to be young, Asian or white, and affluent, according to a new report  from the American Community Survey. These results conform to the digital divides observed in past Census Bureau reports and closely align with 2013 rates of household Internet use as well.

However, there is evidence that certain groups rely more than others on hand-held computers as their only type of computer. In 2013, about 5 percent of households reported having only hand-held devices.

In some cases, the pattern of these handheld-only households is similar to that of overall computer ownership. Hand-held computer ownership by age works this way, with young households reporting higher rates of having only hand-held computers than older householders (about 10 percent of the youngest households fell into this category, compared with only 2.5 percent of the oldest households).

In other instances, the pattern for using only hand-held devices is directly opposite that of overall computer ownership. Black and Hispanic households, for example, were more likely than both white and Asian households to report owning only a hand-held device. The same pattern appears by income, with low-income households reporting handheld ownership alone at much higher rates than more affluent households (Figure 4).


Whether or not the emergence of mobile technologies can level traditional digital divides remains an open question, but as hand-held technologies evolve and become more readily available, it will be important to continue tracking trends for households with only hand-held computing devices.

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