A perfect storm of poor economic timing and cultural shifts has led 30-year-olds to delay several traditional measures of adulthood, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.
Thirty-somethings today are more likely to be single, childless and renters — and make less money than their peers in decades past.
In 1975, nearly three out of four 30-year-olds had at some point married, had a child, finished school and lived on their own. In 2015, just one in three 30-year-olds have all those characteristics, the Census reports.
“Student loans are far more burdensome than they were to previous generations,” said Eric Warrick of Urbana.
The 29-year-old audit and compliance manager at Perpetual Federal Savings Bank in Urbana is married and owns a home with his wife, but they aren’t ready to have children, Warrick said.
He and his wife both have careers, Warrick said, and having children would change their lifestyle.
But more 30-year-olds today have earned at least a high school diploma (90 percent) and are active in the labor force (81 percent), according to the data.
The main issue for many has been timing, according to Jason Dorsey, co-founder of the Center for Generational Kinetics, a millennials research firm. More millennials go to college and some stay beyond four years, Dorsey said.
“It basically is delaying your entire career,” he said.
When his firm surveys millennials, the most frequent reason they give for delaying marriage and kids is a desire to be financially stable first.
Years spent on higher education also are years of accumulating debt instead of assets.
“It’s a seismic shift in how a generation is entering adulthood,” Dorsey said, and it was helped along by the Great Recession.
A college graduate who turned 30 in 2015 likely entered the workforce in 2007 or 2008. If they found a job, they probably saw stagnation in raises and promotions for the first few years, said Richard Stock, director of the Business Research Group at the University of Dayton.
“Those people are sort of behind at some level in terms of asset accumulation,” Stock said. And the delay occurs across income levels because more educated individuals also have more college debt, he said.
Working millennials also are dealing with competition their parents didn’t encounter.
“Historically one group leaves the workforce and another comes in,” Dorsey said.
But baby boomers aren’t all leaving. Add in global competition, automation of many jobs and stagnated wages compared to inflation, he said, and it’s not hard to see why this generation lags economically.
The latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the unemployment rate for 18 to 29-year-olds — including those who have given up looking for work — is 12.5 percent. The national unemployment rate for all ages in June was 5.1 percent.
Moving back home
The economic causes for what Dorsey describes as “delayed adulthood” are easier to identify than the cultural changes, Stock said.
While there was a profound cultural gap between baby boomers and their parents, that gap may be smaller for millennials and their boomer parents, he said, meaning cultural taboos such as living together before marriage are lessened.
“The responsibility of having a child and a spouse just seems to be more than what a lot of people want to take on,” said Jamon Sellman, 34, of Springfield. “They want the freedom.”
And societal norms have shifted so that it’s OK to move back home or have a kid but not get married, Dorsey said.
“People might not have as much drive in their career because it’s just them that they’re supporting so they don’t have as much responsibility,” Sellman said.
Sellman owns several local properties, is married and has a daughter but has noticed many of his peers have taken a different path.
“I’ve got a lot of friends that were married young and now they’re back to being single after a divorce and not showing much desire to be married again,” he said.
The country’s moral attitude towards marriage has shifted, he said. Many people are comfortable living with a partner or having children with someone without being married.
“You’ve got that threat of divorce in your future,” if you get married, Sellman said, “and at a 50 percent chance it’s just bad betting odds.”
Stock noted that the census’ year of comparison, 1975, fell squarely in the middle of the explosion of women in the workplace, likely accounting for much of the increase in labor force participation.
What this delayed adulthood will mean down the road remains to be seen. The Center for Generational Kinetics predicts the average age of first marriage for millennials will exceed the age of 30.
Census data already shows the population in the Miami Valley is getting older, not only because young people are leaving, but because those who stay may be choosing not to have children.
“There are definitely indications that it’s more than a delay,” Stock said.
Delays in starting a family can affect everything from the type of car people buy to what housing they want to how long they remain in the workforce.
“We still don’t fully understand the ramifications of this,” Dorsey said. “If you’re 36 and having your first child … will you ever be able to retire?”
As retiring baby boomers downsize and spend less, it will be up to millennials to drive of the economy, Dorsey said. He and Stock agree that there is no need for panic because this generation will catch up economically, just on a four- or five-year delay.
“They are going to be perfectly fine in the long run,” Stock said.