The common stereotype of millennials is that they’re lazy and entitled, often living off of their parents well into their 20s and even 30s, rather than working to make their own way in the world. It turns out, there’s some degree of truth to this stereotype. Only the fault isn’t with the millennials. It’s with the economy they’re trying to make their way in.
Young People Then Vs. Now
The U.S. Census Bureau recently conducted a study to see how the millennial generation compared with people of the same age (roughly 18 to 34) in the 1970s. The study looked at four significant life events long considered to be milestones of adulthood: getting a job, moving out of your parents’ house, getting married, and having children. What they found is that nearly all of those milestones have been delayed significantly for the average millennial.
For example, in the 70s, approximately 80% of people were married by the age of 30. In 2014, on the other hand, a Gallup poll found that only 36% of people in that age group either were or had been married. There isn’t 80% saturation until the age of 45.
Even those who are married are holding off on having children. 90% of American millennials believe that finishing their education and starting their careers is more important than having a family, when it comes to adulthood.
And of course, more millennials live with their parents than any other adult generation of the past 75 years. As of 2015, around 40% of Americans aged 18-34 were still living at home—the highest that figure has been since 1940.
So how do we know that this millennial trend of delaying adulthood and being supported by their parents isn’t simply a product of laziness and entitlement? That’s because of the fourth milestone. While fewer young Americans are living on their own or settling down to start families than in the 1970s, more millennials are getting jobs and working full time.
Part of this is because of the steady increase in women entering the workforce over the last few decades, rather than staying home to raise a family. However, there’s still an important message to glean: more young people are working, yet fewer can afford to support themselves or a family. Therefore, it’s evident that they’re not making enough money.
A large part of this is the increased importance on getting an education. In the 1970s, the average cost of one year’s tuition at a 4-year college, including room and board, was between $2,000 and $3,000. In 2007, the average was over $18,000. Even adjusting for inflation, that’s a staggering difference.
The cost of education is going up, but incomes aren’t keeping pace. Therefore, in order to get that coveted degree, millennials often need to take out student loans to cover tuition. The average student debt amount rose by 84% between 2008 and 2014, and the average graduate currently owes nearly $29,000.
Even when they do start working, many millennials have to concentrate on paying back their loan provider before they can think about even paying their own rent, much less supporting a family. And as they work to pay their loans off, interest continues to accrue, often keeping them in debt far longer than they had expected.
Thus the traditional dreams of adulthood are deferred by the harsh realities of living in the millennial generation. Perhaps a few of them are just lazy and entitled. But most are just trying to support themselves in any way they can and finding it to be a Sisyphean task. So maybe cut them a little bit of slack.