U.S. Adults In Their Twenties Less Likely To Have A Job, A House Or A Kid Versus In 1980

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U.S. adults are taking longer than their counterparts in 1980 to reach milestones such as having a full-time job, being financially independent, living on their own, getting married or having a child, a new Pew Research Center study found. 

Key Takeaways

  • U.S. adults in 2021 were less likely to be financially independent, married or have children than adults in 1980.
  • The study based on Census Bureau data showed both 21- and 25-year-olds had failed to reach the milestones of their counterparts from four decades earlier.
  • Not all demographics trailed their predecessors, as 25-year-old women today were just as likely to have full-time work and more likely to be financially independent.

The number of U.S. 21-year-olds saying they have reached any of these points is lower now than it was 40 years ago, according to the Pew study of Census Bureau data. By age 25, today’s young adults have caught up more financially to their counterparts in the 1980s but still remained behind in family areas.

These important life choices are sometimes dependent on the economic environment, societal changes and even personal preferences, so the comparison with prior generations may not be entirely an apples-to-apples scenario.

Looking at data from 2021, the most recent available, the Pew study showed only 25% of 21-year-olds were financially independent, compared with 42% in 1980. For 21-year-olds, 51% today lived somewhere other than with their parents, compared with 62% of 21-year-olds in 1980.  Today, only 6% of 21-year-olds had gotten married or had kids, compared respectively with 32% and 18% in 1980.

There was a stark contrast in employment from 1980, with 64% of 21-year-old U.S. adults having a full-time job, compared with just 39% in 2021, the study showed. However, that could be the result of more adults attending college, where 48% of 21-year-olds are in college now, compared with just 31% four decades ago.

By age 25, some U.S. adults have begun to catch up with the finances of their predecessors from 1980. In 2021, 66% of 25-year-olds were working full time, against 73% four decades ago, while 60% today are financially independent compared with 63% in 1980. 

However, 25-year-old adults still trailed their 1980 counterparts in family matters.  While 84% of 25-year-olds in 1980 were living outside of their parents' homes, just 68% of today’s 25-year-olds had moved out. The drops in marriage and parenthood rates for 25-year-olds today compared with 1980 were even more stark, with 22% married and 17% having kids, compared respectively with 63% and 38% four decades ago. 

The study also showed men had a more difficult time keeping up with their predecessors of 40 years ago than women did. While today’s 25-year-old women were just as likely as their 1980 peers to have full-time work at 61%, women today are 56% more likely to be financially independent, compared with just 50% in 1980. The study showed that 25-year-old American men in 2021 were less likely to have achieved these milestones than they were in 1980.

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  1. Pew Research Center. "Young adults in the U.S. are reaching key life milestones later than in the past."

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