A majority of the American public believes it’s more difficult for young adults today to pay for college, find a job, purchase a home, or save for the future, compared to their parent’s generation.
A new survey released Thursday by the Pew Research Center found that young adults aged 18 to 34 say the slow economy has affected a wide range of decisions about their career, marriage, parenthood and schooling.
That in turn has contributed to a broad change in social norms about when adulthood begins. The survey found that two-thirds of parents of children age 16 or younger now say children should have to become financially independent from their parents by the age of 22, down from 80 percent who felt this way in 1993.
Nearly half of all young adults said their age group is having the hardest time in today’s economy, yet their long-term economic optimism nevertheless remained notably unscathed by their current problems. Nearly nine out of 10 of today’s 18- to 34-year-olds said they earn enough money now to lead the kind of life they want, or they expect to earn enough in the future.
A 41 percent plurality of the public believes young adults, rather than middle-aged or older adults, are having the toughest time in today’s economy. Since 2010, the 54 percent share of young adults aged 18 to 24 who are currently employed, according to government data, has been its lowest since the government began collecting such information in 1948. The 15 percentage point gap in employment between the young and all working-age adults is the widest in recorded history. In addition, young adults employed full time have experienced a greater drop in weekly earnings (6 percent) than any other age group over the past four years.
A large majority of the public said it is more difficult for young adults to reach many of the basic financial goals their parents may have taken for granted. Eighty-two percent said finding a job is harder for young adults today than it was for their parents’ generation. And at least seven in ten say it’s harder now to save for the future (75 percent), pay for college (71 percent) or buy a home (69 percent).
While negative trends in the labor market have been experienced most acutely by the youngest workers, many adults in their late 20s and early 30s have also felt the impact of the weak economy. Among all 18- to 34-year-olds, 49 percent said they have taken a job they didn’t want just so they could pay the bills, while 24 percent said they have taken an unpaid job to gain work experience.
More than one-third (35 percent) said that, as a result of the poor economy, they have gone back to school. Their personal lives have also been affected: 31 percent have postponed either getting married or having a baby (22 percent said they have postponed having a baby, and 20 percent have delayed getting married). Twenty-four percent said they have moved back in with their parents after living on their own.
Nevertheless, while young people are less likely now than they were before the recession to say they currently have enough income, their level of optimism is undiminished from where it was in 2004. Among those aged 18 to 34, 88 percent said they either have or earn enough money now or expect they will in the future. Only 9 percent of the respondents said they don’t think they will ever have enough to live the life they want.
Adults aged 35 and older are much less optimistic—28 percent said they don’t anticipate making enough money in the future.
If any age group has weathered the economic storm better than others, it has been adults age 65 and older. In a 2004 Pew Research survey, similar shares of young adults (50 percent), middle-aged adults (52 percent) and older adults (50 percent) rated their personal financial situation as “excellent” or “good.” By 2011, a large gap had opened up between older adults and everyone else: 54 percent of older adults gave their personal financial situation a high rating, compared with roughly one-third of younger and middle-aged adults.
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