While millennials are consistently needled for struggling to adult as well as previous generations, a closer look suggests that some of these narratives are overblown.
We’ve all heard that millennials, members of what some have called the “boomerang” or “basement” generation, are more likely to live with their parents or grandparents, less likely to be employed, and struggling with a low-paying job than Gen X, boomers or the silent generation when they were the same age.
Well, millennials may have 99 problems, but they’re not alone.
We examined young adults ages 28 through 32 – those old enough to be out of school, but still fairly fresh in the labor market — and compared them with older adults in their prime working-age, 33 through 55, at various times throughout the last 55 years. When it came to homeownership, employment, and income, millennials as a group are worse off in raw absolute numbers. But in comparing how young adults fare versus older adults, the gap in success has remained the same throughout time. This indicates that many myths about millennials are unfounded. When members of any generation become young adults, they struggle in the same way young adults struggle today.
Where millennials do diverge, the differences seem to come from trends that started long before millennials began reaching adulthood. Here are some highlights of our findings:
- Millennials just as likely to live with their parents as Gen Xers: As of 2016, 14.5% of millennials ages 28 through 32 lived with their parents or grandparents compared with 5.5% of those 33 through 55. That is, older millennials were 2.7 times more likely to live at home than older people still under age 55. In 1999 Gen Xers as young adults were 2.2 times as likely to live with mom and dad.
- Young adult baby boomers were more likely to live with their parents: By comparison, the last time this rate was as high as 2.7 was in 1982 when those in the middle of the baby boom generation were 28 through 32 year olds. They were 2.8 times more likely to live at home with their parents or grandparents than 33 through 55 year olds. The low of the past 55 years occurred in 1964, when 28 through 32 year olds (the silent generation) were only 1.8 times more likely to live at home than their older peers.
- No matter the era, recessions hit young adults hardest: In bad economic times, young adults tends to lose jobs and live at home at higher rates.
- In what ways are millennials actually struggling? 28-32 year olds in 2016 who didn’t live with their folks, owned at just 61.9% the rate of their older peers, or a little more than half the rate. This is the lowest rate of homeownership since 1975 Young adults are increasingly putting off home buying as many have delayed marriage and having kids.
- Philly is where Millennials are #winning at adulting: As of 2015, millennials are more likely to own homes, make more money and have jobs than their older peers in places like Philadelphia, Grand Rapids, Mich., Omaha, Neb., and New Orleans. Where they are being left in the dust is in Lake-Kenosha Counties, Ill.-Wis., Newark, N.J., Silver Spring, Md., and Bridgeport, Conn.
While it is true that millennials who were 28-32 in 2016 were more likely to live at home with their parents or grandparents than the same age-group in any prior year going back to 1962, the same thing can be said for people ages 33-55 in 2016. So if the proportion of people living at home with their parents is going up uniformly for all age groups, should we really be surprised that the youngest among working-aged adults are still standing out with the highest rate?
During the decade from 1982 through 1991, boomers between the ages of 28 and 32 were, on average, 2.6 times more likely to live with parents and grandparents than their older peers ages 33-55. During the most recent decade from 2007 through 2016, 28 to 32 year-olds (millennials and the younger Gen Xers) were also 2.6 times more likely to live with their folks than those 33-55. This suggest that while we are at new highs in the overall rate at which people are living with their parents, it represents an overall shift in all working-age generations in response to the recent recession. Home buying has become more difficult for young adults since the 1970s. This trend was interrupted only by the buying spree leading up to the most recent recession.
Similarly, when considering unemployment rates, today’s young adults are no worse-off compared with their older counterparts now than they have been for the past 50 years. There is a surprising level of regularity in the comparative likelihood of being unemployed at various times between older and younger working-age people. Since 1962, the 28-32 cohort who are unemployed but looking for work has oscillated at a level 30% higher than that of their older peers.
Not only do 28-32 year-olds live at home at rates comparable to older folks today as in the past, they were also only 29.5% more likely to be unemployed than those 33-55 in 2016. That compares with 41.7% to 51.7% more likely in the late 70s and early 80s and in 1990, periods which cover both older and younger members of the baby boom generation, respectively.
The same cannot be said of trends in the homeownership rate though. Of those millennials between 28 and 32 that did live away from mom and dad in 2016, only 39.1% of them lived a home they owned compared with 63.2% (or 0.6 times the rate) of people ages 33 to 55. This represents the largest homeownership gap between the two cohorts since the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey began asking the question in 1976.
Additionally, the earnings of younger individuals have slid relative to their older counterparts consistently throughout the course of the last five decades. During the decade from 1962 through 1971, the 28-32 year-old cohort, who would all classify as members of the Silent Generation, earned 91.1 cents for every dollar earned by the older cohort of working-age people. During the most recent decade of younger Gen Xers and older millennials in the 25-32 cohort, that gap has increased to 75.3 cents per dollar.
In 2016, the most recent year of data available, 28 to 32 year-old employed millennials in 2016 earned 78.2 cents for every dollar earned by employed 33-55 year olds. This is an improvement from the all-time low of 72.6 cents in 2015, but a far cry from the peak of 92.4 cents earned by 28-32 year-olds for every dollar earned by 33 to 55 year olds in 1963 (silent generation).
For a more localized look at where 28 to 32 year-old millennials are doing the best compared with their older working-age peers, we ranked the largest 100 metros to see where millennials were killing it on homeownership, education, employment and income.
Millennials who were 28 to 32 during 2015 and living in Philadelphia were 43.0% more likely to have a college degree than their older peers. This may help explain why they earned 78.8 cents for every dollar earned by those 33 to 55, which is a higher amount than in any of the other largest metros.
San Francisco and Cape Coral, Fla., are the only two metros that have lower unemployment rates for 28 to 32 year olds than for 33 to 55 year olds. In San Francisco though, the younger cohort is only 46.9% as likely to own their home as the older cohort, which is the largest gap of any metro area.
Some of the place where the younger generation seems to be fairing the worst relative to their older peers include Silver Spring, Md., Oakland, Calif., Lake and Kenosha counties, Newark, North Port, Fla., and Long Island, N.Y.. In Silver Spring, older millennials were 3.7 times more likely to live at home than their older peers. Additionally, of the ones that were employed, they only made 60.3 cents for every dollar earned by the older cohort.
The big takeaway from all this study is that it is important to distinguish between what young people typically do and what older or younger adults seem to be doing at unusual rates. Many of narratives surround the current state of millennials are being made outside the context of what every young adult does at unusually high or low rates and regardless of where the long-term trends have been pointing for decades.
To compare young adults ages 28 through 32 with older adults at various times throughout the last 55 years the Census’ Current Population Survey (CPS) microdata was used. Only people or households headed by people between the ages of 28 and 55 were used for all data points mentioned in the report. Birth years were estimated by subtracting age from survey year. Relationship to household head was used to identify adults that were either living with their parents or grandparents. Generations were assigned as follow:
Birth Year > 1925 & <= 1944 – Silent
Birth Year > 1944 & <= 1964 – Baby Boomer
Birth Year > 1964 & <= 1981 – Gen X
Birth Year > 1981 & <= 1998 – Millennial
Birth Year > 1998 & <= 2016 – Gen Z
For the localized information and ranking 2015 5-year American Community Survey (ACS) microdata was used with the same age filters as described above. Puma-level microdata was assigned to specific metro areas and weighted using conversion files from the University of Missouri’s Data Center.
Miriam King, Steven Ruggles, J. Trent Alexander, Sarah Flood, Katie Genadek, Matthew B. Schroeder, Brandon Trampe, and Rebecca Vick. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series, Current Population Survey: Version 3.0. [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Population Center [producer and distributor], 2010.
Steven Ruggles, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Josiah Grover, and Matthew Sobek. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 6.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2015.
Missouri Census Data Center, MABLE/Geocorr 12, Version 1.3.3: Geographic Correspondence Engine. Web application accessed March 2017.