Are 30-year olds all that different now than they were nearly half a century ago? In some ways, they really are. That’s what the Census Bureau just told us in a report comparing 30-year-olds in 1975 vs. 2015.
The characteristics assessed in the report were education, job status, income, homeownership, marital status, parental status, living arrangements, and enrollment in school. If you want to test your own knowledge or intuition about these matters, don’t read any further until you’ve thought about your answers: How do the 30-year-olds from 1975 and 2015 differ the most and how do they differ the least?
From the biggest differences to the smallest, here are the findings:
#1 Today’s 30-year olds are far less likely to have ever been married, 57% compared to 89% in 1975.
#2 Today’s 30-year olds are far less likely to be living with a child, 47% vs. 76% in 1975.
#3 Today’s 30-year olds are far less likely to be homeowners, 33% vs. 56% in 1975.
#4 Today’s 30-year olds are less likely to be living on their own, 70% vs. 90% in 1975. (For more on how they are living, check out How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century.)
#5 Today’s 30-year olds are less likely to have a moderate income, 55% vs. 71% in 1975. (A moderate income is between 66% and 200% of the national median household income.)
#6 Today’s 30-year olds are MORE likely to have at least a high school diploma, 90% vs. 80% in 1975.
#7 Today’s 30-year olds are MORE likely to be in the labor force, 81% vs. 71% in 1975.
#8 Today’s 30-year olds are MORE likely to be enrolled in school, 8% vs. 1% in 1975.
Some of these differences reflect the more challenging economic times that today’s 30-year-olds are facing: Not as many of today’s 30-year olds have a moderate income. Changing job requirements, linked in part to globalization, matter too: More jobs today than in 1975 require education beyond high school.
Other differences are part of the evolving societal norms about how to live, and the greater array of choices we have now than we have ever had before. For example, it is no longer so obligatory to marry and have children – people who prefer living single or not having kids are freer to do so now.
Some of the differences – maybe all of them – are a result of a variety of factors.
All told, to be 30 years old today is a whole different experience than it was 40 years ago. In some ways, today’s young adults have more challenges. But they are doing what it takes to meet them. They are pursuing the higher levels of education they need to compete in today’s job market. If they can’t afford to live alone or don’t want to, they live with friends or family. Many are not just marking time, but creating meaningful lives and pursuing the goals they care about the most.