Young Adults: Today Versus 1980 Comparison

A new U.S. Census Bureau compares young adults (18-34 years old) nationwide now versus 1980. Note: No county level data are available. Here are the major findings:

The 73 million young adults currently 18 to 34 years old, often referred to as millennials, comprised the largest such population in the last three decades. Nonetheless, their share of the population is actually smaller today than in 1980, when the young adult population included the baby boomers born between1946 and 1964. The baby boom is distinguished by a dramatic increase in birth rates following World War II and comprises one of the largest generations in U.S. history.

  • In 1980, 30 percent of the population was age 18 to 34, compared with 23 percent today.
  • The percentage of young adults today who are foreign born has more than doubled since 1980 (15 percent versus 6 percent).
  • All states have higher proportions of foreign-born young adults than 30 years ago.
    • The increase was larger in the West and Northeast, where 21 percent and 18 percent, respectively, are now foreign born, compared with 12 percent and 8 percent 30 years ago.
    • Only 9 percent of young adults in the Midwest and 14 percent in the South are foreign born, up from 3 and 4 percent, respectively, in 1980.
  • One in four young adults, or 17.9 million, speaks a language other than English at home. That proportion is higher still in New York, New Jersey, Texas, New Mexico and Nevada (where it is about one in three) but is highest in California (where it is about one in two).

More millennials are living in poverty today, and they have lower rates of employment, compared with their counterparts in 1980:

  • One in five young adults lives in poverty (13.5 million people), up from one in seven (8.4 million people) in 1980.
  • Today, 65 percent of young adults are employed, down from 69 percent in 1980.
  • Prior generations of young adults were more likely to have ever served in the armed services: 9 percent were veterans in 1980, compared with 2 percent today.

Millennials are more educated than young adults in 1980:

  • 22 percent have a college degree, up from 16 percent in 1980. States with the largest share of young college graduates are in the Northeast, including Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.

Unlike in prior generations, the majority of millennials have never been married, reflecting continued delays in getting married:

  • Only about three in 10 young adults have ever been married, down from six in 10 in 1980.
  • The state with the highest share of married young adults is Utah (51 percent); the lowest is Rhode Island (25 percent).

Some things have not changed:

  • Young adults continue to rely on a car to get to work: about eight in 10 drive to work, which is largely unchanged compared with 1980. Alabama has the highest share (95 percent); New York has the lowest (53 percent).

Note that the Census Bureau does not define generational terms beyond “baby boom generation.” The term “millennial” is used here only to reference the 18-34 age range used in Census Bureau statistics.;

One thought on “Young Adults: Today Versus 1980 Comparison

  1. And yet, the millenials have a great future ahead of them. Estimates predict that once the Boomers leave the workplace there will be as many as 10 million jobs that cannot be filled with the upcoming generation (I’ve heard predictions of even higher than that). If only we can prepare them and get them to be focused on their future….they will have a great one and our country will remain great.

    Liked by 1 person

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