Saturday, May 8, 2010

Millenials' Economic Problems

National Journal has begun a multi-part series of articles on economic problems facing the Millennial generation. Extensive polling data are presented with some of the articles, including from the "Heartland Monitor" survey sponsored by Allstate and National Journal. The articles define the Millennials as being born from 1981-2002, but the polling focuses on 18-29 year-olds. As noted in one of the articles:

Just one-sixth of the Millennials surveyed say they are earning enough to live comfortably. Nearly 60 percent of them are weighed down by student loans or other debts. A significant number -- whether living on their own or not -- report that they still rely on financial help from their parents. And about one-fourth of older Millennials, those ages 25 to 29, said they are still or once again living with their parents -- often after losing jobs they thought pointed them toward independence...

...Their generation is renowned for placing a high priority on personal expression, making a difference in society, and accumulating fulfilling experiences. Those instincts still resonate through the poll -- in the substantial number of young adults who report volunteering their time, for example, or who express interest in public service careers in education, government, or with nonprofit organizations. But across a wide range of economic choices, the survey finds that the ferocity of the recession has left this generation with a powerful craving for certainty. Millennials would much rather stockpile savings in a bank or pay down debt than invest in the stock market. What's even more striking is that they clearly prefer stability with one employer to the opportunity to frequently change jobs.

Such talk of today's turmoil leading to a quest for stability parallels what Jeff Arnett wrote about developments in the middle of the 20th century, in his 2004 book Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from Late Teens through the Twenties (p. 6):

Young people of the 1950s were eager to enter adulthood and “settle down.” Perhaps because they grew up during the upheavals of the Great Depression and World War II, achieving the stability of marriage, home, and children seemed like a great accomplishment to them.

Whether the economic crisis of 2008 and beyond will lead Millennials to marry at younger ages than has been characteristic of emerging adults in recent decades remains to be seen. I don't think it's too likely, however, as people often want to achieve some degree of financial stability before marrying.