More on Twenty-Somethings

by Jane S. Shaw

I asked Jenna Ashley Robinson, campus outreach coordinator for the Pope Center, to comment on the New York Times article about twenty-somethings that David and Robert have remarked on. (Jenna is 30.) She wrote:

I’ll comment on the Times’s observations one piece at a time:

“One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year. Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once.”

Does this include students currently in college? Moving in and out of dorms might add a lot to this statistic. Also, this doesn’t sound all that odd to me. A lot of the moves might be explained by the economy:  the need for roommates to make ends meet, moving to a new job location, loss of a job, etc. And moving in with parents is probably due to the economy. Recent graduates without jobs have two options: massive debt/poverty or moving back home.

The big question: Is this really a trend or an anomaly created by the current economy? (The Times says that these trends “predate current economic doldrums,” but a lot of people who are my age now were trying to get their first jobs in the 2001-2003 slump. If the data only apply to the current crop of 20-somethings, I don’t know how they’d have any data that wasn’t collected during a somewhat depressed economy.)

“They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch.”

Again, how much of this is because of the economy? Also, this doesn’t square with my own experience. Almost everyone I know is around age 30 and a college graduate. I can’t think of any friends who have had more than three or four jobs in the past 10 years — and that’s the exception. Most have had one  or two jobs. Perhaps people who change jobs more frequently are unskilled workers more often than college grads? The moving and job-switching together, if a real trend, do seem to suggest that young people don’t want to commit to a community or to society.

“Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. And marriage occurs later than ever.”

Yes! This one tallies almost exactly with my own experiences — although I suspect these aggregate data cover up a LOT of variation (younger marriages in rural areas, for example, and in the South). A lot of the change probably has to do with college attendance. About 70 percent of high school graduates attend some kind of college. Doing so makes it very difficult to marry, so it’s not surprising that as college attendance increases, so does the average age of marriage. The same with grad school. I remember David Frum saying that the divorce rate for college graduates is now very low—so perhaps this trend isn’t a bad thing.

On living together: I’ve definitely witnessed a lot of this, and part of it is a weakening of traditional/religious values. From what I’ve seen, almost no one in the mid-to-late twenties values abstinence. On the positive side, though, living together is a commitment to monogamy. Moreover, in almost every case I’ve seen, it was a precursor to marriage — and in most cases cohabitation occurred only after the couple was engaged. In only one case did the couple later break up.