How young adults and their families are navigating a rapidly changing economy.
With the assistance of Ray, the former communications director for the MacArthur Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood, Settersten (Human Development and Family Sciences/Oregon State Univ.; co-editor: On the Frontier of Adulthood, 2005, etc.) draws on an eight-year study, sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, into the social and financial lives of young Americans between the ages of 18 and 34. Many are still living at home or are dependant upon families who are increasingly unable to provide support. While in the past it was possible for high-school dropouts to find well-paid factory jobs that allowed them to take on adult responsibilities, today an associate’s degree from a community college is the minimum necessary to avoid being tracked into a low-paying service-sector job and “a vicious cycle of debt” and dependency. Middle-class parents have seen their home equity and savings vanish, money that they had depended upon to finance their children’s college expenses. Meanwhile, young people are “treading water,” fearful of incurring large student loans in a shrinking job market. This is creating a widening gap between the vast majority of young adults, who are struggling to keep afloat, and the children of affluent parents whom the author calls “swimmers”—those who depend on their families for generous financial support during and after college. Despite the differences in their circumstances, both “swimmers” and “treaders” are failing to meet the traditional milestones of living independently, marrying and having children while in their early 20s. “Today,” writes the author, “one-half of those between eighteen and twenty-four have not left their childhood bedrooms, let alone landed a job, married, or had children of their own. This is a 37 percent increase over 1970. And an even bigger jump in living at home has occurred for those ages twenty-five through thirty-four—a 139 percent increase since 1970.”
A provocative look at how a changing reality is transforming the transition to adulthood for a generation of Americans, and the implications of this transformation in today’s competitive world.