Millennials have battled one economic challenge after another — and the ‘pandemic recession’ has only made things ‘more tenuous’: journalist
Generation gaps have existed throughout U.S. history. Some members of the World War I Generation complained bitterly about the teenagers of the 1930s — now hailed as "The Greatest Generation" by Tom Brokaw — and their affection for swing bands and pop crooners, not unlike the Baby Boomers of 2021 who call right-wing talk shows and attack Millennials as spoiled, sheltered and entitled. But journalist Annie Lowrey takes a totally different view of Millennials in an article published by the Atlantic on May 13, focusing on the economic challenges and difficulties that so many Millennials have faced during their adult lives.
"Millennials, as just about everyone knows at this point, are a generation delayed," Lowrey explains. "The pandemic recession has led not-so-young adults to put off having kids, buying a house, getting married, or investing in a car — yet again. But today's economic conditions are not just holding Millennials back. They are stratifying them, leading to unequal experiences within the generation as well as between it and other cohorts. Marriage is a prime example."
During the post-World War II America of the 1950s and 1960s, it wasn't uncommon to find 24-year-old men who never went to college but were homeowners who could support a stay-at-home mom and two or three children with their paychecks. Now, even for college-educated couples, owning a home or having kids means both parents working full-time — that is, if they can even afford a mortgage or kids.
"Millennials are getting hitched later in life than people in prior generations did," Lowrey observes. "The average age at first marriage has steadily climbed over the past half century, from 23 to 30 for men and from 21 to 28 for women. As a result, Millennials are less likely to be married than Gen X-ers or Baby Boomers were when they were the same age; the marriage rate among young adults has fallen 14 percentage points since 1990."
Describing "the Millennial experience," Lowrey points out that "Millennials, in particular women, who have completed college are tending to get married older."
"Millennials who did not attend or complete college are often opting not to marry at all," Lowrey observes. "Three decades ago, the marriage rate was above 60% for all adults older than 25. Now, it is roughly 65 percent for those with a college degree and 50% for those who finished only high school."
Lowrey continues, "The same kind of trend is affecting childbearing. Data compiled by the economist Caitlin Myers and published in The New York Times shows a sharp parenthood bell curve in the 20th Century: Women would start becoming mothers in their late teens and stop becoming mothers in their early 30s. Now, that curve is flatter and wider, with two spikes: one around 20 and one around 30. Many more women are choosing to become parents in their late 30s and early 40s."
Lowrey adds, "Millennials are getting hitched later in life than people in prior generations did. The average age at first marriage has steadily climbed over the past half century, from 23 to 30 for men and from 21 to 28 for women. As a result, Millennials are less likely to be married than Gen X-ers or Baby Boomers were when they were the same age; the marriage rate among young adults has fallen 14 percentage points since 1990."
Some Millennials, of course, are doing extremely well — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for example. But then, some people who are born and raised in Bolivia — one of the poorest countries in Latin America — are multi-millionaires. It's important to look at the big picture, and one of the trends that Lowrey discusses in her article is inequality among Millennials. With Millennials, the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer.
"Less recognized is that Millennials are also experiencing great wealth stratification," Lowrey notes. "The very wealthiest Millennials are doing better than people at the same age decades ago; Mark Zuckerberg is far richer than Bill Gates was when he was 36, for instance. The Millennial top 10% — who grew up in relatively wealthy families and went to selective colleges — are doing just fine. But poorer Millennials — particularly those without a college degree — remain far, far behind. The St. Louis Fed researchers found that the typical Millennial without a college degree has nearly 20% less wealth than would be expected."
The "Millennial experience" Lowrey describes is a long way from the negative stereotypes of Millennials promoted by 70-year-old MAGA Republicans who call right-wing AM radio talk shows to praise former President Donald Trump and complain about their grandchildren. Of course, not all Boomers are MAGA reactionaries by any means. There are still plenty of liberal and progressive Boomers who are fighting the good fight, from Sen. Elizabeth Warren to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman to Rep. Maxine Waters.
Lowreys ends her article on a somber note, pointing out that the COVID-19 pandemic was yet another financial kick in the pants for Millennials.
"Millennials are not just a generation delayed, but a generation for which the whole idea of a milestone, or a marker of adulthood, has become weirder and less exact," Lowrey laments. "And the pandemic has only made things more tenuous and more stratified."
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