Pew Research recently reported that, for the first time in the modern era, more young people (age 18 to 34) are living with their parents than any other living arrangement, including living alone or living with a spouse or partner. It would be easy to blame this trend of “boomerang kids” on the Millennial Generation and accuse today’s youth of being lazy or entitled, but the reality is much more complex.
A variety of cultural and economic factors are contributing to the increasing share of young adults who live with their parents (and the corresponding decrease in those living with a spouse), but one of the primary problems is the plight of Millennial men.
Despite all the media attention and political posturing about a so-called “war on women,” it’s actually young men’s educational achievement and economic prospects that have been on the decline, especially compared to their female counterparts. Men have experienced greater setbacks when it comes to education, labor force participation and wages. And all of this leads to trouble in marriage formation.
When it comes to education, women are earning the majority of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. In fact, women ages 25 to 34 were more than 20 percent more likely than men to be college graduates in 2014. This means today’s young female workers are substantially more educated than their male peers on average.
This carries over to the labor market. In 1960, 84 percent of men aged 18-34 were employed. In 2014, only 71 percent were employed. During the same time period, women entered the workforce in droves. Average women’s wages have been increasing dramatically over the past few decades (a good thing!) but men’s, sadly, have remained flat. In 2010, a market research company found that young, single, childless women in cities were out-earning their male counterparts by 8 percent.
It would be a mistake to assume a causal link between women’s economic rise and men’s decline just because the two are happening concurrently. Women are not “taking men’s jobs;” the economy is not a zero-sum game with a static number of jobs or wage-dollars available. Rather, a seismic shift in our economy, away from traditionally male-dominated, labor-intensive industries (such as manufacturing) toward knowledge and service industries has left many blue-collar men behind.
Men’s education and employment problems fuel a mismatch in the marriage department, between women’s desires and reality. In a separate Pew survey from 2014, 78 percent of single women said finding a partner with a steady job was “very important,” putting more weight on this factor than any other, including sharing ideas about children (70 percent) or religion (38 percent). Unfortunately a shrinking pool of men meet that criteria.
Given these trends, it’s no surprise that so many young adults, and a disproportionate number of young men, are living with their parents.
What can be done?
Policymakers and the public more broadly should consider how to encourage men to attain marketable skills—rather than focusing solely on the idea that everyone needs to go to a four-year college for general higher education. Trades and technical education, once a boon to many non-college-bound males, has been relegated to the sidelines in favor of the “college is for everyone” mantra. Entry-level electricians make $45,000 per year on average, and entry-level plumbers make $43,000 – no college degree needed. Schools and communities should offer vocational courses and encourage students to consider learning these marketable skills as a worthy alternative path.
For Millennial men who are already in the work force, economic reforms should focus on fostering economic growth, which leads to job creation and wage growth. Steady, increasing wages will allow more men to move out of mom and dad’s basement and into self-sufficiency, or maybe even marriage.
Finally, although it’s politically incorrect, our society should be more frank about the challenges that young men are facing. Women, especially those with college degrees and strong economic prospects, have the support of various empowerment organizations, mentoring programs, and feminist initiatives.
Women may face different challenges than men in today’s economy, but this does not mean that men, especially those at greatest risk of unemployment, face none. Young men need help too – and communities should consider how to foster a healthy sense of self-worth, discourage self-destructive behaviors, and create more diverse positive role models for boys and young men.
Everyone has an interest in promoting the well-being of young men, since the effects of their struggles impact all of society. Widespread delayed adulthood, marriage, and procreation will have downstream economic and cultural effects for decades to come, on both men and women, young and old. Living in mom and dad’s basement may be a safety-net situation for a time, but ultimately we want better for America’s young adults.
Hadley Heath Manning is a senior policy analyst and director of health policy at the Independent Women's Forum (www.iwf.org) and the Independent Women's Voice (www.iwvoice.org).
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