A new report from the US census bureau was picked up in an interesting piece in the Guardian newspaper the other day. The report signalled a quite dramatic shift in the living arrangements and lifestyle of the new generation coming into adulthood (my generation – the “millennials”). For the first time since the US government tracked this sort of data, the most common domestic arrangement for Americans in the 18-34 year old age bracket in 2014 was: living with one’s parents.

This represents a large change from 1975. At the end of the Vietnam war the most common arrangement for young people was living with a spouse (57 per cent). 26 per cent lived with their parents and 11 per cent were in other arrangements like flatting. The compabarable numbers for 2014 were: 31 per cent living with parents; 27 per cent living with spouse; and 21 per cent “other”. These numbers do not show a large rise of those living with their parents, this group grew by five per cent over the 40 years. Instead, it shows a collapse in the proportion of 18-34 year olds living with a spouse. As the Guardian piece notes:

“The percentage of women who’d given birth fell for all age groups, with the steepest drop occurring in younger women. This continues the trend seen in previous reports that found the United States birthrate fell by 8% from 2007 to 2010. By 2013 it had dropped a full 9% from the 2007 high, with an average of just 1.87 children per woman, which is below the rate of replacement. (The drop was sharpest for immigrants and non-white women.) The US birthrate is now at its lowest point ever recorded.”

This drop coincides with the 2007-08 GFC and the weak “recovery” since then in the USA. In 1975 there was arguably greater financial stability which made it easier and more affordable to get married and raise a family at an earlier age. There was a strong labour movement and manufacturing jobs that paid enough to support a family without the requirement of expensive tertiary education. Whether this accounts for the entire change in society’s attitude to marriage, family, children I would certainly argue that economics have not helped the current situation!

Ironically, as the Guardian notes, the current state of affairs may have been brought about by economic changes (“unfettered capitalism” according to the Guardian) fewer people getting married in their 20s is no good for the economy. Fewer households means less consumption and fewer babies means fewer workers and a smaller future tax base. This will be further exacerbated as the Baby Boomers retire in greater numbers in the years ahead. 

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...