Back to the Future – The Saga of Millennials

Written by Richard Hokenson 

Although different in some respects from baby boomers, the lifecycle of millennials actually bears many similarities to the generations that preceded the baby boom. The notion that millennials will be a renter generation repeats the pattern that prevailed prior to 1950 - If homeownership is the culmination of the “American Dream”, it was a dream that eluded a majority of households (see Chart 1).

That more millennials are still living at home with their parents is also not a new phenomenon. it would be very nice if the US published data on the age at which young people leave the parental household similar to what is published by Eurostat for the European Union (see Chart 2). The best proxy for the US is the age of first marriage since young adults did not strike out on their own prior to marriage – the norm was that young adults stayed with their parents until such time that it was possible to support a family.

Despite our (Hokenson & Company) impressions from Little House on the Prairie, the median age of first marriage was not 14 years old. In 1890, the median age of first marriage was 22 years for women and 26.1 years for men (see Charts 3 and 4). The noteworthy development was the sharp drop in the median age for both men and women following the end of World War II, i.e. the parents of the baby boom. They were truly different in that women began having children at younger ages. Furthermore, there was a significant decline in birth intervals (the amount of time between births) which meant that many women completed their childbearing by the age of 30 even as they had larger families.

Our opinion regarding millennials is that they are not a very different generation. Millennials have been a major topic for many years in all of the population conferences that we have attended. They have been hobbled by the biggest economic downturn since the 1930s and many have the burden of student loans. What comes through clearly, however, is that they still hold all the traditional markers, i.e. they want long-term relationships, families and homeownership. We still think that they will accomplish that later in life relative to baby boomers but not relative to the generations that came before. The one major difference, however, may be that fewer of them marry. They are the first generation to come from divorced parents and that does seem to affect their willingness to wed at least for now.


This update was researched and written by Richard Hokenson. Data is as of  7 September 2018

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