A recently published study from the Department of Education casts new light on the State of the 27-Year-Old Today. The report, which in 2002 began following roughly 15,000 young men and women from their sophomore year in high school through their mid-20s, draws a picture of educated, debt-saddled young adults, more than half of whom are in some kind of committed relationship. It shows, incredibly, that around 10 percent of 27-year-olds feel they have already fulfilled their career goals. (Dear Lord—either these Americans have set scanty goals or that is a lot of leaning in.) But perhaps the most surprising factoid is this: There are more men and women at age 27 living with their parents than with roommates.
According to the study's authors:
Overall percentages for all 2002 sophomores as of 2012 were as follows: 19 percent were living alone, 42 percent were living with a spouse or partner, 10 percent were living with roommate(s), 23 percent were living with their parents, and 6 percent had some other arrangement.
So, granted, the plurality of 27-year-olds have shacked up with a romantic partner—and, the report says, this pattern holds across all levels of educational attainment. But among all participants except bachelor’s degree holders, who were slightly more likely to be living alone than with mom and dad, the parental nest was a close second. And, again, everyone was more likely to live with their folks than with roommates. Pop quiz! Is this because:
- Roommates are at best one of the world’s great Russian roulette games, and at worst a plague upon humanity?
- Millennials are victims of a coddling culture of self-esteem, broken-winged, suffocated by the poisonous comforts of suspended adolescence?
- The Great Recession made it impossible for many 27-year-olds to afford rent?
I know which choice seems right to me. The study finds that almost 80 percent of 27-year-olds are in debt, whether from student loans, credit cards, or mortgages; since 2009, 40 percent have been unemployed; more than 85 percent describe their finances as either “somewhat stressful” or “extremely stressful”; and in 2010, as the Atlantic’s Jordan Weissmann pointed out, they were more likely to be earning less than $15,000 from work than they were to be earning more than $40,000. (Weissmann has created some nifty charts based on the data.)
When I lived with my parents (lo those many years ago—two years), the arrangement was more than convenience—it was necessity. Getting a paying job helped. But I am already anticipating the “millennials are shiftless bums” spin on this data and preparing my personal, indignant defense: I have never received a participation trophy for a sport in my life, nor do I know many 26-year-olds who have. Though I am grateful that my parents were willing and able to let me live with them, my sojourn at home wasn't about my reluctance to leave the nest. It was about, on some level, having a place to sleep while I blundered through the job search. Or having a place to blunder while I slept through the job search. In any case, thanks, Mom and Dad.