generation Y
Parents Pitching in for Rent: What It Means

We’re all familiar with the trope of millennial college graduates living with their parents because they can’t afford rent in America’s expensive cities. But as it turns out, a significant number of 20-somethings living independently are also getting support from mom and dad. The New York Times reports:

According to surveys that track young people through their first decade of adulthood, about 40 percent of 22-, 23- and 24-year-olds receive some financial assistance from their parents for living expenses. Among those who get help, the average amount is about $3,000 a year. […]

Financial dependence among 20-somethings has steadily grown in the past few decades. In the 1980s … fewer than half of this age group received any parental support. But by 2010 nearly 70 percent of them did.

It might be tempting for curmudgeons to chalk up millennials’ economic struggles to their own failures of character or work ethic. But the fact is that there are structural reasons why it is taking today’s generation of young Americans longer to find their feet: The economy is much more complicated and dynamic today than it was a generation ago; more people are entering careers that require high levels of experience and training; the impact of the Great Recession has hung over the job market for years.

Pundits and cultural commentators have made grand prognostications about how millennials will reshape American society, suggesting that they will shun marriage, that they herald an era of new urbanism (rather than moving to the suburbs like their parents did), and that they will move politics inexorably to the Left. All these predictions are based on the fact that today’s young people are in fact more likely to be urban, single, and liberal than previous generations.

But the NYT data about millennials’ extended period of financial dependence suggest that there may be a simpler account of what is happening: Millennials are simply are taking longer to grow up. As they mature, increase their earning power, and start to rely less on financial support from their parents, millennials could follow in the path of the Boomers, who at first seemed like cultural revolutionaries but gradually laid down roots and became more conservative and traditional. There are already indications that the concentration of young people in big urban areas is tapering off as 30-somethings move to the suburbs to start families.

There is something about being urban and financially dependent that makes people more progressive. It could be that millennial social attitudes are a product of these temporary demographic facts rather than any deep-seeded affinity for leftism. As the rising generation starts to fend for itself, it’s possible that social attitudes could change dramatically.

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