Underemployed, unhitched, and unchurched…
The rising generation of Millennials has Dr. Brad Wilcox concerned. They are “unmoored,” according to data recently published by the Pew Research Center. “What Could Go Wrong?” is the question Dr. Wilcox asks as he sorts through the research findings.
These 18 to 33 year-olds are “unmoored” from the institutions that have historically provided meaning, financial stability, and social support to generations of Americans. Even though they are comparatively tolerant, optimistic, and connected to friends and family, their ties to the foundational institutions—work, marriage, and civil society—are “worryingly weak.”
· “About 80 percent of young adults aged 25 to 29 are currently working.”
· But “Gallup estimates that only about 44 percent of young adults aged 18 to 29 are employed full-time. In fact, full-time employment for young men remains at or near record lows.”
· “This matters because full-time work remains the best way to avoid poverty and to chart a path into the middle class for ordinary Americans. Work also affords most Americans an important sense of dignity and meaning … ”
· “Only 26 percent of Millennials are married, a record low for their age group. By contrast, back in 1980, when they were the age that Millennials are now, 48 percent of Baby Boomers were married.”
· “The Millennial retreat from marriage is particularly worrisome because it hasn’t stopped many of them from having children. In 2012, 47 percent of births to Millennial women took place outside marriage, a troubling trend because such children are much more likely to end up in single-parent families that put them at higher risk of educational failure, poverty, and emotional distress.”
Civil Society (measured by religion)
· “Today, fully 29 percent of Millennials consider themselves religiously unaffiliated, a record postwar high.”
· “They are also much less likely to describe themselves as ‘religious’ compared with earlier generations of Americans … ”
Dr. Wilcox evaluates these findings by asking two questions. First, why does this matter?
· “Historically, these core institutions have furnished meaning, money, and social support to generation after generation of Americans.”
· “Even today … these institutions remain strongly linked to a sense of happiness among today’s Millennials. For instance, 58 percent of Millennial men who were married, employed full-time, and regular religious attendees reported that they are very happy in life; by contrast, only 25 percent of Millennial men who were unmarried, not working full-time, and religiously disengaged reported that they are very happy in life.”
· “Perhaps more worrisome … is the erosion of trust documented among the Millennial generation in the new Pew report. Only 19 percent of Millennials say that “most people can be trusted” — a response rate that marks them as much less trusting of their fellow citizens than were earlier generations of Americans …”
What could go wrong? with this generation of “unmoored” young adults is the second question. Dr. Wilcox’s answer should get the attention of us all!
If today’s events in Europe, not to mention of the last century, tell us anything, it is that a generation of young adults “unmoored” from the institutions of work, family, and civil society, and distrustful of their fellow citizens, can end up succumbing to the siren song of demagogues, especially if the economy dips into a depression.
What to do?
It’s for [this] reason, among others, that policymakers, civic leaders, and business executives, not to mention young adults themselves, need to redouble their efforts to revive the American economy and better integrate today’s Millennials into the nation’s economic, familial, and civic fabric.
W. Bradford Wilcox is Director of the National Marriage Project and Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia. Dr. Wilcox is one of our most astute observers of the health and importance of marriage and family in America today. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including Why Marriage Matters, Third Edition: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences and Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands.
“What Could Go Wrong?” is available online.