Kids Today: More educated, bigger, and deeper in debt

New research paints picture of young Americans

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The fun way to take the pulse of young people is to notice their weird fashion fads, listen to their music, watch their TV shows and read their books.

Oh wait. They don’t read books.

That’s just one of the interesting factoids plucked from a big and very un-fun statistical pulse-taking of Americans aged 18-24 done by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

If you’re interested in the people who will be supporting aging boomers and Gen Xer’s, this is interesting stuff, though there are no major shockers or new mega-trends.

Young adults are more diverse and more educated than prior generations.  They are less likely to smoke but more likely to be obese (one in five young adults are). They have more student debt and earn less than they would have in 2000.

Here are some other findings straight from the report:

  • Approximately 522,000 young adults were serving on active duty in the armed forces in 2012. 
  • The overall college enrollment rate for 18- to 24-year-olds increased from 26 percent in 1980 to 41 percent in 2012.
  • Continuing a trend since the early 1990s, females are enrolling in college in greater percentages than males. In 2012, 44.5 percent of females were enrolled in college versus 37.6 for males.
  • 58 percent of young men and 51 percent of young women lived with their parents in 2013.
  • From 2005 to 2012, the prevalence of past-year Major Depressive Episode (MDE) was about twice as high among young adult females ages 18–24 (ranging from 10 to 12 percent) as among their male counterparts (ranging from 5 to 6 percent).
  • Birth rates for young women have reached historic lows in the United States. The birth rate for women ages 18–19 was 51.4 per 1,000 in 2012, down from 94.0 per 1,000 in 1991. The rate for women ages 20–24 fell from 116.5 per 1,000 in 1990 to 83.1 per 1,000 in 2012. 
  • In 2012, 86 percent of births to women ages 18–19 and 65 percent of births to women ages 20–24 were nonmarital. 

One mixed trend involves imprisonment.  Black males are in adult prisons at much, much higher rates than white, hispanic and other males, though the rate of imprisonment for black males has fallen substantially, as the chart below shows:

Graphic:Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

My favorite and also my least favorite graphic illustrates how young adults use their leisure time:

Graphic:Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

See those teeny little number for the second bar from the bottom? That’s for reading.  Males read for an average of 36 seconds a day, females for 72 seconds. Call me crazy but I don’t think that is a wonderful thing.

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