Millennials: Renting, Unmarried, and Childless

Over the summer I read “10 Things Millennials Won’t Spend Money On.” What do some of these trends look like in North Carolina? While many of these 10 things are difficult to examine in the data I normally work with, a few are readily available. Using data from the 1980, 1990, and 2000 decennial censuses and the 2012 American Community Survey, I examined home ownership, marital status, and childlessness among North Carolina young adults (ages 20-30) in each of these years.

Increasing Numbers of Young Adults are Renting

“It’s not that millennials don’t want to own homes—nine in ten young people do—it’s that they can’t afford them….It’s going to be a while before young people start purchasing homes again. The economic downturn set this generation’s finances back years, and reforms like the Dodd-Frank Act have made it even more difficult for the newly employed to get credit. Now that unemployment is decreasing, working millennials are still renting before they buy. – Jacob Davidson

In 1980, 56% of North Carolina’s 20 to 30-year-old heads of household were renting, lower than the national average (62%). The share of young adult households renting increased to 63% in 1990 and held steady through 2000. Between 2000 and 2012, the share of North Carolina young adults renting grew to 74%.

NC Young Adults

Postponing Marriage…

“Getting hitched early in life used to be something of a rite of passage into adulthood. A full 65% of the Silent Generation married [between] 18 to 32. Since then[,] Americans have been waiting longer and longer to tie the knot. Pew Research found 48% of boomers were married [by age 32], compared to 35% in Gen X. Millennials are bringing up the rear at just 26%.” – Jacob Davidson

In 1980, the majority of North Carolina’s 20 to 30-year-olds were married (53%) and another nine percent had been married but were subsequently divorced or widowed. Only 38% had never been married. The share of never-married young adults grew to 45% in 1990 and became the majority in 2000 (52%). Between 2000 and 2012, this proportion skyrocketed; today, two-thirds of North Carolina’s young adults have never been married.

…and Childbearing

In 1980, 60% of the state’s young adults were childless – meaning, for the purposes of this analysis, that they did not have a child living with them. This share was similar in 1990 (62%) but rose to two-thirds (67%) in 2000. By 2012, nearly three of every four (73%) of NC’s young adults did not have any children living with them.

For many individuals, childbearing, like marriage, is being pushed to later ages. Others, however, are unsure that they will ever have children. In 1992, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania found that the vast majority (78%) of his Gen X graduates planned on having children. Twenty years later, in 2012, he repeated the study, and found fewer than half (42%) of these students planned to have children.

All data used in this analysis were retrieved from IPUMS-USA. The analysis of renting vs. owning was restricted to heads of household age 20-30.

About Rebecca Tippett

Rebecca Tippett is Director of Carolina Demography at UNC-Chapel Hill's Carolina Population Center.
This entry was posted in Carolina Demographics and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.