We'd all like to believe that we aren’t Hannah Horvath from Girls, or Mindy Lahiri from The Mindy Project, or Jess from New Girl. We watch these millennial characters and think (or hope) that we're not that much of a hot mess. But, unfortunately, sometimes life does imitate art.
The Department of Education just released a new study focusing on current 27-year-olds, and it paints a pretty grim picture of life as an almost-thirtysomething today. DoE researchers began following this group of around 15,000 students in 2002, when they were just sophomores in high school. Now, nearly 12 years later, we have a statistical rendering of their lives.
The good news from the study is that this millennial group is well-educated. More than 84% of participants have had some college experience. However, many of the participants who had planned on getting a bachelor’s degree didn't make it — only 34% of those who wanted a B.A. actually succeeded.
More bad news: Like Hannah Horvath, a startlingly high number of participants have spent some time without a job — in fact, over 40% have been unemployed at some point since 2009. This has long been something of a taboo topic in our culture. We feel comfortable discussing the dismal unemployment numbers, but we're much less likely to talk about our own experiences with it. At least, until now. It's a central theme in Girls, perhaps because the show's audience is all too familiar with it.
Debt, another uncomfortable topic, made it into the study, as well. The majority of 27-year-olds — almost 80% — owe money, either on a mortgage or a credit card. (It's worth noting that only about 20% of the participants own a home.) Another scary fact: Roughly half of the participants borrowed $10,000 or more in student loans. That’s a lot of money to pay back in a tough job market. And, don’t worry if you have a job but aren’t making much money. At age 25, the participants were more likely to earn $15,000 or less a year than they were to earn $40,000 or more.
Perhaps the most telling chart is the one comparing education levels to parenthood. As the education level increases from high school dropout to bachelor’s degree or higher, the percentage of participants who have children decreases sharply. While 68% of high school dropouts have children by the age of 27, only 12% of college-educated subjects are parents. It’s impossible to determine cause and effect here (whether pregnancy led to dropping out of college, or if the participant dropped out and then had children), but the numbers are pretty startling.
Overall, the study basically confirms what we hoped wasn’t true: That being a twentysomething in today’s world is a challenge, and pop culture's portrayal of this generation isn't totally off-kilter. The Hannahs, Mindys, and Jesses of our society tend to be well-educated, but not well-employed or well-paid, and are in some sort of debt. Let's just hope there's a cast of fun-loving, sincere BFFs in the picture, as well. (The Atlantic)