Pew analysis shows US economy setting young women back 75 years

Among the points of unity on the campaign trail and in last night’s GOP debate, Republican presidential contenders have decried Barack Obama’s economic policies for expanding dependency in the US. Usually that argument connects to government subsidies like food stamps and welfare, but a new Pew Research analysis of Census Bureau data gives us an even stronger look at that trend. The percentage of young women living with parents or family-of-origin relatives has risen to its highest level in 75 years, with almost all of the increase coming in the last 15 years:

A larger share of young women are living at home with their parents or other relatives than at any point since the 1940s.

A new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data shows that 36.4% of women ages 18 to 34 resided with family in 2014, mainly in the home of mom, dad or both. The result is a striking U-shaped curve for young women – and young men – indicating a return to the past, statistically speaking.

You’d have to go back 74 years to observe similar living arrangements among American young women. Young men, too, are increasingly living in the same situation, but unlike women their share hasn’t climbed to its level from 1940, the highest year on record. (Comparable data on living arrangements are not available from before then.)

Back in 1940, 36.2% of young women lived with their parents or relatives. That number dropped over the next couple of decades as marriage rates increased and women began joining the workforce in larger numbers, becoming financially able to live on their own.

To get a good look at the trend, take a look at the chart of the day:


Note that this trend has also impacted young men, but not to their 75-year high. The two parallel each other pretty well, but the trend over the last fifteen years has accelerated a little more among young women than than young men. Among millennials of both genders, though, the trend is clear — they have less autonomy in the economy, and their parents and/or relatives are shouldering more costs for longer periods of time than in previous generations.

Another interesting point to make here is where precisely on this timeline both did best. The most significant improvement in this measure came in the much-maligned 1950s. By 1960, younger adults had their best level of autonomy in the past 75 years, and Pew has something to say about why:

In the decade that brought the country into World War II, women typically lived with their parents until they married and only a small share attended college. Indeed, even in 1960, only 5% of 18- to 34-year-old women were college students. Today, women are five times more likely to be enrolled in college. According to 2014 figures, 27% of young women were college students.

That may be due to higher marriage rates in the 1950s, but that in itself says something about the family being the basic building block of both society and its economy. As marriage rates fell in succeeding decades, so too did the level of autonomy for younger adults. And the percentage of women entering both higher education and the workforce skyrocketed decades ago, not recently.

The big jump occurred in the last 15 years, some of which is obviously due to the Great Recession in 2008-10. However, that trend did not decline during the so-called Obama recovery — in fact, it continued upward at the same rate. This is clearly not just about marriage rates, or a narrow economic effect. It’s a result of misguided economic policies that are stripping opportunity from younger Americans, and overburdening a generation of parents who need this period of time to build enough wealth for issues that will come in their later years.

This should have a direct impact on the 2016 election. Hillary Clinton wants to double down on Obamanomics, the regulatory state that suppresses economic dynamism, and has set back young adults — and perhaps especially young women — 75 years. If Republicans want to make inroads with younger voters (and their parents), this is the context for the fight over economic policy that has to take place in the general election.

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