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 A Look at Today's Young Adults

Traci_Cook2.jpgBy Traci Cook
Forum Coordinator, Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics
America's Young Adults: Special Issue, 2014 has been released by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics (the Forum), a collaboration of more than 20 federal agencies. The report  paints a statistical portrait of young adults in the United States, ages 18 – 24, featuring data from nationally representative, federally sponsored surveys, summarized under five key themes: education, economic circumstances, family formation, civic, social, and personal behavior, and health and safety.  

The conceptual framework of this special issue acknowledges the complexities of the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Recognizing that many individuals ages 18–24, who are "emerging adults," are not yet fully independent in adult roles within their families, households or the workforce, this year's reports highlights the characteristics of young adults, the current opportunities and challenges they face, and the implications of possible trajectories for their futures and their families.

Among the overarching findings, the report shows that American young adults are more racially and ethnically diverse, more likely to graduate from high school and attend college today than in 2000; however, they have more student debt than generations past, and earn less than their counterparts in the year 2000. In addition, the report found that among Hispanics in this age group, college enrollment during this time increased from 21.7 percent to 37.5 percent, the largest increase among all racial and ethnic groups.

Among other findings, the Forum report highlights the following :

  • 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
  • The mean cumulative debt per fourth- year student for the 2011–2012 school year was $25,400, up from $14,700 for 1989–1990 school year, after adjusting for inflation
  • The labor force participation rate for young adults was 65 percent in 2012, compared with the peak rate of 75 percent in 1986 and 74 percent in 2000
  • 58 percent of young men and 51 percent of young women lived with their parents in 2013
  • 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
  • Like the rest of the population, young adults are less likely to vote in congressional election years than presidential election years. In the 2012 presidential election year, 38 percent of young adults voted, compared with 20 percent in the 2010 congressional election year
  • In 2012, 20 percent of young men and 15 percent of young women smoked cigarettes, a decline for both groups. However, young White adults are still more than twice as likely to smoke as Hispanic and Blacks this age
  • Between 1988–1994 and 1999–2002, there was an increase in obesity among young adults, but between 1999–2002 and 2007–2010, there was no significant change in obesity. Between 2007–2010, young women (27 percent) were more likely to be obese than young men (19 percent)

Typically, during alternate publication years of America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, the Forum publishes a brief report, highlighting a short selection from its 41 key indicators. A brief report also includes an at-a-glance section to show significant data changes for those indicators highlighted. Data tables for all America's Children report indicators are updated annually online at the Forum's website.​