In 1970, there were about 1.5 million Americans above the age of 25 who were enrolled in some kind of school. In 2004, about 7 million people were over 25 and still in school (pdf).
In 1970, almost half of Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 were married. Today, 15 percent of that age group is married. (pdf)
The median age of first marriage for women is 25. In 1970, it was 20.8. I think most of the increase reflects later marriage by middle-class, college-educated women.
In 1961, about 4 percent of all first births were to mothers over the age of 30. By 1994 almost one third of first births were to mothers in their thirties or forties (and I wish I had more recent statistics).
American parents spend an average of $38,000 per child while their children are between the ages of 18 and 34–a huge downward flow of cash.*
Many young Americans are delaying the traditional markers of full adulthood (finishing school and beginning a career; marrying and having a first child), thereby transforming the third decade of their lives. They are receiving massive investments in the form of training and educational experiences, paid for in large part by Mom and Dad. They are entering a work force in which success seems to depend on education, travel, internships, and other learning experiences–so much so that it takes until nearly age 30 to start really working and building a family.
On the other hand, many Americans are not in a position to stay in school through their 20s or to receive tens of thousands of dollars in subsidies from their parents after age 18. Whereas the transition to adulthood has lengthened for middle- and upper-middle-class young people, it is no more protracted today for poor youth than it used to be. They are still on their own when they finish high school, with little investment from the government or families. They are most likely to interact with the government as members of the military or as prisoners.
It’s time, I think, to focus on the supports that working-class adults receive during their twenties, while their middle-class contemporaries are developing skills and interests.
*Frank F. Furstenberg Jr., Ruben G. Rumbaut, and Richard A. Settersten Jr., “On the Frontier of Adulthood,” in Settersten, Furstenberg, and Rumbaut, eds., On the Frontier of Adulthood: Theory, Research, and Public Policy (University of Chicago Press, 2005):