Interactive Mapping Tool Shows How Young Adults Today Compare With Previous Generations

Census Explorer, the Census Bureau's interactive mapping tool, has released “Young Adults: Then and Now.”  The tool uses data from the 1980, 1990 and 2000 Censuses and the 2009-2013 American Community Survey (a part of the decennial census), and allows users to explore characteristics of the young adult population (age 18-34) across the decades.  The American Community Survey especially provides detailed data on a wide range of economic and social indicators aggregated at several geographical levels (from block groups to state and country).
According to Jonathan Vespa, Census Bureau demographer, "Many of the differences between generations examined within these latest data reflect long-term demographic and societal changes. Three decades of decennial census statistics combined with the latest American Community Survey statistics give us a unique view of how — and where — our nation is changing. In this case, we can look at the changing characteristics of young adults over the last few decades."

Here are some selected findings from the Census Bureau report:
In 1980, 30 percent of the population was age 18 to 34, compared with 23 percent today.

The percentage of young adults today who are foreign born has more than doubled since 1980 (15 percent versus 6 percent).

  • All states have higher proportions of foreign-born young adults than 30 years ago.  The increase was larger in the West and Northeast, where 21 percent and 18 percent, respectively, are now foreign born, compared with 12 percent and 8 percent 30 years ago.  
  • Only 9 percent of young adults in the Midwest and 14 percent in the South are foreign born, up from 3 and 4 percent, respectively, in 1980.  
  • One in four young adults, or 17.9 million, speaks a language other than English at home. That proportion is higher still in New York, New Jersey, Texas, New Mexico and Nevada (where it is about one in three) but is highest in California (where it is about one in two).

More millennials are living in poverty today, and they have lower rates of employment, compared with their counterparts in 1980:

  • One in five young adults lives in poverty (13.5 million people), up from one in seven (8.4 million people) in 1980.
  • Today, 65 percent of young adults are employed, down from 69 percent in 1980.
Prior generations of young adults were more likely to have ever served in the armed services: 9 percent were veterans in 1980, compared with 2 percent today.

Millennials are more educated than young adults in 1980:  22 percent have a college degree, up from 16 percent in 1980. States with the largest share of young college graduates are in the Northeast, including Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.

Unlike in prior generations, the majority of millennials have never been married, reflecting continued delays in getting married: Only about three in 10 young adults have ever been married, down from six in 10 in 1980.  The state with the highest share of married young adults is Utah (51 percent); the lowest is Rhode Island (25 percent).

For more data, charts, and maps, go to:

Read more: resources:
Social Change: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
Economy Track: Employment to Population Ratio (
Marital Trends (
Family Change 19550 to 1990 (
Interacting with America (
Education in America (
Frederique Laubepin

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