When I graduated college at age 22, I had my whole future planned. Get a great job, find a great guy to marry, buy a house, have some babies … and live happily ever after. By the time I celebrated my 30th birthday, only two of those things had happened; I had a job and a townhome. And although there were parts of my life that were great, I had the distinct feeling that I was living “Plan B” — a slightly less-fulfilling and depressing alternative to what my life should be.
Maybe you’ve been there. As a young person you’re told the world is full of possibility. All you have to do is apply yourself and then get out there and carpe diem — seize the day! Simply choose a college or trade, get a job, pursue your passions, keep your eyes open for love, and save some money along the way.
Doing these things requires that you set your course, but what happens when the bottom falls out from under your best-laid plans? Instead of launching a great career, your “for now” job barely pays the bills. Instead of finding love, you remain single. Instead of getting your own place, you live with your parents. Instead of having babies in your 20s, you hope you’ll still be able to in your 30s or even 40s.
The game has changed
The fact is, more 20- and 30-somethings are finding themselves living these realities than even a decade ago. Here are four statistics that have changed in the last 10 years.
The age men and women marry. When I got married 10 years ago, the average age for a first marriage was 26 for women and 28 for men. Marrying at age 31, I was statistically behind. By 2018 (the most recent figure available from the census bureau) the average age for first marriage had already risen to 28 for women and 30 for men. And it’s still climbing.
The age a woman becomes a mother for the first time. I was 32 when I had my first baby. The gestation of my third child was considered a “geriatric pregnancy.” And I felt decidedly over-the-hill when I gave birth to my youngest child at 39.
I was surprised to discover that while the average age women become mothers varies based on geography and education, for a significant number of women, that age is now 31 or 32 (the worldwide average is 26.4). In addition, more women than ever before are having babies in their late 30s and even 40s.
The number of young adults living with their parents. According to Apartment List, in 1968 over 75 percent of 26-year-olds were married and living with their spouse. Today only 24 percent live with a spouse. In 2018, there were 300,000 more 26-year-olds living with parents than spouses. Obviously, these statistics are all connected.
“25-34-year-olds today are 46 percent more likely to live with a parent than in 2007, 32 percent more likely to move in with a partner before getting married, and 19 percent more likely to have a non-family roommate. In contrast, the likelihood of living with a spouse or a child have declined steadily, as cultural norms around marriage and education have encouraged millennials to start families later in life.”
The number of millennials overqualified for their jobs. Over the past decade, millennials have been earning bachelor’s degrees at higher rates than ever before, but the job market has not kept pace with suitable jobs for this educated workforce. According to the Urban Institute, one in every four Americans with bachelor’s degrees is overqualified for their job. The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth reports that number is even higher (about 35 percent) for college-educated millennials.
From an article published by Deloitte:
[A]lthough educational attainment is growing, the number of jobs that require higher education is not growing as rapidly. Of the 36 percent of the NLSY cohort that obtained a college degree by 2015, only 19 percent worked in a job that required a bachelor’s degree or higher. Meanwhile, even though nearly half the cohort held some type of degree, 66 percent of the jobs held by this group required no more than a high school diploma or GED.
The positive is that millennials value higher education and are working hard and making sacrifices to achieve it. Unfortunately, getting the job you’re qualified for is far from a given.
A new way forward
At first glance, these statistics may seem depressing. How are young adults supposed to make their way in the world and etch out satisfying careers and personal lives with so many things seemingly working against us?
One takeaway from these statistics is that if life isn’t working out according to your expectations, you’re not alone. The struggles of getting married, starting a family, finding gainful employment and establishing a home are common to our generation. The reasons are many and complex. An economic recession, skyrocketing college costs and resulting debt, cohabitation, and pressures on women to establish their careers before family all contribute.
But while these factors change over time, God never changes. For perspective, here are a few other statistics to keep in mind:
God loves you 100% of the time.
God has plans for you 100% of the time.
God is sovereign over your life 100% of the time.
God desires your good and His glory 100% of the time.
God is with you 100% of the time.
When you feel overwhelmed by the barriers, trusting God reminds you that statistics are just that — statistics. Proverbs 19:21 says: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” Lousy statistics or not, God’s purposes cannot be thwarted.
The Australian “man drought”
Recently, I came across an article with a fascinating title: “Australia’s ‘man drought’ is real — especially if you’re a Christian woman looking for love.” For the Land Down Under, the “man drought” is real: For every 100 women, there are 98.6 men. “The gender gap widens if you’re a Christian woman hoping to marry a man who shares the same beliefs and values,” the article says.
Women interviewed for the article described being surrounded by other single women of faith but rarely meeting single men who share their beliefs. One woman interviewed, Dr. Natasha Moore, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity, is 35 and unmarried. In her desire to be married, she remains hopeful.
“If this life is all there is, and you really need to squeeze every experience out of it that you can, then it can be quite stressful if your life isn’t going the way you thought it would,” she says.
“Whereas to go, actually this is not all there is and I can trust God … then it kind of frees you up to take risks, and to make sacrifices, and for that to be ok.”
I find Dr. Moore’s attitude refreshing and biblical. Each generation carries its own cultural challenges. But with those challenges come opportunities to stand firm in the faith and trust God.
Years before I met my husband, Kevin, I contemplated what I believed to be the “worst” in life that could happen to me (from my very limited perspective). If I never married or had children, I knew I would grieve those things. I also knew that those circumstances would undeniably be part of God’s plan for my life, and I could embrace the opportunities and joy He would provide for me along that alternate path.
Even when the odds are against us, we can look to a sovereign, good and faithful God and ask, “OK, Lord. What do You want to do with this?” In that place of trust, God can “do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” This is a power that ensures that the odds are ever — and eternally — in our favor.
Copyright 2020 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.