The Millennial Ideal is Not the Millennial Reality

This post originally appeared on my blog, The Way of the Worrier, where I blog about what I’m writing, reading, and worrying about.

I realize that I embody some Millennial stereotypes. I’m a college-educated twenty-something (a.k.a. “Millennial”) with a degree from an expensive four-year liberal arts institution. I grew up very middle class. I am socially liberal. I aspire to be a writer.

But I don’t live New York City, Washington D.C., San Francisco, or any of the other cool trendy cities that me and my compatriots supposedly flock to after college graduation. Nor do I want to live in any of those places. I live with my boyfriend, but if we broke up, I would try to avoid having a roommate. I don’t even know who I would live with, since I don’t have a tight-knit group of girlfriends that I have a mimosa brunch with every weekend. I have not been to a happy hour since graduating college. I live in a cookie-cutter apartment on the border between the (very small) city and hardcore suburbia.

But let’s back up a second — is living in one of those big cities, either alone or with an equally hip young roommate(s) really the norm for my generation?

The numbers say no. In April of this year, the Bureau of Labor Statisitics (BLS) published results from a longitudinal survey of 9,000 young men and women who were between the ages of 28 and 34 when they were interviewed for the final time in 2013–14. The BLS’s numbers show that the average 29-year-old in America doesn’t live with a gaggle of their closest friends; the average 29-year-old lives with a significant other. Furthermore, the average 29-year-old doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree. The biggest kicker, in my opinion, came from the U.S. Census Bureau, which reported that you’re more likely to find a Millennial moving to the ‘burbs from the big city than the other way around.

Yeah. Let that all sink in, especially if you are a twenty-something who defies any of these Millennial stereotypes. Whether you live in a small town, a small city, or the suburbs, whether you live with your bf/gf/spouse, whether your have a high school diploma, GED, or associate’s degree, you are not that different from the rest of your generation.

Let’s look at the specifics, courtesy of the BLS and the U.S. Census:

  • 34% of women and 26% of men had graduated from college by the age of 29 (BLS).
  • 24% of 29-year-olds held a high school diploma or GED as their highest form of education (BLS).
  • 40% were married, 40% were single, and 20% were cohabiting at the age of 29 (BLS).
  • 529,000 Americans from the ages of 25–29 moved from a city to the suburbs in 2014; 426,000 moved from the suburbs to a city (U.S. Census).

The average Millennial does not graduate from Oberlin, get a job in NYC, and move in with a bunch of roommates to an apartment in Brooklyn decked out with IKEA furniture, all while dating their way through the city. Of course, some Millennials do do this. But they are the exception, not the rule.

The average Millennial might live with mom and dad out in the suburbs while working their way through community college; they may have graduated from college and then moved in with their significant other; they may be working three jobs to pay for their studio apartment in Des Moines.

None of this is to put down those Millennials that are “living the dream” of living in a hip city with their BFFs/roommates. This is just to say that if you are not living the dream or that isn’t even your dream at all, you are not a weirdo.

If you’re a twenty-something, what’s your living situation like? Would you even want to move to the ~Big City~ if you could?