With every new generation, we as a whole get to experience familiar cycles of life anew through their eyes. But while the life benchmarks might be the same, the experiences can be vastly different because of the world the newer generation now lives in. The economy, society, technology all have an effect on how someone navigates the world. The youngest Millennial is still in their mid twenties but the oldest are now pushing forty and many of them have or are about to enter the brave new world of parenthood. More than 16 million Millennial women are moms now, according to Pew Research. That means five out of every six babies born each year are to Millennial moms. And with the Millennial generation officially bigger than the Boomer generation, how these new Millennial parents navigate family life and child care will have an impact for years to come. And they are already carving out their own path, diverging from their predecessors, Generation X and Boomers. Millennials are, once again, creating their own unique path to parenthood.
The first initial and most obvious difference with Millennial parents is that they are older than their previous predecessors. In 1970, the average new mother was 21 years old. Now the average has risen to 26 years old and the numbers keep trending higher. In 2016, 48% of Millennial women were moms. But in 2000, when women from Generation X were the same age, 57% were already moms. But they aren’t just older—Millennial parents are also better educated. More opportunities both in career and in education are available to women. And Millennials, particularly Millennial women, have grown up with the expectation of fair access to education. They don’t see the same barriers a woman in the 1970s might’ve encountered, or at least, the barriers don’t seem as looming and indomitable. In 1970, only 18% of average new mothers had any college experience, compared to today, more than 67% have higher education experience. The importance of new mothers, or women in general, having more education plays a key role in the Millennial family structure and dynamic.
More mothers are working now than ever before. With greater opportunities for education and work advancement, Millennial women are making huge strides in the labor force, and children don’t seem to be slowing their drive down. In 1975, the first year for which data on the labor force participation of mothers is available, 47% of mothers with children younger than 18 were in the labor force. By 2000, 73% of moms were in the labor force. And today, 40% of families with children under 18 at home include mothers who earn the majority of the family income. The number goes even higher when you look into Millennial minority families. Thanks to large strides made in the labor force, there really isn’t an industry that women haven’t made some headway in. And with the normalization of working, even after birth, women are taking their careers further than they ever have before. That creates a huge shift in the family dynamic and traditional roles that prevailed in previous generations. For example, there has been a huge marked decline in the number of stay at home moms, with only 29% of mothers with children younger than 18 staying at home.
With mothers working more, the Millennial family structure is also changing. Millennials are more comfortable straying from the typical two parent household. In the 1960s, the percentage of children living with two married parents was 73%, now it is down to 46%. Numbers for cohabiting parents or single parent households have only risen over the years with one parent households going from 9% in the 1960s to almost tripling at 26% in 2014. Millennials also seem less concerned with traditional gender roles within a family and seem to be focused on doing what works best for their individual needs. This trend can be seen in the rise in stay at home dads.
In 1984, there were roughly about a million stay at home dads but that number has now doubled in 2014. While the numbers have grown and Millennial parents seem more open minded and flexible about who can take up the stay at home parent role, that doesn’t mean it is an easy road for a Millennial man to walk down. Society as a whole still seems to feel uncomfortable with stay at home dads. There is still a social stigma of a man staying home while his wife works. There are also very few resources for stay at home dads to rely upon. There are tons of ‘Mommy and Me’ classes and social groups but very few ‘Daddy and Me’ where men can socialize and find that camaraderie between fellow dads. Scheduling playdates can be awkward with many stay at home moms preferring to socialize only with other moms. It can become isolating and overwhelming for many stay at home dads. This is still a brave new frontier many Millennial men are exploring.
A hallmark of the Millennial experience is the financial crises that have dotted their lives. Many Millennials came of age during the 2008 financial crisis and it looks like many of them are now about to face down another one, this time as parents. The wealth divide in America has only been increasing during the Millennial lifetime. Many millennials find themselves struggling to keep themselves afloat as inflation and the cost of living rises but their wages stay stagnant. And despite working so much, many Millennials are reporting that they are having financial difficulty, with one in ten parents saying they struggle to make ends meet. And looking at wage trends, it’s no wonder. The average 18-34 year old today makes about $2000/yr less than they would have in the 1980s. But costs for everything has gone up since then, especially childcare costs. In the 1960s, childcare and education was just about 2% of the total cost of raising a child, now it is up to 18%. And with more families having both parents working, child care is more important than ever. 1985, child care expenses averaged $84/week but in 2011, it is now up to $143/week (both adjusted for 2011 dollars). This can also be considered a contributing factor in the rising age of new mothers. Many Millennial parents want to wait until they feel more financially secure to start a family.
The Millennial experience is a mixed bag in a lot of respects. And who knows what the future may bring. But for now, Millennials seem to be enjoying this new stage in their life—parenthood. Despite the uncertainty of the times, Millennials seem to be able to roll with the punches and find the joy in every moment. After all, they came of age and grew up during an era where nothing seemed stable and all the old paths to what life is ‘supposed’ to be like had been destroyed. In a 2015 survey, they were more likely to say parenting was rewarding (58%) and enjoyable (52%) than were Gen X parents (51% and 39%) or Boomer parents (46% and 39%). Maybe because of their generation’s background, Millennials seem more open to experimentation, more open to change. They are fluid with their approach to parenting, disregarding old roles and expectations, and it seems to be working in their favor so far. Maybe this is why Millennial parents seem to enjoy parenthood more than previous generations. Overall, it is reassuring to know that the parents of today are enjoying raising the children of tomorrow.