Although millennials generally meet certain life milestones later than earlier generations did, they don’t necessarily do so by choice, new research from the Stanford Center on Longevity suggests.
Dubbed the Milestones Project, the study reveals that 20- and 30-year-old Americans’ aspirations for the age at which they’ll accomplish goals like home ownership, marriage and starting a family are very similar to those held by older cohorts.
The difference, however, is that millennials are less likely to actually meet these expectations.
“Millennials want to achieve the same things around the same time as everyone else,” said Tamara Sims, a research scientist at the Center on Longevity and director of the Sightlines initiative under which this research was conducted.
According to the study, while millennials’ goals under the American Dream “appear to be unwavering,” the extent to which they actually follow through with such goals has decreased significantly.
“Indeed, holding onto a potentially outdated dream may be setting up younger generations to fail,” the study says.
Many of the norms about the age at which certain life goals should be met were set around World War II, Sims explained. But even as society has changed since then — for instance, with the average lifespan increasing by 30 years over the last century — those norms have not.
“It doesn’t make sense that we as a society haven’t questioned these ideals,” Sims said. “We hope this study, along with the center’s broader mission, helps people rethink their goals in this era of long life and empower[s] younger generations.”
Millennials are not the only generation to experience this disparity between expectation and reality, however. Each successive generation the study looked at became less and less likely to meet their goals.
“[Millennials] are indeed getting married, buying a home and starting a family later than their ideal age at lower rates than other generations,” Sims said, “but this decline did not start with them.”
The outlook isn’t entirely negative – the study noted, for instance, that millennials aimed to save money for retirement earlier in life than their predecessors, and that 43 percent were able to actually do so.
“The results on saving for retirement are really encouraging,” psychology professor Jeanne Tsai said in an interview with Stanford News. “They suggest that with education and alternative models for doing things, beliefs, expectations and even behavior can change.”
However, when it comes to getting married, owning a home or starting a family, Americans between 25 and 34 years of age remain the least likely to do so despite their intentions.
Contact Brian Contreras at brianc42 ‘at’ stanford.edu.