If you were a young man whose parents couldn't afford to send you to college, it made sense to go to work immediately and grab the first job you were offered. If you were a young woman, getting married was often the best investment you could make in your future.
But the old model of plunging directly into independent adult living doesn't work anymore. In fact, the young people who try to follow the 1950s model today often have the toughest time establishing stable and productive lives.
It's not that young people spurn entry-level jobs. It's that entry-level jobs are all too often dead-end jobs. The pay gap between college grads and everyone else has been widening steadily. And even among degree-holders, the best jobs usually go to those who can afford post-graduate training or an unpaid or low-paid internship or training period.
The young people who will do best are those who do not leap out of the nest too soon. As historian Stephanie Coontz points out, postponing marriage, childbearing and permanent commitment to a single job actually increases one's chances of having a good job and a lasting marriage. But doing that without parental assistance is increasingly difficult.
Prolonged education, high living costs and accumulated student loans make it more and more of a challenge for young people to strike out on their own. Given that a substantial majority of college students graduate with debt averaging $22,380 at private schools and $17,700 at public institutions, it's not surprising that 29 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 have moved back in temporarily with their parents.
Frank F. Furstenberg of the Council on Contemporary Families has shown that young adults increasingly depend on their parents to support them as they learn how to navigate the working world and deal with paying rent. Today, nearly a quarter of the cost of raising a child occurs after age 17. Of course, those young adults who benefit most from their parents' financial support already come from a relatively privileged background.