“Getting started” in life has long been a familiar term in American life without a precise definition. In an attempt to shed some light on this stage of life and the decisions, priorities, and challenges that lay therein, this 23rd installment of the Heartland Monitor Poll explored this issue through questions about Americans’ views on family, housing, employment, education, and personal finances. In particular, this poll examined the different expectations and experiences of “Younger” Americans (those age 18-24 and the majority of those age 25-29 who said they were still “getting started”) compared to the seasoned retrospective of “Older” Americans (age 30+ and an advanced group of those age 25-29).
Younger Americans are shifting how they achieve the shared American goals of family, homeownership and career as they face new, evolving challenges. The 23rd Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll explores Americans’ priorities and expectations for their personal finances, education, employment and family life. The poll also takes an in-depth look at Americans’ perceptions about the best “road map” to a successful life and the difference between “younger” Americans who are getting started in life and “older” Americans who have moved past that stage.
During a time of continued economic and political frustration, we were interested to see remarkable consistency between these age groups in how they measured success in today’s economy. Both groups also have high standards for moving beyond the “getting started” phase of life. Most in both age groups say that it’s not enough to simply graduate from college, get a full-time job, move out of Mom and Dad’s house, and pay your own bills. Rather, the bar is set higher and “growing up” is seen by most to include a supervisory job with a career path, an advanced degree with student loans paid off, getting married and having children. Americans of all ages also still subscribe to the ideas of home ownership as a good investment, marriage as a worthwhile institution, and continuing education as a worthwhile career step.
With these high standards and expectations comes an acknowledgement that “getting started” is considerably harder today than it was in previous generation. Younger Americans are experiencing this acutely on the issue of student loans, a burden faced increasingly by this group compared to Older Americans.
Yet, despite these challenges, Younger Americans are among the most optimistic of any group in the poll. They foresee personal financial improvement in the near term. They remain idealistic in their career choices, prioritizing enjoyment and “making a difference” over making money and career growth, although many are also entrepreneurial.
And, they also appear to be charting a slightly different course than their parents’ generation. They prefer to live in an area with a strong sense of community and volunteerism and more public services. And, they think it might be a better choice to wait for financial stability before getting married and having children.