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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, April 2013  
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Young adults: Then and now

This article features in Episode 13 of the Australian Social Trends Podcast series.
Listen to the episode, or subscribe to the series, here AST Podcast via RSS, or via iTunes.




Related terms:
Intergenerational change, societal changes, changing characteristics, young adults, 1970’s, 2000’s, traditional milestones, delaying milestones, baby boomers, generation Y, Census



INTRODUCTION

Young adulthood is a time of transition and growing independence. However the experiences of young adults today can be quite different to those in previous decades. Traditional milestones such as moving away from the family home, moving in with a partner or getting married have been delayed until a little later in life.

This article looks at differences between young adults aged 18-34 years in 2011 and those in 1976. Some young adults in 2011 will be the children of those discussed in 1976. Thirty-five years separate these two groups, and changes in their characteristics can be seen as a reflection of different social environments and trends of their times. This article looks at their changing characteristics, living arrangements, family life, and educational and workforce participation.

A SMALLER PIECE OF THE POPULATION PIE

In June 2011, there were 5.4 million Australians aged 18-34 years. As expected, given the growing population of Australia, this was more than there had been in June 1976 (3.8 million). However, due to the ageing of the population, young adults make up a smaller proportion overall than previously. In 2011, 24% of the population were young adults, whereas in 1976, young adults made up 27% of the population.

YOUNG ADULTS(a) AS A PROPORTION OF THE POPULATION
Line graph of young adults as a proportion of the population
(a) Aged 18-34 years.
Source: ABS Australian Demographic Statistics, Sep 2012 (cat. no. 3101.0)

WHERE DO YOUNG ADULTS LIVE?

In 2011, major urban areas such as capital cities and larger cities had a higher proportion of young adults than other urban areas - 25% and 20% respectively. Outside urban areas, only 16% of the population were young adults.

PROPORTION OF YOUNG ADULTS(a) ACROSS SECTION OF STATE - 2011
Bar graph of young adults across section of state - 2011
(a) Aged 18-34 years.
(b) Population clusters of 100,000 or more people.
(c) Population clusters of between 1,000 to 99,999 people.
(d) Population clusters of less than 1000 people.
Source: ABS 2011 Census of Population and Housing

states and territories

In the past 35 years, the proportion of young adults across all the states and territories has decreased due to the ageing population. However, there were still some similarities in terms of the states and territories in which young adults lived.

In 2011, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory had the highest proportion of the population that were young adults (both 29%). These territories also had the highest proportion of young adults in 1976. A possible reason for the higher proportion of young adults in the Australian Capital Territory is the large concentration of higher education institutions within this territory. Tasmania had the lowest proportion of the population that were young adults in both 2011 (20%) and 1976 (26%).

PROPORTION OF YOUNG ADULTS(a) ACROSS STATES AND TERRITORIES
Bar graph of proportion of young adults across states and territories
(a) Aged 18-34 years.
Source: ABS Australian Demographic Statistics, Sep 2012 (cat. no. 3101.0)

LIVING ARRANGEMENTS AND FAMILY LIFE

There has been a delay in a range of life events when comparing the living arrangements of young adults and their families in 2011 with their 1976 counterparts. In 1976, around 65% of young adults lived with a partner, and nearly three-quarters of these (74%) had children. In 2011, around 42% of young adults lived with a partner, and of these only around half (52%) had children.

Young adults in 2011 were also more likely than those in 1976 to be living without a partner or child but with one or both of their parents. In 2011, around 29% of young adults lived without a partner or child but with one or both of their parents, up from 21% in 1976.

SELECTED LIVING ARRANGEMENTS OF YOUNG ADULTS(a)
Line graph of selected living arrangements of young adults
(a) Aged 18-34 years.
(b) And not living with a partner or child.

(c) Includes registered marriages and de-facto relationships.
Source: ABS 1976 and 2011 Censuses of Population and Housing

delaying marriage

Recent decades have seen a decrease in the proportion of young adults who have married. In 2011, under a third (29%) of young adults were, or had been, married. This was less than half of the proportion in 1976 (64%). Further, young adults who marry were doing so at a later age. In 1976, around two-thirds (67%) of 24 year olds were, or had been, married, compared with 14% of 24 year olds in 2011.

PROPORTION OF YOUNG ADULTS(a) WHO WERE, OR HAD BEEN, MARRIED(b)
Line graph of young adults who were, or had been, married
(a) Aged 18-34 years.
(b) Were married, separated, divorced or widowed at the time of Census.
Source: ABS 1976 and 2011 Censuses of Population and Housing

The median age at first marriage has also seen an increase by six years for men and seven years for women. The median age of first marriage was 24 years for men and 21 years for women in 1976, (Endnote 1) compared with 30 and 28 years respectively in 2011. (Endnote 2) Clearly, young adults were choosing to put off marriage to a later age. Possible reasons for this delay include a greater acceptance of cohabitation and having children before marriage, and changing values and priorities. (Endnote 3) Young adults could also be deciding not to get married at all.

For more information on recent trends in marriages, de facto relationships and couple living arrangements, see Australian Social Trends 2012, 'Love Me Do'.

moving house

Now, as in the 1970s, young adults tend to move house more than other age groups. This is associated with the many types of transitions that young adults go through, including moving away from the parental home, taking up further study, moving into employment, moving in with a partner, or moving to a more suitable place to start a family.

In 2011, around two-thirds of young adults (64%) were living at an address different to where they were living five years earlier, while around 29% were living elsewhere to where they were living a year earlier. Other Australians appear less mobile, with around a third (34%) living elsewhere from five years earlier and around 12% living elsewhere from one year earlier.

While young adults in 2011 were only slightly less likely than those in 1976 to have been living elsewhere a year earlier (29% compared with 30%), they were doing so at a later age. In 2011, the proportion of young adults who were living elsewhere a year earlier peaked at the age of 24 (35%), compared with 22 years (42%) in 1976.

Many young adults move out of home then return, perhaps due to a change in circumstances or to save to buy their own home. For more information on the living arrangements of young adults, see Australian Social Trends 2009, 'Home and away: the living arrangements of young people'.

PROPORTION OF YOUNG ADULTS(a) WHO WERE LIVING AT A DIFFERENT ADDRESS ONE YEAR PREVIOUSLY
Line graph of proportion of young adults who were living at a different address one year previously
(a) Aged 18-34 years.
Source: ABS 1976 and 2011 Censuses of Population and Housing

WHAT DO YOUNG ADULTS DO?

Many are hitting the books

In 1974, the Australian Government assumed full responsibility for funding higher education - abolishing tuition fees and introducing the Tertiary Education Assistance Scheme with the intention of making university accessible to all Australians who had the ability and who wished to participate in higher education. (Endnote 4) In 1989, the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) was implemented, requiring those in higher education to contribute to their cost of education. This scheme allowed students to delay repaying their HECS debt until they earned a certain amount of income from a job in Australia. Whereas many young adults in 1976 may have received free tertiary education, many young adults in 2011 may have been required to contribute to the cost of theirs.

Despite the implementation of HECS and the re-introduction of tuition fees for some students, nearly double the proportion of young adults were attending an educational institution in 2011 than in 1976 (26% compared with 14%). As in 1976, participation in education was much higher for the younger end of this age group.

This increase in educational participation could be due to a variety of factors that include an expansion in the number of available places in educational institutions, an increase in school completion rates, and the increased reliance on available education and training opportunities to gain access to the labour market. (Endnote 5)

PROPORTION OF YOUNG ADULTS(a) ATTENDING AN EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTION
Line graph of young adults attending an educational institution
(a) Aged 18-34 years.
Source: ABS 1976 and 2011 Censuses of Population and Housing

more women are studying

Over recent decades, there has been a rise in the proportion of young women attending an educational institution. While in 1976 a higher proportion of young men (17%) were attending an educational institution than young women (10%), in 2011 the opposite was found: there was a higher proportion of young women (28%) attending an educational institution than men (25%).

PROPORTION OF YOUNG ADULTS(a) ATTENDING AN EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTION, BY SEX

Line graph of proportion of young adults attending an education institution, by sex
(a) Aged 18-34 years.
Source: ABS Censuses of Population and Housing 1976 to 2011

more qualifications to show for it

The increased participation in education among young adults between 1976 and 2011 has had the flow on effect of more young adults having an educational qualification. In 1976, less than a third (30%) of young adults had obtained a non-school qualification and only 5% had a bachelor degree or higher qualification. In contrast, over half (52%) of young adults had a non-school qualification, and around a quarter (26%) had a bachelor degree or higher qualification in 2011.

PROPORTION OF YOUNG ADULTS(a) WITH A BACHELOR DEGREE OR HIGHER QUALIFICATION
Line graph of proportion of young adults with a bachelor degree of higher education qualification
(a) Aged 18-34 years.
Source: ABS 1976 and 2011 Censuses of Population and Housing

Most are working

Over the past 30 years, the labour force has seen some substantial changes. In 1976, over two thirds (71%) of young adults were employed, similar to the proportion in 2011 (74%). However, while the overall employment to population ratio (or employment rate) has remained similar, changes can be seen in the employment rate and working patterns for both men and women.

men are working less

The proportion of young men who were employed has decreased between 1976 (88%) and 2011 (79%). In both years, the employment rate has remained fairly steady across the age groups, with the largest differences being seen at the younger ages where educational participation was at its highest. The decline in the employment rate for men over the years may be linked to factors such as the opportunity to engage in further studies, fewer jobs in goods-producing industries, and the changing role of men in families. (Endnote 6)

PROPORTION OF YOUNG MEN WHO WERE EMPLOYED

Line graph of proportion of young men who were employed
Source: ABS 1976 and 2011 Censuses of Population and Housing

women are working more

For young women, the pattern of employment has seen quite a change. The proportion of young women employed has increased between 1976 (54%) and 2011 (69%). This increase is reflective of a number of factors including the increase in flexibility to work and care for a child at the same time, the opportunity for social interaction, an increase in part-time employment, and the trend that has seen women having fewer children, and at older ages. (Endnote 7)

PROPORTION OF YOUNG WOMEN WHO WERE EMPLOYED

Line graph of proportion of young women who were employed
Source: ABS 1976 and 2011 Censuses of Population and Housing

However, despite there now being a higher proportion of women and a lower proportion of men in the workforce than there was in 1976, the number of hours worked per week is considerably different when comparing men and women.

working full-time

Of young adults who worked full-time in 1976, more than half (59%) worked 40 hours per week and around a quarter (25%) worked more than 40 hours per week. In 2011 however, less than a third (31%) worked 40 hours per week, and over 38% worked more than 40 hours per week.

FULL-TIME(a) EMPLOYED YOUNG ADULTS(b) - HOURS WORKED PER WEEK(c)
Bar graph of full-time employed young adults - hours worked per week
(a) 35 hours or more per week.
(b) Aged 18-34 years.
(c) Hours worked in the week prior to the Census.
Source: ABS 1976 and 2011 Censuses of Population and Housing

working part-time

The labour market in 2011 was much more flexible than in 1976. In 2011, a third (34%) of young adults who were employed worked part-time hours (less than 35 hours per week), compared with 11% in 1976. The increase was apparent for both men and women: in 2011, nearly half (45%) of employed women were working part-time hours, compared with around a quarter (23%) in 1976. For employed men, in 2011 nearly a quarter (24%) were working part-time hours, compared with only around one in twenty (4%) in 1976.

Many students may need to work part-time in order to support themselves while studying, and the increased flexibility in the workplace has made it easier for them to do so. In 2011, over a third (38%) of young adults attending an educational institution also worked part-time hours, while only one in ten (10%) did so in 1976. The option to work part-time hours has also allowed young adults more flexibility when managing their work hours based on their study needs, or vice versa.

These differences may be a reflection of the changes in the labour market. For example, since the 1970s, there has been a general fall in full-time job opportunities for young people. (Endnote 8) In addition, there has been substantial growth in industries that offer part-time employment such as retail and hospitality services, while there has been a decline in industries that offer traditional full-time employment such as manufacturing. (Endnote 8) Further, part-time work may be more appealing than full-time work for women who have children.

MORE CULTURALLY DIVERSE

The proportion of young adults born overseas has grown from 23% in 1976 to 27% in 2011. The countries where they were born has also changed, reflecting changing migration patterns.

In 2011, over half (53%) of young adults that were born overseas were born in Asia, around one in ten (10%) born in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and 7% born in the rest of Europe. In contrast, in 1976 most of those born overseas were born in either the United Kingdom and Ireland (36%), or the rest of Europe (40%). Only around one in ten (11%) were born in Asia.

For more information, see Reflecting a Nation: Stories from the 2011 Census, 2012-2013, 'Cultural Diversity in Australia'.

PROPORTION OF YOUNG ADULTS(a) BORN OVERSEAS
Line graph of proportion of young adults born overseas
(a) Aged 18-34 years.
Source: ABS Censuses of Population and Housing 1976 to 2011

ARE YOUNG ADULTS RELIGIOUS?

Young adults in 2011 were more than twice as likely as those in 1976 to have no religion (29% compared with 12%). While the increase was evident in the broader population as well, in 2011, the highest proportion of people who had no religion were young adults.

PROPORTION OF PEOPLE WITH NO RELIGION
Bar graph of proportion of people with no religion
(a) Aged 0-17 years.
(b) Aged 18-34 years.
(c) Aged 35 and over.
Source: ABS 1976 and 2011 Censuses of Population and Housing

In 2011 and 1976, the majority of young adults who stated a religious affiliation were Christian. In 2011, half (50%) of young adults were Christian, a decrease from 1976 when around three-quarters of young adults were Christian (74%). The largest non-Christian groups for young adults in 2011 were Buddhists (3%), Muslims (3%), and Hindus (2% ).

LOOKING AHEAD

The recent decades have seen many changes in the lifestyles of young adults. Compared with young adults 35 years ago, young adults in 2011 were less likely to be married, more likely to delay moving out of their parental home, more likely to work part-time, and have more educational qualifications. Further, young adult women are closing the gap in terms of workforce participation, and have now overtaken young adult men in educational participation.

Many of these trends may continue. The introduction of the Paid Parental Leave Act 2010 was designed to financially assist working parents and allow them to remain in the workforce. (Endnote 9)

The Australian Government has also introduced the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development, which aims to ensure future economic productivity by increasing the skill levels of the Australian people. (Endnote 10) One focus of this agreement is to increase qualifications in higher education, and key targets of this agreement include halving the proportion of Australians aged 20-64 years without qualifications at Certificate III level and above between 2009 and 2020, and doubling the number of higher level qualification completions (diploma and advanced diploma) nationally between 2009 and 2020.

These policies, as well as other societal changes, will impact the lifestyles of current and future young adults.

ADDITIONAL TOPICS

PARENTAL DIVORCE

Significant changes in social attitudes and divorce laws in the 1970s had a dramatic impact on the rate of parental divorce. In 1975, the Family Law Act 1975 was introduced and established the concept of no-fault divorce. Following this change in legislation, a spike in the divorce rate was seen in 1976, which later stabilised, albeit at a higher level than prior to the legislative change. Consequently, in recent generations, a higher proportion of young adults came from divorced families than in previous generations.

Data from the ABS 2006-07 Family Characteristics Survey reveal that around one in four (23%) young adults aged 18-34 years reported experiencing the divorce or permanent separation of their parents before they were 18 years old. In contrast, the same survey revealed that less than one in ten (8%) young adults who were aged 18-34 years in 1976 had experienced parental divorce or permanent separation before they were 18 years old.

For more information on parental divorce, see Australian Social Trends 2010, 'Parental divorce or death in childhood'.

CHANGING TIMES - WORLD EVENTS AND POPULAR CULTURE

Then
Young adults aged 18-34 years in 1976 were born between 1941 and 1958, with many of them being baby boomers (born in the baby boom after the Second World War). They grew up over the 1950s and 1960s. Many of their parents were born around the time of the Great Depression, and experienced the Second World War as young adults.

...In the 35 years to 1976
1942: The bombing of Darwin.
1944: Liberal Party of Australia formed.
1945: End of the Second World War.
1948: Pharmaceutical Benefits scheme introduced.
1949: Dismantling of the White Australia Policy begins.
1950: Communist Party Dissolution Bill passes in the Parliament of Australia.
1956: Mainstream television is first broadcast in Australia.
1958: QANTAS international services commence.
1959: Australia's population reaches 10 million.
1962: All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people gained the unqualified right to vote in Federal Elections.
1964: National Service is reintroduced.
1965: Australia joins war in Vietnam.
1966: Removal of the 'marriage bar' from the Commonwealth Public Service Act allows women to keep their jobs once they marry.
1971: Australia's combat role in Vietnam ends.
1972: The Australian Labor Party wins its first Federal Election in 23 years.
1973: The White Australia policy ends.
1974: University fees abolished.
1975: The Governor General sacks Gough Whitlam and dissolves Parliament, the Liberal National Coalition wins the Federal Election.
1975: The Family Law Act 1975 established the concept of no-fault divorce in Australian law.

Now
Young adults aged 18-34 years in 2011 were born between 1976 and 1993, and form a large part of what many refer to as Gen Y (at the older end). Many of their parents are from the baby boomer generation, and they are the first generation to have the internet widely available.

...In the 35 years to 2011
1976: The first Vietnamese refugees arrive in Australia by boat .
1977: Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket is launched.
1979: Arbitration Commission grants maternity leave for all women in private industry.
1981: 1st Australian death from HIV/AIDS.
1984: Medicare launched.
1984: Advance Australia Fair proclaimed as national anthem.
1985: The Uluru National Park handed over to the Mutilulu Aboriginal community.
1986: The House of Representatives has its first woman speaker.
1987: Women surpassed men for the first time in participation in higher education.
1988: Australia celebrates its Bicentenary, New Parliament House is opened.
1989: The Higher Education Contribution scheme is introduced.
1989: The internet is introduced to Australia.
1991: The Industrial Relations Commission approves Enterprise Bargaining.
1993: The Native Title Act is passed.
1999: Australians vote 'no' to referendum on whether Australia should become a republic.
1999: The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act is passed by parliament, replacing the Affirmative Action Act 1986.
2000: The Sydney Olympic Games are held.
2003: The Iraq war begins.
2004: Facebook first launched.
2008: Prime minister Kevin Rudd apologises to Indigenous Australian for the stolen generations.
2008: Quentin Bryce sworn in as Australia's first female Governor General.
2010: Julia Gillard becomes first female Prime Minister of Australia.

Source: ABC Online, 2002, A Selected History of Australia, <www.abc.net.au>

EXPLANATORY INFORMATION

Data sources and definitions

The main data sources for this article were the ABS 1976 and 2011 Census of Population and Housing. However, the total proportion of young adults, as well as the proportion of young adults by state and territories, was derived from the Estimated Residential Population (ERP).

This article has used the geographical classification, Section of State, to define urban and rural areas. In this classification, Major Urban areas are population clusters of 100,000 or more people, Other Urban areas are population clusters of between 1,000 to 99,999 people, and non-Urban areas are areas with population clusters of less than 1000 people.

In this article, a young adult is defined as a person aged between 18-34 years.

Non-school qualification refers to qualifications at the postgraduate degree/diploma/certificate level, bachelor degree level, certificate I, II, III, IV level and certificates whose level could not be determined.
For any group, the number of employed persons expressed as a percentage of the civilian population in the same group is known as the employment to population ratio.

A person is considered to be in full-time employment if they worked 35 hours or more in all jobs during the week prior to Census Night.
A person is considered to be in part-time employment if they worked less than 35 hours in all jobs the week prior to Census Night.

ENDNOTES

1. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1997. Marriages and Divorces, Australia, 1996, cat. no. 3310.0, <www.abs.gov.au>.

2. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012. Marriages and Divorces, Australia, 2011, cat. no. 3310.0, <www.abs.gov.au>.

3. De Vaus, D. 2004. Diversity and change in Australian families: Statistical profiles. Australian Institute of Family Studies. <www.aifs.gov.au>.

4. Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) 2001, The National Report on Higher Education in Australia, <www.nla.gov.au>.

5. Lamb, S., Long, M. and Malley, J. 1998. Vocational education and training in Australia: an analysis of participation and outcomes using longitudinal survey data. Australian Council for Educational Research. <www.acer.edu.au>.6. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2005. Australian Labour Market Statistics, Jan 2005, cat. no. 6105.0, <www.abs.gov.au>.

7. Kilpatrick, S., Abbott-Chapman, J. and Bynes, H. 2002. Youth participation in education. A review of trends, targets and influencing factors. Centre for Research and Learning in Regional Australia. <www.crlra.utas.edu.au>.

8. Lamb, S., Dwyer, P. and Wyn, J. 2000. Non-completion of school in Australia: the changing patterns of participation and outcomes. Australian Council for Educational Research.<www.acer.edu.au>.

9. Commonwealth of Australia, 2010, Paid Parental Leave Act 2010. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. <www.comlaw.gov.au>.

10. Council of Australian Governments, 2009. National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development. <www.coag.gov.au>.

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