Demographic trends shaping the U.S. and the world in 2017

As demographers convene in Chicago for the Population Association of America’s annual meeting, here is a look at the main Pew Research Center’s recent findings on demographic trends, ranging from global refugee and migrant flows to changes to family life and living arrangements. They show how demographic forces are driving population change and reshaping the lives of people around the world.

Millennials are the United States’ largest living generation. In 2016, there were an estimated 79.8 million Millennials (ages 18 to 35 in that year) compared with 74.1 million Baby Boomers (ages 52 to 70). The Millennial population is expected to continue growing until 2036 as a result of immigration.

By some measures, Millennials have very different lives than earlier generations did when they were young. They’re slow to adopt many of the traditional markers of adulthood. For the first time in more than 130 years, young adults are more likely to be living in their parents’ home than in any other living arrangement. In fact, a larger share of them are living with their parents than with a romantic partner – marking a significant historical shift.

More broadly, young adult geographic mobility is at its lowest level in 50 years, even though today’s young adults are less likely than previous generations of young adults to be married, to own a home or to be parents, all of which are traditional obstacles to moving.

Americans’ lives at home are changing. Following a decades-long trend, just half of U.S. adults were married in 2015, down from 70% in 1950. As marriage has declined, the number in cohabiting relationships (living with an unmarried partner) rose 29% between 2007 and 2016, from 14 million to 18 million. The increase was especially large among those ages 50 and older: 75% in the same period. The “gray divorce” rate – divorces among those 50 and older – roughly doubled between 1990 and 2015.

Also, a record number of Americans (nearly 61 million in 2014) were living in multigenerational households, that is, households that include two or more adult generations or grandparents and grandchildren. Growing racial and ethnic diversity in the U.S. helps explain some of the rise in multigenerational living. The Asian and Hispanic populations overall are growing more rapidly than the white population, and those groups are more likely than whites to live in multigenerational family households.

Women may never make up half of the U.S. labor force. Women accounted for 46.8% of the U.S. labor force in 2015, similar to the share in the European Union. Although women comprised a much larger share of the labor force in 2015 than in 1950 (29.6%), the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected the share of women in the workforce will peak at 47.1% in 2025 before tapering off.

For those women who do work, the gender pay gap has narrowed. Women earned $0.83 for every $1 a man earned in 2015, compared with $0.64 in 1980. The pay gap has narrowed even more among young adults ages 25 to 34: Working women in that age range made 90% of what their male counterparts made in 2015.

At the same time, women continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions in the U.S. In 2017, women make up 19% of the U.S. Congress and about a quarter of state legislatures; some 8% of U.S. governors and 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female.

Immigrants are driving overall workforce growth in the U.S. As the Baby Boom generation heads toward retirement, growth in the nation’s working-age population (those ages 25 to 64) will be driven by immigrants and the U.S.-born children of immigrants, at least through 2035. Without immigrants, there would be an estimated 18 million fewer working-age adults in the country in 2035 because of the dearth of U.S.-born children with U.S.-born parents. However, immigrants do not form a majority of workers in any industry or occupational group, though they form large shares of private household workers (45%) and farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (46%).

The shares of adults living in middle-income households fell in several countries in Western Europe. In seven of 11 Western European countries examined, the share of adults in middle-income households fell between 1991 and 2010. The share of the adult population that is middle income decreased in Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway and Spain (as it did in the U.S.), but increased in France, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The largest shares of the adult population in middle-income households in 2010 were found in Denmark (80%), Norway (80%), and the Netherlands (79%), while the smallest shares were found in Italy (67%), the UK (67%) and Spain (64%). Each of the Western European countries studied had a larger share of adults in middle-income households than the U.S. (59%).

European countries received a near-record 1.2 million first-time asylum applications in 2016. Some of these applicants may have applied for asylum in multiple countries or arrived in 2015, raising the total number of applications across Europe. The number of asylum applications was down only slightly from the record-setting 1.3 million applications in 2015. Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq were the most common countries of origin for first-time asylum applications in 2015 and 2016, together accounting for over half of the total. Germany was the most common destination country in Europe, having received 45% of applications.

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