The New Grownups

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Layoffs, a tight job market, shaky economic times. The class of 2001 may have more in common with the class of 1991 than they'd like to admit. But as several of our stories this month suggest, today's college grads bring with them a whole different set of attitudes.

Like their predecessors of a decade ago, the 71 million children of Baby Boomers are staring down a precarious economy and heading back to their parents' nests. But as associate editor Pamela Paul, author of this month's cover story, “Echo Boomerang,� points out, they are doing so with a new kind of verve. An estimated 56 percent of the 2001 graduating class, or 668,640 grads, are expected to be homeward bound this year. But this time it will be by choice, and not as a last resort. “Whereas Gen X viewed moving home as failure, Gen Ys are both pragmatic and positive about their post-college decisions,� says Paul. “Having come of age under the protective boom of the stock market, Gen Ys have a more optimistic view of the economy and their ability to eventually succeed in it.�

It's anticipated that these homeward bound grads will have more disposable income and spending power than their Gen X counterparts and willingly spend it on everything but room and board. As Paul points out, they are a consumer group that marketers can no longer ignore.

This trend of moving home is significant for another reason: It's further evidence that young adults today are postponing adulthood — or at least taking longer to establish stable households. In our second feature, editor at large Alision Stein Wellner shows us how this postponement of adulthood is affecting other parts of society. In “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,� Wellner chronicles the lengths today's religious institutions are going to in order to attract young adults. While religion has long borrowed a few marketing tools to stem declining memberships, Wellner shows how some groups are custom-tailoring services to appeal to specific demographics, especially those between the ages of 18 and 29. “It is between these years — the years between leaving the nest and building one's own — that adults are most likely to experiment with religion and the least likely to commit to one church or synagogue,� Wellner writes.

While demographics-specific marketing of religion is essential in certain areas, it may prove less of a trend in other parts of the nation. That's because of the continued fragmentation of the country — something that demographer and contributing editor William H. Frey highlights in his piece, “Micro Melting Pots.� Frey offers us a somewhat contrarian view of the country's growing diversity — and in doing so, gives us the most comprehensive analysis of Census 2000 data thus far. So sit back, relax, and enjoy this fresh new snapshot of the face of America in the 21st century.

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