18 is the New 15: Young People Are Delaying Dating, Sex, Drinking, Employment, and Driving

The Ferris Bueller of today may have never ventured out. (Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)
The Ferris Bueller of today may have never ventured out. (Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)

Being a teen isn’t what it used to be. According to a huge new study, adolescents in the 2010s were less likely date, drink alcohol, go out without their parents, and have sex than teens in every generation since the 1970s. Fewer of them have paying jobs or drive.

The research, published in Child Development, says the cause is not kids having more homework, or more extracurricular activities. (They are actually doing less homework and about the same in terms of extracurriculars.)

What’s changed is the context in which teens are growing up. Parents are more invested in teens’ lives. They have smaller families, which means more attention and money to spend on each kid. Coupled with longer life expectancies and lower teen birth rates, teens now have the freedom to be younger longer and are choosing to do so, the authors argue.

“The developmental trajectory of adolescence has slowed, with teens growing up more slowly than they used to,” said Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the lead author on the study. “In terms of adult activities, 18-year-olds now look like 15-year-olds once did.”

The authors examined seven large, nationally representative surveys of US adolescents between 1976–2016, or 8.4 million kids ages 13–19, looking at “adult” activities, such as dating and drinking and working for pay. It compared adolescents of the same age—say 9th graders—at different points in time, a so-called time-lag design to allow the researchers to see changes between many groups of kids over time rather than changes in the same group over time.

The trends were widespread, appearing across gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, region of the country, and whether the teens were in urban or rural locations, suggesting “a broad cultural shift.”

While the causes are unclear, the changes are dramatic. In 1991, the majority of teens in high school (54%) were having sex. By 2015, that had fallen to 41%, with the largest declines for 9th graders and smallest for 12th graders.

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SOURCE: Jenny Anderson