Whither America’s Youth?

January 5, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston
“Kids today are just so much better than kids of a generation or two ago.”    
When’s the last time you read an op-ed or magazine article that began like that. Never is my guess. Instead, you’re much more likely to find complaints about college kids who, when they’re not whining about being victimized by trivial and unintended slights, are demanding an end to free speech. Also popular are Millennials with their sense of entitlement and their refusal to work and jobs they find unfulfilling. And of course binge drinking, gangs, “Teen Mom,” sexting, the hook-up culture, grade inflation, and probably others I can’t think of at the moment.

But in fact most of the important trends among America’s youth are in the right direction.  Crime, for example, has decreased sharply in the last 20 years.

(Click on a graph for a larger view.  Data source here.)

Arrests for non-predatory offenses like drug violations and weapons offenses have followed a similar pattern.

Since 1995, arrests for liquor and weapons offenses are down by about two-thirds, drugs by about half.

Arrests, especially for non-predatory crimes, net only the more serious offenses. But self-report surveys, which include less serious matters, also show a decrease in the use of drugs and alcohol.

The percentage of high school seniors who have ever tried any drug is slightly lower than in the peak year, 1997 (49% vs. 54%). But kids today start their explorations at a later age. Heavy drinking has declined even more sharply – a decrease of 30% for seniors and nearly 60% for eight graders. [Source: NIDA]

As for those Teen Moms, the trend on TV (more) runs directly opposite to the trend in the real world (less).

The birth rate among younger teens is half of what it was twenty years ago. [Source: HHS ]

And it’s not because kids are having more abortions.

For teens of all ages, the rate of abortions a generation ago were three times or more greater than it is today.

Part of the reason for the lower birth rates might be that teens are not as sexually active.

The small declines in sexual activity are also accompanied by an increase in the use of contraceptives.

Finally, kids are staying in school. The overall dropout rate is half what it was in 1990. [Source]

So that’s it. Drugs, sex, and rock ’n roll.  Two out of three ain’t bad (crime too, so it's three out of four). As for rock ’n roll, the #1 song of 1995 was Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise.” Far be it from me to chart that against “Hello,” “Sorry,” or Hotline Bling.” But in the other more measurable categories, to quote a song title from an even earlier era, “It’s getting better all the time.”


Anonymous said...

"The birth rate among younger teens is half of what it was twenty years ago. "

should be

The birth rate among younger teens is half of what it was fity years ago.

which is even more impressive, considering the very positive images of 1950searly 60s imprinted on one and all.

Jay Livingston said...

In 1991, the birth rate for 15-17 year old females was 38.6 per 1000. In 2011, it was 15.4 -- less than half. In 2013 it had dropped to 12.3 -- less than a third the rate 22 years earlier. (ChildTrends.org based on CDC data.) As for the 50s and 60s, a lot more of those teen moms, especially older teens (say 17-19), were married.