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Financial crisis delays 'adulthood' for millennials

Consider it one one of the latest indications that conventional notions of adulthood (i.e. getting married, buying a house and having children) are on the decline: Singles now make up more than half of the adult population for the first time since the government began tracking these stats more than 35 years ago.

That's 124.6 million single Americans, or 50.2% of the population age 16 and older. That compares to 37.4% in 1976. The data, as reported by Bloomberg, comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics via the August jobs report, and were flagged by economist Edward Yardeni.

Heidi Moore, The Guardian's U.S. finance and economics editor, says the financial benchmarks of adulthood have changed for millennials as a result of the economic times they're living through.

Why? They "just aren't earning and saving the money that they could, and it is not their fault," Moore tells us in the video above. "This is a generation that has grown up with heavier student loan debt than any previous generation. So what's happening -- some have called it a failure to launch -- but it means benchmarks to adulthood... have been pushed back."

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Moore points to the costs of the traditional rituals of having a wedding, buying a home and supporting kids, and says millennials just don't have the money. So the Guardian set out to ask readers what the new financial benchmarks of becoming an adult are.

She found the experience these days is "surprisingly fraught."

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"I compare it to birth," says Moore. "We are born and hit on the rear and start crying. It's very much the same for becoming a financial adult. It's become a rite of passage that includes pain." People cited the first hospital bill they had to pay themselves, the first call from a debt collector, the first student loan payment, moving to an apartment with only $100 in the bank. In short, "stressful situations that force us to grow up where in previous generations becoming an adult may have been joyous."

Related: Baby boomers at work while millennials sit out of job force

Moore notes the Federal Reserve has expressed concern about what this means for the economy. A trend technically known as "delayed household formation" means people are living alone longer, with roommates, or with a partner, but not getting married. Moore says regardless, it can be more expensive to pay rent and bills as a single person versus having shared accounts and expenses. And while it can be difficult on a personal level, it also means (especially if you combine that with the weight of student loan debt) people are "not going out and shopping and fueling the economy in the traditional way we've come to think of that."

For millennials to gauge how they're doing, Moore points to her favorite statistic. A net worth of $10,400 means you are richer and far ahead of most of your generation. No money to save? She recommends prioritizing paying off your student loans. The more aggressive you pay them down, the closer you'll be to "participating more as a financial citizen."

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