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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Younger Adult Cohorts in US Are Less Sexually Active

Psychology professor Jean Twenge here at San Diego State University is widely recognized for her work analyzing social trends among millennials and other cohorts, as I have noted before. She has just published a very nice age-period-cohort (APC) analysis of sexual activity among young adults in the most recent American cohorts. Her surprising result is that sexual inactivity during young adulthood is becoming more common, rather than the other way around. The paper is behind a subscription, but KPBS has a nice summary.
Millennials may be more accepting of premarital sex than any other generation, but fewer of them are actually doing it. "Millennials born in the 1990s were more than twice as likely to have not had sex since age 18 compared to Gen X'ers born in the 1960s," Twenge said. The researchers looked at how people of different generations aged 20 to 24 responded to survey questions about sex. They found that a larger proportion of millennials reported being sexually inactive in early adulthood. About 15 percent of millennials born in the 1990s said they've had no sexual partners since turning 18. That's up from only 6 percent of people born in the 1960s.
Data are drawn from the General Social Surveys over time and even after taking into account some potential changes in how people might answer questions, the results seem very solid. Twenge notes that: 
American culture has shifted to value the individual self and self-expression over social rules (Twenge, 2014), leading to greater acceptance of premarital sex (Twenge, Sherman, & Wells 2015; Wells & Twenge, 2005), suggesting that sexual activity should be more common among Millennials and iGen during early adulthood.
...and yet, overall it isn't. Part of this is due to an increase in the percent of young adults living at home with parents, and associated with that is a steep delay in marriage over time (and marriage is still the most popular place for sexual activity). But Twenge's research also revealed that the rise in sexual inactivity is especially noteworthy among less educated whites. The trend is observable neither among Black Americans nor among people with a college education. You can draw your own parallels about these patterns and the characteristics of people supporting the current presidential candidates.

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