10 Career Stats Every 20-Something Should Know About


Barna Group’s research reveals Millennials’ perspectives on the challenges they face as they join America’s workforce. 20 and Something, written by David H. Kim, executive director of the Center for Faith and Work in New York City, unpacks Barna’s vast data on Millennials and work, calling, faith, and career. Kim offers insight for churches and businesses on how to understand and relate to twenty-somethings as they emerge into adulthood. Based on Kim’s book, I’ve distilled top ten career stats every 20-something should know about.

1. Only four in 10 twenty-somethings would say they need their college degree for their current job (42%) or that it’s related to the work they’re doing (40%), and the same number wish they’d chosen a different major altogether. In the end, just under half of Millennials (47%) would strongly agree their degree was worth the cost and time.


2. The degree-to-job disparity seems to bother parents most of all. While only about one-third of Millennials believe universities “have my best interests at heart,” that’s nearly twice as many as Gen-Xers (15%) and four times as many as Boomers (8%). Considering most Millennials remain optimistic about someday achieving that “dream job”—52% believe it’s within reach in the next five years—they seem to believe the degree will pay off at some point.

3. The current economic climate poses great challenges for job-hunting twenty-somethings. The unemployment rate of 18- to 31-year-olds in 2012 was 13%. Even those young adults who are college educated are struggling to find employment; the rate of unemployment of twenty-somethings who hold a BA degree or higher jumped from 7.7% in 2007 to 13.3% in just five years. 

4. Yet in spite of the bleak economic landscape, Millennials remain optimistic about their future prospects. In addition to the majority who believe they’ll get their dream job, nine in 10 Millennials (88%) believe they currently have enough money or will eventually meet their long-term financial goals. Even among the unemployed and financially strapped, 75% believe they will someday have enough money. They are more optimistic about their economic future than older generations. While 55% of Americans over fifty-five believe young people will have a worse life than their parents, fewer than half of Millennials agree. 


5. One of the reasons Millennials are so resilient in the face of a tough job environment is that many of them refuse to be defined and confined by their job choices or lack thereof. In fact, only 31% would say career is central to their identity—listing it lower than any other factor except technology.

6. When it comes to work and career, more than anything this generation wants to be inspired. Finding a job they are passionate about is the career priority Millennials ranked highest (42%). They don’t want a job merely for the sake of a paycheck, and they are willing to wait to find the right job. Some may interpret this willingness to wait as a sign of courage, while others may view it as colossal irresponsibility. Having grown up in an era where parents and teachers were constantly telling them they could “be whatever you want to be,” many Millennials see this decision as their prerogative, even if it means having to live off unemployment benefits or parental assistance. 

7. This elevation of job fulfillment over security has led to an increase in job-hopping among young adults. Statistics show Millennials just assume they will have multiple career changes. Gone are the days when an entry-level employee could expect to remain with one employer throughout his or her career. While the average worker today remains at his or her job for 4.4 years, Millennials generally expect to remain at a job for less than three.

8. Technological advances have played an important role in nurturing the entrepreneurial mind-set of this twentysomething generation. It has never been easier for a would-be entrepreneur to access information and obtain funding for budding projects. Crowd-sourcing sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have helped to cultivate an entrepreneurial culture among young adults around the world.  Success stories like Google and Facebook serve as inspirational fodder for twentysomethings who are hungry for success as they define it. For Millennials, the entrepreneurial lifestyle celebrates everything they have come to want in their work lives: self-drive, creativity and an opportunity to use their jobs to make an impact on issues and causes they care about. According to our FRAMES research, Millennials rate working for themselves as an important career priority—higher than any other generation. Young adults want to make their own hours, come to work in their jeans and flip-flops, and save the world while they’re at it. 

9. Even the risk associated with entrepreneurialism is a value for Millennials, nearly one-third of whom prioritize the freedom to take risks in their work as important to them (32%), compared to an average of 25% among all generations. This risk, however, doesn’t come without angst. There are the associated fears of making the wrong career choice, disappointing parents and those closest to them. Nearly half of Millennials (45%) feel judged by older adults for their life choices. 

10. For Christian twentysomethings, there’s the added dimension of wondering what God thinks of their choices and if their decisions are part of God’s will for them. Yet, with all these concerns, these young adults are pioneering the reinvention of many concepts, including the concept of career. They are paving a new way of approaching work, holding out for a work-life mix that integrates how they play and work. 


  • Great post, Paul. Good insight into the changing environment of education. I wondered as I went through college what I would truly gain out of it. Knowledge from my studies was not something I ever truly believed in. What I did believe in was the relationship skills I gained in my four years. I learned how much diversity was in the world and how much you can gain, and give, through personal relationships.

    I think the education system is a little broken (tuition prices are astronomical, and the prestige is lopsided) but I think the preparation for college is really the issue. Understanding what the real point of it is, I think, is vastly more important. My only regret is that I wish I would have understood what I was really meant to get out of the experience. Learning what makes you tick, what your passionate about, and how you interact with people. Those skills are far more valuable than most degrees, but the process is how you learn those skills.

    • You got that right Chandler. Relationships precedes knowledge in many ways. I hope our college education teaches students on how to build relationships rather than bombarding us with theories that we’ll never really use in the future. Building genuine relationship in a social-media addicted age today is a lost skill, unfortunately. Thanks for sharing your thoughts brother.

  • Richard

    Hello, Paul! Mike Morrell asked me to contact you because he really appreciates your blog and thinks you’d be an excellent candidate for his Speakeasy Blogger Network. Do you like to review off-the-beaten path faith, spirituality, and culture books? Speakeasy puts interesting books in your hands at no charge to you. You only get books when you request them, and it’s free to join. Sign up here, if you’d like: http://thespeakeasy.info

    • Hi Richard, I tried to sign up through the website, but it seems my email is already registered. Do you know how I can log-in to the system? Please send me an email at paul.j.sohn@gmail.com and we can talk further!

      • Richard

        Paul, thanks so much for following up. I’ll ask Mike what’s up and we’ll get back to you. Thanks again! 🙂

  • Terry Morgan

    Great post! As the mother of four 20 something’s, with three -so far- who have dropped out of college to pursue their careers and are doing well at them, I resonated with this summary! For me, the most important things are their walk with God and healthy relationships with others… There are so any ways for them find the knowledge, skills and income for the years ahead!

    • Thanks Terry! I really appreciate that you’ve shared this. I am so glad we’re on the same page. The most important thing is to walk with God. Every one has a different calling, and our job is to be in alignment of God’s will.

  • College was one of the highlights of my life; however, I can’t honestly say that my degree has done anything for me or my career.

    • What has made it a highlight Rob? Also, what do you think colleges can improve to help twentysomethings thrive in their career?

      • I think it was largely social–friends, activities, etc.

        I think it would be good to have learned specific skills. Part of this is my own fault, because I chose a Bible degree without a real clear career path with it.

        I think the most valuable career aspect of college was my work study job–which was IT, the same field I’m in now.

  • Very interesting stats Paul. I think it’s scary how much debt is being accumulated without any real hopes of paying it off. I think there are some major issues in our education system that need to be address. If you’re going for something specific, as Rob mentioned, I get it but if it’s something very general it’s not going to look promising.

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  • Henry

    I would be curious to see where these stats lie in ten years, after youthful optimism wears off. As a reading researcher and innovator, the reality that nearly half of college grads never develop of habit of self-education through reading reveals a disturbing failure in our educational system. This is a practical habit necessary for a world that is changing at an accelerating pace, and yet this problem hasn’t changed to an appreciable degree in fifty years.

    It is interesting to note the shift in priorities in the last two graphs, from the compulsion to succeed in business for the under-thirties, to the regret they gave in to that compulsion for the over-thirties. Sadly, I think we made a mistake as a nation to abandon the idea of a liberal arts degree where one learns about many things to build a broad base of knowledge with the ability to grow as an individual.

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