The Social, Economic and Demographic Characteristics of Barbadian Young Adults

AE Quarterly March 2018


The next population census for Barbados is due in two years in 2020. By this time, the oldest Millennials will be 40 years old, comfortably in the middle of adulthood. Apart from the obvious age criteria, there are additional milestones of adulthood that persons are generally expected to achieve, such as completing their formal education, working full time jobs, getting married, having children and owning their own homes. But societies evolve, and often with that evolution comes differences in the timing of achieving these milestones. For example, in the U.S.A. a report by the U.S. Census Bureau showed that 24% of young people (in the 2016 reference period they would have been between 25 and 34 years old) lived outside of the parental home, had been married, had at least one child and were working, compared to 45% of similarly aged persons in 1975. The report found that young Americans were still achieving these milestones; they just delayed them until they were older[1].

This article considers how young adulthood has changed between the 2000 and 2010 Population census in Barbados, focusing on differences in timing and degree. Young adulthood is considered to be persons that would have been 22 to 38 years old at the time of the respective census, as this age range corresponds with the age that Millennials – the generation that are considered to be the current crop of young adults – are today (in 2018). We compare their experiences with their older peers as well as with persons that would have been the same age at the time of the 2000 census. The comparison age groups were defined to correspond with today’s Generation Xers and Baby Boomers[2]. For simplicity, we will refer to those aged 22 – 38 as Young Adults, those between 39 and 53 years old as Adults, and those 54 to 72 years of age as Mature Adults. We expect the starkest differences to be seen between Young Adults and Mature Adults, and will therefore focus the cohort analysis between these two groups.

The main finding is that Young Adults in 2010 were delaying starting a family and getting married, possibly due to longer stints of formal education and higher probabilities of unemployment.

Milestone 1: Completing Formal Education

Since 1976 in Barbados, children have been legally required to remain in a formal educational institution until at least 16 years old, the age at which persons generally complete their secondary education. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the vast majority of Young Adults and Adults have completed at least secondary level education, and that the proportion drops to 73.0% when considering Mature Adults (who would have been of school age before this requirement came into place).

It appears that one of the reasons accounting for why a higher proportion of Young Adults have completed formal education compared to Adults lies in the fact that Young Adults are more likely to pursue tertiary-level education: 1 in 4 Young Adults have tertiary-level education compared to 1 in 5 Adults and 1 in 8 Mature Adults. This trend of a greater propensity to pursue higher education was also observed when comparing Young Adults in 2010 to Young Adults in 2000. In 2000, 6.4% of Young Adults had at least a Bachelor degree compared to 10.8% by 2010.

Milestone 2: Getting a Job

In both 2000 and 2010, 90% of Young Adults were in the work force. However, their rates of unemployment were notably different. In 2000, 6.3% of Young Adults were looking for work compared to 9.9% in 2010, due to worse economic conditions in 2010 relative to 2000. Apart from unemployment rates, however, there were no other major differences. In both decades, 15-16% worked for government, 57-58% worked in the private sector and 9-10% were self-employed.

When compared to their older peers, unemployment was a greater challenge amongst Young Adults in 2010 than for Adults and Mature Adults, whose unemployment rates were 5.2% and 4.4%, respectively. Additionally, Young Adults were less likely to opt for self-employment than older cohorts, as illustrated by the fact that 15.3% of Adults and 11.4% of Mature Adults were self employed, compared to 9.1% of Young Adults.

Milestone 3: Getting Married

The idea of this cohort of Young Adults delaying marriage more than previous generations may not be accurate in the case of Barbados. In 2010, 77.7% of Young Adults had never been married, while the corresponding number in 2000 was 75.2%, only 2.5 percentage points lower. Rates of legal separation and divorce were also similar. Adults and Mature Adults in 2010 had higher rates of marriage (more than 50% had been married), though when compared to the corresponding age groups in 2000, they too recorded slightly higher instances of being single.

Milestone 4: Owning a Home

It appears that 2010’s Young Adults were more inclined to rent than Young Adults a decade earlier, as 42.1% were renting compared to 37.0% in 2000. Accordingly, home ownership rates were lower for 2010’s Young Adults, with 48.2% owning a home compared to 52.3% in 2000.

Milestone 5: Having Children

Census data typically tracks only the number of women that have had children, and an analysis of the number of children that 2000 and 2010 female Young Adults had suggests that women may be delaying having kids. In 2010, 40.5% of female Young Adults did not have children compared to 33.1% of female Young Adults in 2000. The average number of children for female Young Adults that did have children also was notably different, falling from an average of 2.4 children in 2000 to 1.9 children in 2010.

Implications for Business

The preceding discussion of the demographic differences between young adults in 2010 and those in 2000 suggests that today’s Young Adults may be completing the milestones of adulthood later than previous generations, mainly due to a combination of longer periods of study and higher rates of unemployment. It is possible that the resulting financial uncertainty may be influencing their decisions to own homes and start families, in particular. Attracting the business of today’s Young Adults, therefore, may have to be approached in a different manner than in previous generations, particularly when it comes to pricing strategies and ensuring good value for money.


[1] Vespa, Jonathan (2017) The Changing Economics and Demographics of Young Adulthood: 1975-2016, Population Characteristics, United States Census Bureau

[2] Persons in Generation X were born between 1965 and 1979 and would be 39 to 53 years old in 2018 and Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 and would be 54 to 72 years old in 2018.

About the author(s)

Stacia Howard is the Managing Director of Antilles Economics.

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