Aw, grow up You didn't imagine it: It really does take kids longer to reach independent adulthood these days. But research shows that's not your fault -- or theirs.

A study published in the summer issue of Contexts, a journal of the American Sociological Association, finds that young men and women today are much less likely than earlier generations to have achieved by age 30 the traditional benchmarks of adulthood: leaving home, finishing school, getting married, having a child and being financially independent. Using U.S. Census data, researchers Frank J. Furstenberg Jr. of the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues conclude that 31 percent of men and 46 percent of women had met these benchmarks in 2000, compared with 65 percent of men and 77 percent of women in 1960.

Get a job Exclude marriage and parenthood -- no longer regarded as essential markers of adulthood, say experts and surveys -- and the gap lessens. But a substantial difference (12 percentage points for men, 10 for women) remains, the researchers said. This difference, they write, is not attributable to a slacker ethos among the young, or to coddling by parents (though they do note that delay is more common among young people from middle- and upper-class families).

"The primary reason for a prolonged early adulthood is that it now takes much longer to secure a full-time job that pays enough to support a family," the researchers write. The parents and grandparents of today's twentysomethings, they note, had greater access to well-paying jobs with benefits as well as government assistance for higher education and affordable housing.

Move out Furstenberg and his team -- members of the Network on Transitions to Adulthood and Public Policy, funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation -- recommend expansion of military and alternative national service programs to help more young people cross the bridge to adulthood.

-- Gregory Mott