Partying Spring Breakers Don’t Represent Most of America’s Young Adults

In late March many news organizations reported on crowded beaches and revelry among U.S. college students with headlines such as, “Spring breakers say coronavirus pandemic won’t stop them from partying.” Our most recent KFF Health Tracking Poll finds that for a majority of young adults, life has changed drastically and perhaps, the parties have stopped…for now.

Seven in ten (71%) 18-24 year olds say their lives have been disrupted because of the recent coronavirus outbreak. This share is comparable to the share who report the same among 25-44 year olds (74%), 45-64 year olds (76%), and those 65 and older (63%).

And while those news stories of a few weeks ago portrayed younger adults as not heeding precautions and continuing going on spring break trips, the data indicates that many younger adults now report changing travel plans because of coronavirus (72%). Even more, the vast majority of 18-24 year olds report that they have been engaging in at least one form of social distancing (95%). The poll does find that fewer 18-24 year olds (77%), but still a majority, report “sheltering-in-place,” or not leaving their homes except for essential services such as food, medicine, and health care.

Table 1: Younger People Still Report Taking Precautions Because Of Coronavirus
Percent who say they have done each of the following because of the recent coronavirus outbreak: By Age Groups
18-24 year olds 25-44 year olds 45-64 year olds 65 and older
Engaged in at least one form of social distancing (NET) 95% 94% 91% 89%
Decided not to travel/changed travel plans 72 75 68 60
Stayed home instead of going to work, school, or other regular activities 78 75 74 78
Canceled plans to attend large gatherings 76 71 61 59
Sheltered in place, haven’t left their home except for essential services such as food, medicine, health care 77 79 83 89
Stocked up on items such as food, household supplies or prescription medications 65 62 60 56

Younger adults are also just as likely as their Millennial and Gen-X counterparts to report that worry and stress related to coronavirus has had a negative impact on their mental health (58% compared to 49% of 25-44 year olds and 47% of those ages 45-64). Adults ages 65 and older are less likely to report negative mental health impacts (31%).

While four in ten 18-24 year olds are enrolled in either a 2-year or 4-year college according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, most 18-24 year olds are also working either in a part-time or full-time capacity. At least one-third of both college-aged adults and their older counterparts (25-44 year olds) say they have lost their job, been laid off, or had their hours reduced without pay because of coronavirus (33% and 36%, respectively compared to 29% of 45-64 year olds and 13% of those 65 and older). In addition, seven in ten (71%) 18-24 year olds are worried they will put themselves at risk of exposure to coronavirus because they cannot afford to stay home and miss work (compared to 60% of 25-44 year olds, 59% of 45-64 year olds, and 43% of those 65 and older).

Seven In Ten Younger Adults Say They Are Worried They Are Putting Themselves At Risk Because They Cannot Afford To Miss Work

So, while some college students were slow to heed social distancing recommendations, just a few weeks later most young adults are now reporting taking precautions to protect themselves, and this group is already feeling the impact of coronavirus both on their mental health and on their paychecks.