3/13/2012 3:55 PM ET|
Adult kids flock back to the nest
The changing economic landscape is driving more young adults to move back in with parents, with serious consequences for the next generation of the US middle class.
As children grow up and venture out into the world, the transition from a bustling household to an empty one can be difficult -- so why not skip it all together? That's what millions of families are doing, not just in the United States, but in many other developed countries as well. In Italy, the culture of "mammismo" or mamas' boys, is widely accepted: Today, 37% of men age 30 or younger have never lived away from home. In Japan, "parasite singles" are chastised in the media for depending on Mom and Dad, but having few other options, they do it anyway.
In the United States, the proportion of people age 30 to 34 living with their parents has grown by 50% since the 1970s, and the recession has made things worse. In 2010, more than 5.5 million young adults moved back home with their parents, a 15% increase from 2007. The shift is so widespread that parenting guides for this stage of life are starting to crop up, like the recent "How to Raise Your Adult Children." Author Katherine S. Newman explores the effects of this growing phenomenon in "The Accordion Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents, and the Private Toll of Global Competition," and talks with The Fiscal Times about the troubling future consequences of this new family structure.
The Fiscal Times (TFT): When did you first notice there was a major shift happening with young adults?
Katherine S. Newman (KN): I traveled pretty widely in Europe from 2003 to 2004 and many parents I talked to still had children at home who were in their 30s. I was very surprised by this. They explained to me that so did all their neighbors, so there's nothing unusual about it. And in Italy, they would say what's wrong with this? Why would he ever leave me? I kept thinking, this is so strange, if this happened in my family I would think something had gone dreadfully wrong. I realized that this is a growing phenomenon in especially southern Europe -- the welfare states -- and then I would get up to northern Europe, the Nordic countries, and there was no hint of this. Everyone's kids were gone at 18, and if they were still home there was something very bizarre about that. I wanted to find out why this is happening and how widespread the phenomenon was.
TFT: So has something gone dreadfully wrong in these families?
KN: Well, something has gone wrong in the way entry-level workers are faring in the labor market. You saw it beginning in the mid-'80s when there was downsizing, outsourcing and contingent work, and competition was heating up. Many countries responded by liberalizing their labor laws, and new entrants into the labor market couldn't protect themselves. I think something has gone seriously wrong in the opportunity structure for young and now not-so-young people entering the labor market. And families are now the private safety net. If you look at the Nordic countries which also have a very high youth unemployment problem, they don't have accordion families. And that's because they erected a whole series of policies that more or less ensure that young people don't have these barriers.
TFT: How is this changing the definition of adulthood?
KN: Adulthood used to be marked by very obvious and objective markers: the completion of education, marriage, an independent household, starting your own family, etc., but those elements have now been pushed off so far in the future that people are starting to develop a more subjective definition of adulthood. It's not about whether you have achieved those hurdles, it's do you feel more responsible? Do you imagine yourself as more autonomous? Do you think you are different than you were when you were 18? There is a genuinely surprising relaxation of all of the metrics that used to signal adulthood.
What I found interesting was that this change has taken place rapidly enough that in many American households and elsewhere in the world, you have two generations side by side with very different visions of adulthood. You have the parents who believed some of these objective markers were the absolute definition of adulthood, but their children have a very different economic history. And together they're trying to negotiate a new definition.
TFT: In the U.S., are parents happy about this shift? Or uncomfortable?
KN: It's a mixed bag. For many parents, they weren't tired of their kids by the time they turned 18. And when they went off to college, they were lonely for them. There was a certain joy in their return, and in part that's because they're not returning in the same form. The parents no longer have heavy surveillance obligations, like "Is Johnny home by midnight?" "Has Mary done her homework?" They're able to shed many of the things that produced tension in the teenage years. It's quite positive as long as it doesn't appear to be permanent. But it's not always easy. Sometimes children in the household aren't making the progress their parents are looking for, and it triggers those anxieties. Or they forget they are entering a household that has established or new divisions of labor. Suddenly the kids are dropping their clothes on the floor and expecting somebody else to make dinner, and assuming the childlike role they had.
This experience has also delayed a transition that the parents otherwise would've gone through -- they would have become empty-nesters and been looking for grandchildren, but they're not going through either of those things. And to the extent that we connect age and social roles, they're not getting old. It's like a little fountain of youth. They feel young compared to their parents who were done with this phase of life by the time they were 50.
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TFT: What are the consequences of this? In some ways, can parents be trapping their kids?
KN: It can be worrying, and they do sometimes worry that they are making it too easy for their kids not to grow up and face the music. And the music is pretty harsh right now in the labor market. Parents do often wonder if they are making a mistake by cushioning that transition too long or too much. There's no road map for this, and Americans are particularly bad at social situations that lack a road map. There is a certain amount of anxiety. Even when people find themselves enjoying this station of life, they wonder if they should be.
TFT: What about future consequences? If more jobs are in the cities, are people not getting job opportunities because they're at home, or maybe they're not meeting someone to marry because they're home all the time?
KN: There are certainly consequences that may not have been thought out if people stay home for a longer time. If you marry when you're a woman of 32 or 33, well you're not going to have four children. Biologically that's not going to happen. People are having smaller families. And they're going to be older when their children are born and that has consequences as well.
In the U.S., we don't have a serious fertility problem because we have a significant immigrant population, which tend to have larger families. But if you subtracted the immigrants, we wouldn't look all that different from countries that are now suffering the consequences of very, very low fertility, which usually means lower productivity. There are parts of this country where you can see very similar outcomes to what's happening in Japan. There are a gazillion ways these demographic dynamics change the social landscape.
TFT: If this generation, who has lived with their parents and always had a support system, fall on hard times, how are they going to deal with it? How could this affect them psychologically?
KN: Psychologically it will be difficult, and materially it will be difficult. Young people won't get into the housing market because they can't. They won't accumulate equity like earlier generations did. They won't have the resources to help their parents when they're elderly. They're going to be waiting for an inheritance which may not be there. The whole run-up to that accumulation that defined middle class life in the past will not happen, or won't happen in the same way. My parents bought their first house when they were 23 and 25. I bought my first house when I was nearly 30. I don't think my children will be in the homeownership market until they're closer to mid-30s or older. In a system like ours, where so much of a family's wealth is tied up in housing, that affects the overall wealth profile and distribution across the country. And that matters for everything -- retirement, helping the older generation, affording a college education -- there's virtually no aspect of American material life that's left unaffected by this.
TFT: Has the stigma gone away in the U.S.?
KN: Not entirely. The lingering evidence in the stigma is in the sort of discomfort that people have. But I do think that it's starting to wear away and that's because it's such a widespread experience. Today 85% of college graduates have either come home or have stayed home.
TFT: On the plus side, if these boomerang kids do become financially established, will they then return the favor and invite their parents to live out old age with them?
KN: I do. I think they will be in many ways closer to their parents than previous generations. And we are seeing a lot more elective family consolidation, people who are deciding that it's financially prudent for the generations to live together, for the grandparents to help raise grandchildren, etc. A developer in California has decided there's a huge market in houses that have what he calls "granny apartments " inside them. He's marketing a whole form of real estate that hadn't really existed before.
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It is a LAZY world we live in, filled with people that seem to think they are entitled to anything. Welfare states that are on the verge of collapse....that's where you find these behaviors...
Wages are down, jobs are limited, and with the minimum wage increases the cost of living has gone through the roof. I live with my parents, I also mow their lawn, fix their computers, feed their pets, clean their rooms, pay my own expenses and buy all of my food-- all at the same time I'm working full time trying to get caught up on my bills and getting back into school, and that makes me a loser?
People do what they have to do, if it's a choice between living on the streets and moving back in under the same influence and rule set that drove you out in the first place? You're going to take the one that guarantees survival, even if it is under the scorn of ignorant pricks like yourself.
I'm 27 years old, and while I lived away from home while going to college, I didn't truly move out/away from home until 6 months ago when I got my first career job. Let me explain something about why this is.
Most of those that are in their 20s living at home with their parents don't WANT to, but they HAVE to. I felt really ashamed about living at home with my parents at the age of 26. I love my parents and I know they'd never kick me out, but I knew it was a financial stress/burden on them. The problem, was that I had just completed 5 years of college (yes my degree requires 5 years instead of 4) and there were NO jobs out there in my field. I was working full-time at minimum wage but what I think people don't realize is that student loan debt doesn't just go away because you don't have a job. You can forbear it and you can defer it for a little while, but eventually they'll want you to pay up, and it's there that the financial burden is.
I have a full-time career job making pretty decent money, but I can only barely afford to pay all my bills, with little to no money left thanks to student loans. In fact, I'm forced to move in with a friend because of the financial situation. I was lucky in getting this job, but there are a lot that aren't so lucky.
If some of you want to blame me for not being able to afford college on my own, so be it, but at least I can go to work every day happy in doing what I'm doing with decent benefits and a retirement plan, rather than working at a dead-end job until the day I die. I'll never regret the decision I made to go into debt to achieve this.
Don't assume that all these people living at home want to. Our parents didn't have to worry as much about student loans since degrees weren't as high in demand back in the 60s and 70s.
I moved out when I was 18. Packed up a few of my things in my car and headed out west from the east coast. Being on my own wasn't always easy but I made it in the end. Earning everything by my own two hands. It had nothing to do with the economy or congress, dems or repubs, it was for myself by myself with no one to rely on but myself. It was the single greatest learning experience of my life. (Next to being a father).
We're more like roommates than anything else at this point with the way we share all of the expenses. I pay rent (even though the house is paid for), and while she pays lights/water/gas, I cover the car insurance, cell phone bill, and cable bill for her. One of us goes to the grocery store and the other pays half of the bill.
It works for us, but it might not be the ideal situation for everyone.
Some people think Dr. Phil is cheesey, however, I was watching one of his shows on "adult children moocher's" & he asked the mother: "what would your son do if you just upped & moved to Alaska & you didn't tell him where you were going?"
The mother said "he'd follow me". Dr. Phil said "No. if he didn't know where you went he would fend for himself & land on his two feet & survive WITHOUT you!"
I thought "OMG. Just like my daughter does everytime I won't/can't help her. So I stopped helping her & guess what....She helped herself! What the hell was I waiting for?!
@ Ken Davis (2 perfect)
I can absolutely stand on my own two feet. Perhaps you misunderstood my comment. I am the primary breadwinner for the family and when my mom and gram pass the house will belong to my father and I will buy my own home. I am not around in the hopes everyone will sign over their property to me, nor am I stealing anyone's social security and feeding them cat food while I eat out. I do not NEED to be there, and I am in no way using them for a place to live, money, or healthcare. I provide every bit of that myself.
You should consider yourself very lucky and fortunate to have never had a problem in your life that you couldn't solve by yourself. Some people get cancer, some people lose spouses early in life, become unemployed or have other life changes. If you cannot rely on your family, who do you have? I am not advocating everyone move in with their parents nor am I defending those who choose to be lazy and expect others to support them. I just don't see the reasoning for the stigma that we are placing on multi-generational families.
Every person and family is different. Congrats to those who tossed their kids out at 18 and never had them return. I happen to enjoy being around my family and don't think there is any shame in it. I do wonder what type of parent would not accept their child home under a normal circumstance of hard times... I would never enable a drug user but I would gladly add a few cousins or aunts into the house as well if they showed up homeless and hungry. But then again I wouldn't expect everyone to understand my viewpoint.
such a paying rent, contributing to the food bill, wash your own clothes and help around the house doing some chores.You didn't live free when you were out of the nest, what makes you
think that you are going to live for free at home.NOT ON MY WATCH!!!
In times past, families lived together in a village or farm. Now, the American society has broken up the close-knit family traditions and makes it a crime if children live with their parents. I have a 4000 sq ft house. When my sons come to stay, they have their own apartment and private entrances.
Geezus, no one said anything about the famous Kennedy compound. They made sure that their family got to stay together and helped each other anytime that help was needed. I would rather give a family member free rent than have them give their money to some corporation that sucks the dollars out of our younsters when jobs are scarce or they're making low wages.
Rethink your idea about independence and what it has done to break up our families far too soon.
Why isn't it a good thing to have multi-generations living in one home? This is why Americans are so in debt, have few social connections, and judge each other by material things. There should be nothing wrong with people living with family members so long as it is not a "free ride" of sleeping on the couch, having parents do laundry and chores, and otherwise growing up.
I am proud to have my grandmother in my home (yes, it is my home too), to listen to her stories and share time that her other grandchildren miss out on. I am in no way living off of her since I am supplying more than 75% of the entire household income. I do everyone's laundry, all of the yard care, etc. This is the arrangement that is best for my family. It is not all about me. It is not a status symbol or measure of success for me to own my own place. I can at any time buy a house and pay most of it in cash... I choose to spend what little time I have left with my mom and gram.
I understand that this article was describing those adults whom growing up is more the issue than the location where they sleep. I don't own any video games, rarely miss a day of work, and I would rather have dinner at the kitchen table with gram than have my name on the deed to a house.
I'm not trying to advocate for either side or cause an argument about who is more right or wrong, I just wanted to show another side of the living at home crowd. There are responsible people in the world.
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