In the 2006 comedy “Failure to Launch,” 35-year-old Tripp enjoys all the advantages of living at home with mom and dad. Zaniness ensues when the parents – eager for independence – hire an expert to nudge Tripp out of the nest.
Fast forward and forget the Hollywood comic vehicle. The idea of millennials living at home has gone from social stigma to social trend, even approaching social expectation. In 2014, the Pew Research Center reports, 32 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds were living with a parent – more than at any time since around 1940.
The prevailing assumption is that this phenomenon is a function of economic hardship, especially since it rose to prominence at the same time as the great recession was hitting hard. And while economics, in particular a tough labor market (not to mention the free laundry and stocked refrigerator), has certainly played a part in fueling the return home, the financial explanations only capture part of the reality.
The trend has played out in Europe as well. Data from the European Union’s 28 countries finds that almost half (48.1%) of 18-to-34-year-olds lived with their parents in 2014.
If dollars and cents were the only driver, why are millennials continuing to live with their parents even as the economy, job market and future prospects have rebounded?
According to Pew’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data published last year, “the nation’s 18-to-34-year-olds are less likely to be living independently of their families and establishing their own households than they were in the depths of the Great Recession.”
Without discounting the financial factors, two other explanations help to explain the rise and growth of this trend beyond the narrow economic rationale.
First, we may be witnessing a restructuring of the life course: As the length of lives gets extended, the stages of life are likewise being recast. Social scientists have heralded the advent of an entirely new stage of life between adolescence and adulthood, often called “emerging adulthood.” The reasons that young people are taking longer to acquire the trappings of adulthood—marrying, settling into careers, buying a home later—can be attributed to developmental shifts as much as anything else.
The MacArthur Foundation’s research group on transitions to adulthood found that, “A new period of life is emerging in which young people are no longer adolescents but not yet adults.” This “stretched out walk to independence,” as it’s been called, may be giving young people and parents more – and better – time together.
Just as important, the return to the nest is as much about pull as it is about push. Many young people are coming back because they want to, because they are close to their parents. Of those 25 to 34 living with their parents, the Pew Research Center writes, “large majorities say they’re satisfied with their living arrangements (78%) and upbeat about their future finances (77%).”
Indeed, soon-to-be released research from Pew veterans Paul Taylor and Scott Keeter, underwritten by Encore.org and several national foundations, shows that 6 in 10 millennials (age 18 to 35) today say they’re very close to their parents. By contrast, fewer than half of middle-aged and older adults say the same was true of their relationships with their own parents back when they were in their 20s and 30s.
The latter finding raises serious doubts about the purported generational war that has become a media staple, one that sees young and old locked in a battle over increasingly scarce resources, while on very different pages about the future of America. As Paul Taylor told Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, “It’s a little hard to mount a generational war from their childhood bedroom”—especially when you’re there by choice.
Could it be that the boomers, who helped put the Generation Gap on the map as young people, might be engaged in putting it to rest as they reach a certain age? If so, that cross-generational affinity would be welcome news in a society already polarized in so many other respects.
And timely news as well, as intersecting revolutions in longevity and demographics send us careening toward an era when four or even five generations will be required to coexist in life, at work, and maybe even at home.
Source: The Wall Street Journal