Welcome to Part 2 of the two-part series on the meaning of the international trend toward more adult children living with their parents. I have been generating questions and answers based on my reading of Katherine Newman’s new book, The accordion family: Boomerang kids, anxious parents, and the private toll of global competition, and the recent Pew report on the same topic. Part 1 is here.
Even in difficult economic times, aren’t there options for young adults other than living with their parents?
Theoretically, yes, but you would have to give up some things to pursue them. You could share a place with friends if you could find compatible people and a decent place. Still, that could end up costing you more than if you move back home. Also, your friends may be less inclined than your parents to make dinner for you or throw some of your clothes in with the rest of the laundry.
Another option is to live on your own or with friends in a very frugal way. In my college days, hardly anyone ever wore anything other than ratty old blue jeans. There were no techie gadgets to buy, nor even any computers. If you came from money, it was decidedly un-hip to let that be evident. Newman argues that today’s young adults are less willing to forego the kinds of expenses that, for many, have become ordinary. (Her evidence comes largely from interviews. I don’t know if there is other research that supports her argument.)
When young adults live with their parents, aren’t they all at each other’s throats?
The typical answer seems to be no. When the Pew researchers asked a representative sample of young adults the question, “How does living with mom and dad affect the relationship,” 47% said it made no difference, 34% said that it was good for the relationship, and only 18% said it was bad. (The others didn’t answer or said they weren’t sure.)
That was for all adults, ages 18 to 34, living with their parents. The results are not quite as promising for the older half (the 25 to 34 year olds) or for those who said specifically that they were living with their parents because of economic factors. Even in those two instances, though, the results were that about half said it made no difference, and the other half was about evenly split between those who said that living together was good for the relationship vs. bad for the relationship.
So why aren’t young adults and their parents at odds with each other when they live together?
A few reasons. First, since their “kids” are no longer really kids, the parents do not do as much rule-setting and intrusive supervising. Second, Newman suggests, today’s parents and their adult children have more interests in common than they did in the past. In fact, the dad who is distant and remote and the mom who is perplexed by “kids these days” are yesterday’s stock figures. Many parents and grown kids help each other and actually enjoy one another’s company. (No, not all do.)
Didn’t you tell us, when you were talking about the increase in living alone, that 40-45% of all households are single-person homes in Norway, Swededn, Denmark, and Finland? So are young adults in those countries moving back with their parents, too?
No! Globalization does affect those countries, too, but they are strong welfare states. In the United States, welfare is a dirty word. But what that means in Nordic countries is that yes, you pay very high taxes, but in return, you get many social benefits and protections. Young adults have lots of access to free or inexpensive higher education and plenty of affordable housing. They have the means to live apart from their parents and most do.
Aren’t 20- and 30-somethings stigmatized for living with their parents? For that matter, aren’t the parents stigmatized, too?
It depends on the country. In Italy, 37% of 30-year old men have never left home. Apparently, their mothers are mostly fine with that.
Japanese parents are none too pleased. They think their kids are not ambitious enough or that they have been too soft in their parenting. As a social psychologist, that made me feel smug. One of the fundamental social psychological insights is that people tend to give individuals too much credit or blame in causing their own outcomes, while overlooking the importance of the immediate situation and the big-picture context. Globalization and a bad economy are parts of that big picture – there just are not as many opportunities for good, secure jobs as there once was.
Well, then I got to the section on Spain and my bubble of self-satisfaction burst. There, the parents are more likely to blame the government for not providing enough help and protections.
In the United States, the attitude toward the young adults living at home seems to depend on what those grown kids are up to. If they are working on advanced degrees or taking internships or getting some other training in their fields of interest, then parents are usually okay with having them at home. If they are just playing video games, that’s something else entirely.
Father and son photo available from Shutterstock.