When I was in college and then in graduate school, there was consensus among my peers on the topic of living with your parents – it wasn’t done. I finished grad school in 1979, so the tumult of the 60s, with the war protests and the women’s movement and civil rights advocacy and the counterculture, was very much a part of the sensibility of my times.
What I had not known until yesterday, when I finished reading 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, was that 1980 was the year when the lowest percentage of young adults (ages 25-34) in the U.S. lived with their parents. Only 11% did so. That number was about 28% in 1940, and by 2010, it had crept up from 11% in 1980 to just under 22%.
Compared to the trend toward living alone, the march back to the parental home (or just staying there and never leaving) is smaller. About 3.5 million parents in the U.S. are living with adult children who have boomeranged back home or have never left. Counting just adults between the ages of 18 and 34, more than 5 million of them are living on their own. (Counter to the conventional wisdom, the largest group of Americans living alone is between the ages of 35 and 64.) Both trends are reverberating around the world, and both are significant.
I have already discussed solo living several times (here and here and here, for example), so I’ll focus now on what Newman calls “accordion families.” Newman’s book on the topic was based on extensive interviews of parents and their adult children in Italy, Spain, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, and the United States.
Although what follows looks like a Q & A, there is just one person involved. I generated the questions and the answers.
Is it about money?
In Going Solo, Klinenberg made the case that people often opt to live alone when they have the economic resources to do so. Money is also key to the increase in young adults living with their parents – when 20- and 30-somethings cannot earn enough to live on their own and pursue their desired goals and lifestyles, one option is to move back in with (or continue to live with) their parents.
But why does money matter more now than it did in previous years, when fewer young adults lived with their parents?
Newman says it is largely about globalization. When other countries can pay their workers less to do jobs that used to be done in the home countries, and when the internet and other communication technologies exacerbate that process, it becomes harder for countries that used to offer workers decent wages and secure jobs to continue to do so.
Increasingly, workers need more and more education and experience in order to nab decent jobs. But education is becoming more expensive, too. Of course, the recession hasn’t helped either. So now, while young adults pursue their advanced degrees and work at unpaid internships, they can at least evade high housing costs by living with their parents.
Easy for you to say.
Oh, yes, your options vary a lot by social class. (For the record, my mother raised the four of us kids and my father sold Fords and then owned a dealership for a while. Until I got to Vassar, I thought that meant he had a high-status, high-income job.) Young adults from families without much money often need to keep working while in school, and may need to live at home and contribute their income to the family coffers.
[In Part 2, I’ll address the question of what living with parents means for the relationship between those parents and their grown kids. I’ll also discuss cultural differences in the meaning of living with your parents. In Italy, where more than a third of 30-year old men have never lived anywhere else except with their parents, the experience is not the same as it is, say, in Japan or the United States.]
Mother and daughter photo available from Shutterstock.