When I traveled around the country to interview people for How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, I met quite a few people who lived very close to their mothers, or lived with them. My sample was not a representative one, so at first I didn’t know what to make of that. But when I did research into nationwide trends and statistics, I found that one of our popular beliefs – that America is a mobile society that is only becoming more mobile over time – is actually a myth.
The New York Times took a look at some of the same kinds of data, and came up with some intriguing conclusions. For example:
- “The typical adult lives only 18 miles from his or her mother.”
- “…only 20 percent live more than a couple hours’ drive from their parents.”
- Single people live closer to their parents than married people do
- Blacks live closer to their parents than whites
- Men are a little less likely to leave their hometowns than women
- People in the mountain states live farthest away from their parents (44 miles)
- People in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky live closest to their parents (6 miles)
- The reason people most often give for living close to home is “the tug of family ties”
- The reason people most often give for moving away is a job opportunity
- People with more income generally live farther away from their parents than people with less income
- People with more education generally live farther away from their parents than people with less education
- “Over the last few decades, Americans have become less mobile”
- “…with the exception of college or military service, 37 percent of Americans had never lived outside of their hometown, and 57 percent had never lived outside their home state.”
Americans, it seems, are moving closer to their parents, with multiple generations often living together or living close enough to help each other on a regular basis. In a nation that provides less federal assistance with caregiving expenses than many other wealthy nations, that trend is likely to continue. Aging parents will need more help, and may have few options, financially, other than to count on their grown kids – if they have any. Even the elders who are well-off financially and could in theory hire all the help they need, could still run into another problem – the US does not have the number of qualified care workers that it needs for its aging population.
Fortunately, more and more people are calling attention to these issues. One of them is MacArthur genius award winner Ai-jen Poo, in her book (reviewed here at Psych Central), The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America. She has some ideas about how to move forward, even in the face of a typically recalcitrant Congress. Here’s hoping someone is listening.
Mom and daughter photo available from Shutterstock