Perhaps you’ve seen the headlines from the latest Pew Report. For the first time since at least as far back as 1880, more young adults are living with their parents than in any other arrangement. For well over a century, up until now, the most popular way to live among 18- to 34-year olds had been to live with a spouse or partner.
The report highlights data from 1880, 1940, 1960, and 2014 (the most recent year for which data were analyzed). In 1880 and 1940, 45 or 46% of young adults lived with a spouse or partner, compared to the 30 or 35% who lived with their parents. By 1960, a whopping 62% of all young adults lived with a spouse or partner (and 20% with their parents).
But now, the percentage of 18- to 34-year olds living with a spouse or partner has plummeted to only about half of what it was in 1960: just 31.6%. (The graph is here.) Slightly more, 32.1%, live with their parents.
If you have been following this blog, or the trends in living single over the past decades, you are probably not surprised by the big decrease in the number of young adults living with a spouse or partner. In 1960, the median age at which people married for the first time was 22.8 for men and 20.3 for women. That means that half of all men were younger than 22.8 and half of all women were younger than 20.3 when they first married! Now those same ages have shot all the way up to 29.2 and 27.1, meaning that half of all men today are older than 29.2 when they first marry, and half of all women are older than 27.1 when they first marry. And, a record number of Americans will never marry at all.
The Pew Report classified young adults’ living arrangements into four categories:
- Living with parents (in your parents’ home)
- Living with a spouse or partner (in your own home)
- Other ways of living in a place that you own or rent (i.e., you are the head of the household): living alone, living with your children as a single parent, living with other people such as roommates or boarders
- Living in a place in which you are not the head of the household. Examples include young adults who are the grandchild or niece or nephew of the person who owns or rents the place. It also includes young adults living in college dorms or correctional facilities.
Comparing the different living arrangements over time (again, the graph is here), I think there is a more fundamental conclusion than the one the Pew Report underscored. Sure, it is interesting that young adults are (very slightly) more likely to live with their parents than with a romantic partner or spouse, and that the reversal is a first. But look again at the distribution across all four categories of living arrangements. The ways that young adults are living now is more diverse than it has ever been before. The categories of living arrangements are becoming more similar in size than they ever were before. The category that used to be so dominant, living with a partner or spouse, is now no more popular than living with parents. The third category, including single parents and people who live alone, only included 3% of all young adults in 1880 and 1940, and only 5% in 1960. Now it is up to 14%. The fourth category of miscellaneous living arrangements in which the young adult is not the head of the household had dipped to 13% in 1960 but is now back to 22%.
I learned the same thing in the years I spent researching contemporary ways of living not just among young adults, but all adults for How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century. Here’s my conclusion:
“More than ever before, Americans can pursue ways of living that work best for them. There is no one blueprint for the good life; we can create our own lifespaces. What matters is not what everyone else is doing or what other people think we should be doing, but whether we can find the places, the spaces, and the people that fit who we really are and allow us to live our best lives.”
[If you are interested, some of my other writings on grown children living with their parents are below. Also, my latest guest post in the Solo-ish column of the Washington Post is: What do singles need more than a mate? Community.]
- The new life option that would have shocked me in my twenties
- What does it mean to live with your parents in your 20s or 30s: Part 1
- Part 2: What does it mean to live with your parents in your 20s or 30s?
- Why are millennials still living with their parents now that the recession is over?
- Parents, be careful what you wish for
- Leaving home sooner or later: What does it mean for your relationship with your parents down the road?
- Leaving home in 15 countries: How old are the grown children when they leave and how far do they go?
- 6 new ways young adults are living today
- Chapter 2 in How We Live Now