[I’ve been blogging here at Psych Central since 2011, and this post is one of the most popular ones I have ever written. Readers keep finding it even though it has been years since it was published. So I thought I would post it again for those who missed it the first time. It is a particularly apt topic around the holidays, when lots of people are returning to the places where they grew up for brief visits, and perhaps reflecting on the place they once called home and why they left. Enjoy!]

There is a lot of angst these days about grown children hanging out in the parental nest for what is considered by some to be “too long” a time. Is the concern justified?

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know me – I love data. A just-published study provides lots of that. In fact, the author (Thomas Leopold) studied nearly 15,000 pairs of adults and their grown children, from 15 countries. That means we can get beyond our own cultural and personal beliefs about the way things should be, and see how things actually are.

We can learn whether different patterns of leaving home really do matter.

In this post, I’ll share the basics: the average age at which grown children leave home in the 15 countries; the average distance they put between their new place and their parents’ place; and how that distance varies depending on how soon they fly the coop. Then in the second of this two-part series, I’ll describe the implications of staying longer in your parents’ home for your relationship with your parents down the road.

The data are from a project called “SHARE,” in which the participants were representative samples of the population, ages 50 and older, from 14 European countries plus Israel. On the average, the participants (the parents in the study) were 68 years old and their grown children were 40. They entered the study between 2004 and 2007.

Here are the average ages at which grown children left the family home. The country in which children left home at the youngest age is listed first (that’s Denmark), and so on to the country in which children stayed home the longest (Italy).

Age of leaving home

19.9  Denmark

20.2  Sweden

22.0  Netherlands

22.1  Switzerland

22.1  Israel

22.2  Austria

22.4  France

22.5  Germany

22.7  Ireland

23.2  Czech Republic

23.5  Belgium

23.9  Greece

24.1  Poland

25.2  Spain

26.1  Italy

Distance (in kilometers) of grown child’s home from parents’ home

(1 kilometer = .621 miles)

27.5  Italy

30.6  Belgium

39.5  Poland

39.6  Spain

42.4  Czech Republic

46.0  Greece

58.9  Netherlands

65.3  France

62.4  Israel

62.9  Switzerland

66.7  Austria

73.5  Germany

81.1  Denmark

81.4  Sweden

90.4  Ireland

Next, the researcher divided the grown children into five groups, ranging from the earliest to leave home to the latest. He calculated how far from their parents, on the average, the adult children in each group lived. Again, distance is in kilometers.

74.0  Earliest to leave

57.8  Early to leave

52.1  Average age of leaving home for their country

49.2  Late to leave home

42.4  Latest to leave home

As you can see from what I’ve presented so far, there is a lot of variability from one country to another in the age at which grown children leave their parents’ home, and the distance they relocate. Generally, those who leave home the latest stay closest, geographically, to their parents.

What are the implications for other kinds of closeness, such as staying in touch with your parents, supporting them in practical ways and receiving support from them? Scholars who think about these matters in different ways have different predictions.

In my next post, I’ll tell you what the results really do show. [Here it is.]

Woman moving photo available from Shutterstock.