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Pew Study: Young Adults OK with Moving Back Home

A family on the sofa
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Returning to the nest with mom and dad after college and even into the thirties is becoming increasingly more common, but also less stigmatized. Young adults who live with their folks are cheerful, upbeat even, about their choice.

That’s the finding of a new Pew report, released Thursday morning. Three in 10 young adults (aged 25 to 34) say they’ve lived at home recently during the down economy, and 78 percent said they were satisfied doing so. Another 77 percent said they were optimistic about their future finances.

The number of young adults living in a multi-generational household — which can be any combination of grandparents, parents and adult children — saw a steep uptick during the recent recession, after being on the rise since 1980, said Kim Parker, the study’s lead author and a senior researcher with Pew’s Social & Demographic Trends Project. Historically, such high rates of moving back home haven’t been seen since the late 1940s.

“There’s this overriding sense of optimism that young adults have about their financial future,” Parker told us. “Young adults were just as optimistic about their financial situation as they were before the recession.”

So what of the supposed stigma around moving back home as an adult? As the report puts it, today’s generation “didn’t get that memo.”

“Young adults who are living at home are really satisfied with their living conditions, their housing situation and their family life. And they don’t seem to think it has hurt their relationship with their parents,” Parker said.

Making Sense

And parents also seem to be fine with it. They reported being just as satisfied with their family life if their young adult children had moved back home as if their children were living on their own.

But what happened to the stereotype of the adult children living in the basement, sucking resources from their parents and sleeping on the couch all day? The latest Hollywood film to venture down this path is “Jeff, Who Lives At Home.” Jason Segal plays a grown-up slacker who still lives at home with his mother — Susan Sarandon. (It opens on Friday.)

Not a realistic picture, according to the report. Nearly all of the surveyed 18- to- 34-year-olds living at home said they help with chores. Three-quarters help with household expenses and more than a third pay rent.

Earlier this year we interviewed Katherine Newman, the sociologist and author who introduced us to so-called ‘Boomerang‘ children living in ‘accordion‘ families which expand, shrink and expand again as children grow up at home, move out for a time (such as for college) and then move back in. She says the Pew study is consistent with her own findings.

“I too found that in American households, adult children (I wouldn’t call them so young) are fundamentally content and even enjoy getting to know their parents as equals,” Newman told us.

One finding of the Pew study was that living at home could be a “financial lifeline” — young adults living at home faced a poverty rate of 9.8 percent, while their peers who lived in other types of arrangements had nearly double that: 17.4 percent.

But staying at home can have different meanings and consequences for different types of families, according to Newman.

“While it is true that those who are less educated are more likely to experience delayed departure, the growth rates in accordion families among the college educated are rising faster (see the Pew study). The variation by parental income, such as it is, has more to do with how the cross-subsidies are working inside accordion families. Richer parents are letting their kids stay home, sheltering their costs for education or internship experience. Poorer families are basically insisting their kids stay home because they cannot afford for them to be autonomous – that subtracts an income from a household that needs it.”

Also, those with college degrees were less likely to be living at home than those without.

“If we look at young adults in their early 30s, the ones who have a college degree are much less likely to be living at home than the 30- to 34-year-olds who don’t have a college degree. Twenty percent are living at home with their parents. So that’s where you can see the college degree can pay off in enabling you to establish yourself financially.”

Looking ahead, Pew’s Parker is cautious.

“I wouldn’t want to assume that it will continue heading in this same direction,” she said. “We just don’t know, when the economy improves, what will happen to this group of young adults. Will they be able to make it on their own?”

See the full report here.

This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions

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