More young people in the U.S. are moving back in with their parents than ever before. This is a stark contrast to previous generations, and the reasons for moving back in are not all positive.
Even so, one psychology professor doesn’t think that the shift is necessarily cause for alarm.
The current generation of young people has chosen to move back home in record numbers. Of people in their 20s and early 30s, 20 percent are currently living with their parents. In addition, 60 percent of all young adults receive financial support from parents. Just a generation ago, only one in 10 young adults moved back home, and few were able to count on financial support.
Jeffrey Arnett, a psychology professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., has studied emerging adults for 20 years. He is the author, with Elizabeth Fishel, of the recently released book, "Getting to 30: A Parent's Guide to the Twentysomething Years.”
Amett doesn’t believe that there’s any problem on principle with young people moving back home.
“Even if you’re not having trouble, why should you not live at home if that’s acceptable to everyone involved?” he asked. “Really, families have always been about mutual support. It’s been a generational mutual support arrangement where parents help their kids grow up, and when parents get old, kids take care of them.”
Arnett said that while this has been the case for hundreds of years, American society has recently begun to stigmatize the idea of moving in with parents. Many people, he said, “have this view that if kids are still home beyond the age of 20, that there’s something wrong with them.”
Other assumptions people make are that the parents are too involved or controlling, “or that it’s some kind of economic tragedy.”
While any of those scenarios may be true for some families, Arnett doesn’t think the arrangement should be viewed so negatively.
For even recent generations, those who attended college and graduated often moved directly on to marriage, families, and careers. Arnett said that in 1970, the median age of marriage for women was 21, and for men, 23.
The economic and social landscape has changed significantly since then. Today, the median ages when men and women marry are 29 and almost 27, respectively. Those changes can be attributed to several factors. One is that expectations in the labor force have changed so that some education or a college degree is required in many fields.
With education comes debt. In a recent New York Times article titled “It’s Official: The Boomerang Kids Won’t Leave,” it's claimed that nearly 45 percent of 25-year-olds … have outstanding loans, with an average debt above $20,000.”
Arnett also credits social shifts like the women’s movement and access to reliable birth control for allowing and encouraging young people to wait to marry and start families. He said that we often hear phrases like “30 is the new 20”; in many cases, he feels that it’s true.
Arnett has coined the phrase “emerging adulthood” for the life phase that now comes between adolescence and adulthood. His research finds that despite the challenges emerging adults face, and how older generations may look at their situation, those emerging adults are overwhelmingly optimistic and hopeful about the future.
“Stop dumping on them because they need parental support,” Arnett wrote in the Times article. “It doesn’t mean they’re lazy. It’s just harder to make your way now than it was in an older and simpler economy.”
Arnett has surveyed emerging adults, and their parents. The poll results can be read on his web site.