Over Half of U.S. Young Adults Now Live With Their Parents
In 2020, the majority of U.S. adults aged 18-29 live with their parents
When a survey by the Pew Research Center showed that the proportion of Americans aged 18 to 29 living with their parents increased during the pandemic, you may have seen some dramatic headlines announcing that this number is higher than at any time. another time since the Great Depression. But the real story, from my point of view, is less alarming and even more interesting.
For 30 years, I have studied young people from 18 to 29 years old, an age group whose intermediate status I describe as " emerging adults ": they are no longer teenagers, nor are they fully adults. Even at the time, I started this research, adulthood - typically characterized by stable employment, a long-term partnership, and financial independence - was arriving later than in the past.
Many emerging adults are now living with their parents, but this is part of a larger and older trend, with the percentage rising only slightly since the pandemic began. Having adult children still under your roof is unlikely to cause any permanent damage to you or them. In fact, until very recently, this is how adults used to live throughout history and, even now, it is a common practice in most parts of the world.
Staying at home longer is not uncommon
Based on the Current Population Survey, carried out monthly by the US federal government, the Pew report showed that 52% of people aged 18 to 29 are living with their parents, against 47% in February. The increase was mainly among younger emerging adults - aged between 18 and 24 - and mainly because they returned from their colleges, which closed, or because they lost their jobs.
Although 52% is the highest percentage in more than a century, that number has, in fact, continually increased since reaching its 29% low in 1960. The main reason for this growth is that more and more young people have continued their studies from the age of 20, as the economy shifted its focus from manufacturing to information and technology. When they are enrolled in courses, most do not earn enough money to live independently.
Before 1900, in the United States, it was common for young people to live at home until they got married in their early 20s; there was nothing shameful about that. In general, they started working in their teens - it was rare until then for children to go to high school - and their families had this extra income. Virginity for girls was highly valued. Moving out before the wedding, then, leaving the house where she could be protected from the boys, was scandalous.
Today, in most parts of the world, it is still common for emerging adults to stay at their parents' homes until at least 20 and many years. In countries where collectivism is valued more than individualism - in places as diverse as Italy, Japan, and Mexico - parents prefer their young adults to stay with them until marriage. In fact, even after that, it remains a common cultural tradition for a young man to bring his wife to his parents' home instead of moving alone.
Until the emergence of the modern social security system about a century ago, elderly parents were highly vulnerable and needed their children and adult daughters-in-law to care for them in old age. This tradition persists in many countries, including India and China, the two most populous in the world.
In today's individualistic United States, we mainly expect our children to hit the road at age 18 or 19 so that they can learn to be independent and self-reliant. If they don't, we may even be concerned that there may be something wrong with them.
You'll miss them when they're gone
As I have been researching emerging adults for a long time, I have given many interviews on television, radio, and print media since the Pew Research report was released. And the premise always seems to be the same: isn't that horrible?
I would immediately agree that it is horrible to have your education interrupted, impaired, or lose your job because of the pandemic. But living with parents during emerging adulthood is not horrible. Like most family life situations, it is a mixture of things: it hurts in some ways, it is rewarding in others.
In a national survey of 18- to 29-year-olds that I ran before the pandemic, 76% agreed that they get along better with their parents now than they did during adolescence, but almost the same majority (74%) agree that “they would prefer to live independently of parents, even if it meant having to deal with a tight budget ”.
The parents express similar ambivalence. In another national survey I conducted, 61% of parents who had an 18- to 29-year-old son living at home were "mostly positive" about this living arrangement, and roughly the same percentage agreed that living together resulted in greater affective closeness and companionship with their children in the emerging adult stage. On the other hand, 40% of parents agreed that having them at home meant being more concerned about them, and about 25% said they had more conflicts and disruptions in their daily lives.
As much as most parents like having their emerging adults around, they also tend to feel ready to move on to the next phase of their lives when their youngest child reaches 20 years old. They have plans that have been postponing for a long time - traveling, practicing new forms of leisure, and perhaps retiring or changing jobs. Married couples often see this new phase as a time to get to know their partner again - or as a time to admit that the marriage has ended. Those who are divorced or widowed can now have a guest at night without worrying about their adult son's sabbath the next day at the breakfast table.
My wife, Lene, and I have direct experience with our 20-year-old twins, who returned home in March after their colleges closed - an experience shared with millions of students across the country. I must admit that we were enjoying our time as a couple before they moved back. But it was also a pleasure to have them home unexpectedly, as they are full of love to give and bring a lot of joy to the dinner table.
Now, the fall semester has started and our daughter, Paris, is still at home taking her courses via Zoom, while our son, Miles, has returned to college. We are enjoying these months with Paris. She has a great sense of humor and knows how to prepare excellent Korean rice with tofu. And we all know it won't last long. This is something worth remembering for all of us during these strange times, especially for parents and emerging adults who find themselves sharing a room again: it won't last.
You can see this unexpected change as terrible, as real pain and daily stress. Or you can see this as another chance for family members to get to know each other as adults, before the emerging young man sails once more towards the horizon - this time to never return.