Chores, curfews, and constant nagging. Ring any bells? Remind you of your days as a child living at home under the watchful eye of Mom and Dad? If you’re anything like the typical American, you know what we’re talking about, but if you’re anything like the the typical American, you will also return to the same parents you once longed to get away from.
A Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. census data found that the amount of Americans living in multi-generational households is at its highest level since the 1950s. According to the reports, 39% of adults ages 18 to 34 say they either live with their parents or moved back in at some point in recent years. Among 18 to 24-year-olds, 53% said they live at home or moved in temporarily, compared with 41% among adults ages 25 to 29, and 17% among those ages 30 to 34.
Dr. Sarah Jessica Parker, a prominent actress gone psychologist, graciously allowed us to Skype in on one of her counseling sessions where she gives her perspective on this phenomenon. Watch this clip to see what she has to say
But, being the good journalists that we are, we weren’t satisfied getting only one expert’s opinion. And what we found was astonishing. Dr. Parker’s comments regarding self-esteem seem misaligned with most other research we found. It turns out that the majority of young adults who move back home are doing so because of hefty student loans and a shrinking job market.
In a recent article, The Huffington Post reports that students are facing historic burdens from school loans — an average of $27,200 per indebted graduate. This figure is backed up by the Pew Research Center’s finding that since 2007, the prevalence of student debt has increased in nearly every demographic and economic category, as has the size of that debt. Among households owing student debt, the average outstanding student loan balance increased from $23,349 in 2007 to $26,682 in 2010. In 2010, 10% of such households owed more than $61,894. With these outrageous debts, graduates are finding it makes more sense to live at home.
Another factor contributing to many young adults’ decisions to move back home is the lack of job opportunities available to them. According to Red Alert Politics, the unemployment rate among those aged 18-29 dropped 0.8 percent to 11.7 percent this past March. This correlates with the national unemployment rate numbers delivered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which saw unemployment in the U.S. down 0.1 percent to 7.6 percent last month. According to the Hufffington Post and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as many as 50% of college graduates under the age of 25 are underutilized, meaning they’re either working no job at all, working a part-time job or working a job outside of the college labor market — say, as a barista or a bartender.
Furthermore, we found that not all parents are as eager to kick their kiddos out as Dr. Parker’s clients were. In her book, “The Accordion Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents, and the Private Toll of Global Competition,” Katherine Newman states that parents from the Baby Boomer era tend to welcome their adult children back with open arms because they spent more time at work than in the home compared to previous generations. In addition, according to Psychology Today, the parent-child relationship evolves once graduates move back home because both parties have an opportunity to get to know each other in ways not before possible. The young adults get the chance to know their parents as people rather than just authoritative figures, and parents get to see their children as grownups with ideas, skills and talents to admire. Overall, the trend seems to lean towards more cohesive families, with the multi-generational model utilized by immigrant families becoming the new norm.
But enough with the small talk. To get the real scoop on why so many graduates have moved back in with parents and how this phenomenon plays itself out in real life, we decided to go straight to the source. Our first informant was Joshua Rogers, a 23-year-old full-time employee at Rogers Uniforms in Williamsport, PA. Mr. Rogers is a 2012 graduate from Susquehanna University and lives with his wife’s parents and youngest child, Maggie, but oddly enough, not his wife. His wife is a med student at the Commonwealth Medical College in Scranton, PA, which is about 1 ½ hours away, and lives an apartment close to school.
So, with his own student loans, his wife’s med school loans, and her rent to pay for, Josh’s only viable option was to move in with his in-laws. It’s not so bad, as he has is own bedroom and bathroom, home-cooked meals, and an unlimited supply of orange juice. However, it’s not all peaches and cream. Says Rogers, “I think every 23-year-old man wants to feel independent and capable of making it out on his own. That is the reason you go to college of course, so after graduation you can land that big job you always wanted… But that is not reality, or at least not my reality…so I have to be financially responsible right now, and that means living at home.” He also laments the slow Internet and having to pick up after himself for the first time in his life. Josh thinks he has more important things to do than clean his room, but his mother-in-law apparently thinks otherwise.
Our next subject was a 2012 Wheaton (IL) graduate, Lesley Perera. Lesley graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history, and is currently serving a temporary position as the administrative assistant at MIT. Miss Perera did not even think twice about where she would be living after college, explaining, “I actually wouldn’t say I ‘chose’ to live with my parents. It didn’t feel like a decision that was ever made…more like the natural next step for me. It was just like I was moving home again for the summer.” The toughest part for her has been adjusting to life without her best friends, which she lived with for the previous four years at school. Other than that, she has learned to really enjoy being at home. According to Lesley, “It’s taken almost a year of adjusting to be able to enjoy and appreciate the quietness since moving home from college, but once I found my niche in the immediate post-grad phase of my life, I’ve been very content.” And she’s not looking to move out anytime soon either, nor does she feel any pressure from her parents. Maybe they will let me move in when I graduate, too!
And finally, our last victim, Tim Gruber, graduated last year as well from Dunwoody College of Technology with a degree in computer networking. Like Joshua, he’s living at home to save up money for loans and doesn’t plan on moving out until they (the loans) are on their deathbed. Gruber’s the only one who expressed significant frustration with the job market, irritated because all employers seem to demand experience impossible to obtain while in school.
So what do parents think about this invasive species, and what about younger siblings? Are college graduates destroying the habitats that saw them through their teenage years? From the limited resources we tapped into, it appears not to be the case. None of their parents seemed to mind taking on the extra responsibilities of a returning child. Josh’s mother-in-law, Brenda Terry-Manchester, actually enjoys having a guy around after raising three daughters. She enjoys knowing the minute details of his life that she wouldn’t know otherwise, and she even thinks he’s caused her to “relax a bit.” When asked whether or not what she thought about the trend of college grads moving back in mom and dad, Mrs. Terry-Manchester said, “It is so situational. I believe families are to help and encourage each other – and if being transitionally back home again with an interest in being part of the “team”, then that is fine. If it is somewhere to be with no intentions of contributing and no plan to become independent, then that is problematic.”
Maggie Manchester, Josh’s 16-year-old sister-in-law, just feels like she got another sibling. They now feel comfortable enough with each other to fight about silly things, but deep down you can sense the love. Maggie reflects, “I like Josh living here…My relationship with him has changed in the way that he takes care of me now. My sisters have always done so, and now he does, too.” She even plans on moving back after college for a few years, too, but thinks Josh should probably be gone by then.
We’re praying we didn’t put Dr. Parker out of work with this article. But, if so, we are hoping her parents will mimmick the trend and welcome her back home. Parker could view it as an ethnographic adventure that would enhance her credibility. If not, she could always resort back to acting. I heard she was pretty convincing in Failure to Launch.