Three months ago, The Pew Research Center released the results of its study on adult children who are opting to move back in with their parents. Its findings: three-in-ten young adults, aged 25 to 34, find themselves in this situation and of that group, a whopping 78 percent are totally okay with the arrangement. Pew has taken to calling this age group the “Boomerang Generation”; they may go flying out of the nest at 18, but they’ll be becoming home to roost within a decade. Apparently, the number of families establishing “multi-generational households” hasn’t been this high since the 1950s. Though the survey didn’t interrogate race or gender, I’m curious about as to how it reflects the young black woman’s experience.
Within popular culture and within our families and peer groups, independence is aggressively promoted, deeply prized, and fiercely guarded. It’s a particular point of pride to be able to afford our lives without consistent help. In the event that we have to move back in with our parents, would we be content with the situation, or would it result in frustrated ambitions, deferred dreams, and a feeling of arrested development?
Pew’s study points to the economic and employment downturns as factors in the growing trend, citing that a multigenerational household setup may be mutually beneficial for parents and children who are no longer capable of surviving on their own. This is the likeliest explanation for the spike in returns to the nest; the cost of living is steadily increasing while salaries that accommodate those growing cost are becoming more scarcer. In one-parent households, the return of a working adult child could mean financial relief.
What the study doesn’t examine is what happens after an adult child moves back home. Depending on the positive or negative nature of the parent-child dynamic, moving back home can be a really sweet deal–or a raw one. And either situation can result in a case of arrested development. In a best-case scenario, household expenses and responsibilities are evenly shared and the adult child is actively working toward saving for an independent living situation. In a worst-case scenario, either the parents or the child are assuming the bulk of the financial weight, while the other party remains underemployed and under-motivated. Too cushy an arrangement, and you’re in no rush to leave (which may account for the 78 percent of people who are quite okay with re-purposing their childhood bedrooms for adult use); too interdependent an arrangement, and you’re in no position to.
Living at home can seem like a sensible and simple fix, but it can certainly create more problems than it solves–especially for types who were reluctant to or incapable of leaving the nest between the ages of 18-21, when it’s traditionally expected, in the first place. Determining when and how to strike out on your own again tends to become more difficult the longer you stay.
And speaking of expectations, perhaps they are part of the problem. Are “boomerang children” really setting themselves up for arrested development? Or is it American society’s insistence that single young adults should prove that they are independent by successfully living alone that’s the problem? In nations other than ours, multigenerational families is still the standard, with no pressure or expectation that an adult child leave home unless she is relocating for school/work or starting a family. In the U.S., it hasn’t been viewed as a norm since before World War II.
In light of a shifting economic landscape, should we reassess the stigma attached to “living with your parents?” Have you ever had to return home to live with a parent? Would you, if the need arose, and if so, how do you anticipate the situation would work out?