The recession has forced many college graduates and older adults to move back in with their family of origin. Many believe that living with a parent stunts a young adult’s development. I see multigenerational living as a plus; it’s an opportunity to build mutual and long-lasting solidarity and support.
Not since the Great Depression have so many young adults turned to their immediate relatives as an economic lifeline. In the 1960s, for example, independence was the strived-for virtue; returning home, “unthinkable.” If children didn’t grow up, find jobs and live independently, parents were seen as enablers, the children as failures. That stigmatized view has been fading fast during the recession.
Family of origin has become a lifeboat for roughly one in five 25- to 34-year-olds who move in with parents to wait out the economic storm. “Call these flesh-and-blood tenants the Boomerang Generation, or just call them the kids who can’t afford to move out, ” writes journalist Kathleen O’Brien. She adds, “Unemployment for young workers is still at 12 percent, student loan repayments loom large and a volatile housing market has pushed up rents. In that climate, leaving the nest can look positively irrational.”
Sure, there are potential complications and emotional minefields left over from the parenting years, but once the kinks are sorted out, the benefits for young and old are clear.
Some argue that living with parents prolongs adolescence. I see the camaraderie as an opportunity to get to know each other in ways not possible when living together as parent and child. Delayed maturity in young adults happens only if parents continue to cater to their adult children’s needs as if they were still 10-year-olds—if both parties slip back into their mommy/daddy-child roles from so long ago.
Living with parents as young adults provides the chance to know parents as people and similarly for parents to see their adult children as grownups with ideas, skills and talents to admire.
Solidarity and Support
Bunking in with parents allows struggling young adults to save for an apartment or house, to hold out until they find a meaningful job, or to start to pay down student loans — the average being $24,000, but soaring over $100,000 for some. In return, adult children assist parents in-kind.
Rather than having a negative effect, the recession has renewed values with the emphasis on family solidarity and support. The advantages of the multigenerational family, a model immigrant families have always practiced, will keep more parents and young adults together.
Even when young adults can afford a place of their own, many say, "I'm still here." Money will be saved on housing but will be spent on consumer goods, aiding the economy. Living under the same roof for the long or short haul will remain a configuration that defines American families in the foreseeable future.
What do you think?
Note: A version of this article originally appeared in The New York Times, “Room for Debate.”
Copyright 2013 by Susan Newman