By the time they're 22, our children should be financially independent. It's a milestone most of us think they should reach as young adults. At least, that's what a survey by the Pew Research Center finds.
The reality (now it's U.S. Census analysis doing the finding) is that only a quarter of today's 22-year-olds have met that milestone. That's a much smaller percentage than 40 years ago when many of us were young and in our 20s. Then, one-third of 22-year-olds had crossed over the point that is supposed to distinguish childhood and the comforts of the parental home from stand-on-your-own adulthood.
This slippage in independence raises the question: Are we over-coddling our kids, offering too much helping hand and not enough tough love? Pew finds that the public perception is that, yes, we're we're doing too much for them. Here's what those in the Pew survey had to say about today's parents of young adults:
When those who say parents are doing too much for their young adult children were asked in an open-ended format in what ways they are doing too much, 43% pointed to financial assistance. Some 37% said parents are trying to solve their children’s problems for them or are afraid of letting their children fail. About one-in-five (23%) said parents are doing too much for their adult children by letting them live with them. And 4% pointed to providing babysitting and child care for grandchildren as examples of how parents are doing too much for their adult children.
A lot of us are guilty as charged. Pew found that roughly six-in-ten parents with children 18 to 29 gave their children a lot or some help in the past year. While some of that assistance was a one-time shot, a good deal of it was for recurring expenses, like household, medical or housing assists or educational expenses.
In fact, educational expenses loom large in the breakdown of the reaons we give, though it reflects parental income. According to Pew:
High-income parents are more likely than those in lower income groups to say the financial help they gave was related to education. Two-thirds of parents in households earning $100,000 or more a year say the support they gave their adult children was tied to educational expenses, compared with 53% of parents with incomes between $75,000 and $99,999, and fewer than half of those earning less than $75,000.
To give those educational dollars some perspective, in the past forty years college tuition has grown four times as fast as inflation and eights times more rapidly than household income. The amount owed on student debt--whether it's the students or taken on by their parents--is estimated to be $1.5 trillion. That's more than what we Americans owe on our credit cards and auto loans combined. If our kids are one of those 45 million owing that debt, they're starting out their adult lives with a lot of I.O.U. on their shoulders. No wonder today's parents feel pressured to help out if they can.
(You can see more details on the Pew survey here , including the definitions the foundation used for financial independence and gender differences in the findings.)