Ever since the pandemic descended on us in March, there's been a noticeable uptick in an ongoing trend: Our adult kids are moving in with us. For some the reason is financial: the economy crashed and with it, their jobs. For others, it's emotional: the loneliness of living alone in a small apartment under quarantine conditions. For some it's technical: they still have their jobs but they need more robust Internet connections. And for others it's familial: Their kids are going to school by zoom and there's a need for loving caretakers.
There are a thousand permutations of reasons. One couple hosted their daughter, her husband and their toddler grandchild for a year while the young family sold their city apartment and bought a house in the suburbs.
By September, Pew Research was reporting that the share of 18- to 29-year-olds living with their parents had become a majority, surpassing the previous peak during the Great Depression era.
Here are Pew's numbers:
In July, 52% of young adults resided with one or both of their parents, up from 47% in February. The number living with parents grew to 26.6 million, an increase of 2.6 million from February. The number and share of young adults living with their parents grew across the board for all major racial and ethnic groups, men and women, and metropolitan and rural residents, as well as in all four main census regions. Growth was sharpest for the youngest adults (ages 18 to 24) and for White young adults.
The move back to the comforts of the parental nest was a factor during the Great Recession of a decade ago. At that time, family became an economic refuge for many. Pew says it ran its recent survey because it wanted to see whether young adults again resorted to that “private safety net” amid the pandemic's widespread shutdowns and rough economic conditions.
Here's what they found:
Young adults have been particularly hard hit by this year’s pandemic and economic downturn, and have been more likely to move than other age groups....About one-in-ten young adults (9%) say they relocated temporarily or permanently due to the coronavirus outbreak, and about the same share (10%) had somebody move into their household. Among all adults who moved due to the pandemic, 23% said the most important reason was because their college campus had closed, and 18% said it was due to job loss or other financial reasons.
The vast majority of young adults who live with their parents – 88% – live in their parents’ home, and this group accounts for the growth in the population of adult children living with their parents. Nearly all of the remainder live in their own homes along with their parents, or in homes headed by other family members. These shares have been relatively stable for the past decade.
Not all of us are happy to have our "guest room" reoccupied by adult children who have needs, opinions and lifestyles that may not fit with ours. Then there's the wider world concerns. The effect on the economy could be devastating. Even before the outbreak, the growth in new households trailed population growth and slower household growth could mean less demand for housing and household goods. There also may be a decline in the number of renters and homeowners, and in overall housing activity. Between February and July 2020, the number of households headed by an 18- to 29-year-old declined by 1.9 million, or 12%.
If you'd like to see the trend data in chart form, here's how Pew lays it out:
In consequence of our children growing up in these two worlds, parenting has become more than doubly complicated. We have to help our kids keep the two worlds adequately separated, adequately integrated, and adequately balanced.What's that got to do with millennials living at home in greater numbers than usual? It may be that online escape or reliance has come at the experience of offline education and experience. As Pickhardt sees it, "it might be that much of the hard work of growing up (building practical offline skills, problem solving offline experience, assuming offline responsibilities) requires laboring in the fields of relatively unglamorous and comparatively boring offline life. In this way, they may have slowed down the development of functional independence."
Thus some millennials may choose to live a while longer at home where they can continue to be sheltered and defer self-support and direction. They may need more offline time and practice before feeling ready to move out and live independently.
Perhaps it just takes longer to grow up in two worlds than it used to in one. Maybe learning adequate separation, integration, and balance required by today's dual citizenship just takes more time.
If this is so, the new normal may be here to stay. We might not want to convert their bedrooms to our own private dens quite yet.
There's another reason to keep those rooms available.
Housing economist Jed Kolko addresses the question: Why Millennials Still Live With Their ParentsHis concern is with first-time home buyer demand, but here's his take on millennials (who are not flooding the housing market) :