My parents and many of their peers were empty nesters in their 40s. After all, even though the job market was poor when we graduated from college, my sisters, my friends, and I never considered moving back to the Nancy Drew-filled bedrooms of our childhood.
Was it because we saw "All in the Family," with Mike Stivic (a.k.a. Meathead) disastrously living with his in-laws, Edith and Archie Bunker? Was it because it was socially unacceptable? Was it because we felt confident we would get a job and be able to afford an apartment? Or was it all of the above?
Today so-called multigenerational households are commonplace. Three in 10 young adults ages 25 to 34 have lived with their moms and dads in recent years. And they don't feel like losers or social outcasts. More than three-quarters of them say they're satisfied with their living arrangements and upbeat about their future finances, according to "Young, Underemployed, and Optimistic: Coming of Age, Slowly, in a Tough Economy," a Pew Research Center Report released this month.
The new normal?
Living with mom and dad seems normal. Six in 10 young adults say they had friends or relatives who had moved back in with their parents over the past few years. And last year another Pew report found that between 2007 and 2009 the number of Americans living in multigenerational households jumped from 46.5 million to 51.4 million.
Will the trend continue? "We really don't know what will happen," says Kim Parker, lead author of the Pew report. "It seems logical that as unemployment rates start to come down for young adults, fewer may need to live with their parents out of economic necessity."
Other factors also contribute to the back-to-the-old-twin-bed-with-stuffed-animals-on-it movement. Young adults are getting married later, and new immigrant groups (especially Asians and Hispanics) are more prone to live in multigenerational households, she says.
For the most part, these young adults are not freeloading. A remarkable 96 percent of "boomerang" 18- to 34-year-olds say they do chores around their parents' house, 75 percent say they contribute to household expenses such as grocery and utility bills, and more than a third say they pay rent to their parents, according to the Pew report. Presumably as a result, most boomerang kids say multigenerational housing "has not soured their relationship with their parents," says Parker. Only 25 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds said living at home has hurt it
Age matters when it comes to which live-at-home young adults are on the dole from mom and dad. A third of 18- to 24-year-olds said they got money from their parents but only 8 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds said they did.
Echoes of the Great Depression
To some extent, the trend harkens back to the Depression. "The share of young adults living in multigenerational households is now the highest it's been since the 1940s," says Parker. "The Depression was definitely a factor in the high rates of multigenerational living in the 1940s. Young adults couldn't get jobs during the Depression and therefore couldn't afford to set up their own households. Also, the birth rate had been low for several years, which meant that homes weren't as crowded with young children, and there was more space for young adults."
Do my own kids dream of moving back home after college. No way, says my 12-year-old. "If you live with your parents, they can tell you what to do."
I guess I'm going to be an empty nester after all.
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