Living With Your Parents? You're Not Alone

Now more young adults live with parents than with a romantic partner

Man telling a story at family dinner in garden hou
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Are you a young adult living at home with your parents? If so, you're not alone. In fact, adults between the ages of 18 and 34 are now more likely to live at home with their parents than in any other kind of living situation--something that has not happened since 1880.

Pew Research Center discovered this historic finding by analyzing U.S. Census data and published their report on May 24, 2016. (See "For First Time in Modern Era, Living With Parents Edges Out Other Living Arrangements for 18- to 34-Year-Olds".) The author cites shifting trends in marriage, employment, and the effect of educational attainment as key factors.

Up until 2014, it was more common for young adults in the U.S. to live with a romantic partner than with their parents. But, this trend actually peaked in 1960 at 62 percent, and since then, has been on the decline as the median age at first marriage has steadily risen. Now, less than 32 percent of young adults live with a romantic partner in their own household, and just over 32 percent are living at home with their parents. (The percentage living at home with parents actually peaked in 1940 at 35 percent, but this is the first time in 130 years that more are living with their parents than with a romantic partner.)

Among those in other living situations, 22 percent are living in the home of someone else or in group quarters (think college dormitory), and just 14 percent are living on their own (alone, as single parents, or with roommates).

The report suggests a direct connection with the fact that the median age of first marriage has risen steadily since the 1960s. For men, that age has risen from about 23 years in 1960 to nearly 30 today, while for women it has risen from about 20 years to 27. This means that fewer people today are getting married before reaching age 35, and so as an alternative, Pew suggests, they live with their parents. Pew also points out that data projections show that a full quarter of those now aged between 18 and 34 will never marry.

Yet, the differences by gender in the proportion of those living with their parents point to additional contributing factors. Men are more likely than women to live at home (35 versus 29 percent), though women are more likely to live with a romantic partner (35 versus 28 percent). Men are also more likely to live in the home of someone else (25 versus 19 percent), while women are more likely to serve as head of a household without a partner (16 versus 13 percent).

Pew suggests that the decades-long decline in employment among young men is a contributing factor to these trends. While the vast majority of young men--84 percent--were employed in 1960, that figure has fallen to 71 percent today. Simultaneously the wages they earn have fallen since 1970 and dropped even more in the period between 2000 and 2010.

So why is the situation different for women? Pew suggests that more young women live with partners than with their parents because their status in the labor market has risen since the 1960s thanks to the women's movement and efforts to support gender equity. The author surmises that it is more the trend in marrying later that leads to women living at home with their parents today, and not economic factors since parents will expect young women to be able to support themselves in today's world. That women suffer the negative impact of the gender wage gap, yet are still less likely than men to live with their parents, suggests that the social expectation to be an independent, liberated woman of the 21st century may play a considerable role here. Further, the fact that the trend toward living at home with one's parents as a young adult predates the Great Recession suggests that factors other than economics are more strongly at play.

The Pew report also highlights the influence of educational attainment on the trend, pointing out that the more education one has, the less likely one is to live with one's parents. Both those who have not completed high school and those without a college degree are more likely to live with their parents (40 and 36 percent of these populations, respectively). Whereas among those with a college degree, fewer than one-in-five live with their parents, which makes sense, considering the impact of a college degree on both earnings and wealth accumulation. Conversely, those with a college degree are far more likely to live with a married partner than are those with less educational attainment.

Given that Black and Latino people tend to have weaker access to educational attainment, and less income and wealth than the white population, it is not surprising that the data show that slightly more Black and Latino young adults live with their parents than do those who are white (36 percent among Blacks and Latinos and 30 percent among whites). While Pew does not reference this, it is quite possible that the rate of living with parents among Blacks and Latinos is higher than among whites in part because of the greater negative impact of the home mortgage foreclosure crisis on the wealth of Black and Latino households than on white ones.

The study found regional differences as well, with the highest rates of young adults living with their parents in the South Atlantic, West South Central, and Pacific states.

Curiously unexamined by the researchers at Pew are the likely connections between the trend and the rise and commonality of student loan debt in recent decades, and simultaneously rising rates of wealth inequality and numbers of Americans in poverty.

Though the trend is likely the result of serious systemic problems in U.S. society, it is quite possible that it will have positive impacts on family wealth, future earnings and wealth of young adults, and on familial relationships that might otherwise be weakened by distance.