In what the Pew Research Center calls a “return to the past,” a new study found that a growing number of young women are now living at home. About 36 percent of millennial women reside with parents, a number almost equal to the peak in 1940 when statistics were first kept. Unlike the World War II generation, many are college educated and delaying marriage.
An earlier Pew survey found that record numbers of both young men and women were less likely to be living independently now than in the depths of the Great Depression. Both surveys left some experts puzzled. “I’m still struggling with the economic explanation, since the labor market for young adults has improved in the last five years, and yet the percentage living with their family is still going up. It seems to be somewhat decoupled from economics,” Pew economist Richard Fry told the New York Times.
But such surveys don’t surprise social psychologist Bella DePaulo, who studies choices people make about living situations. She is convinced that adult children choose to live at home because they actually enjoy sharing the same roof with their parents, and not because of the occasional perks of meals, laundry and financial help. “Yes, living at home is still a great topic of mockery, but more young people are making that choice because they want to, not because they must,” she said in a phone interview from her home near the University of California, Santa Barbara.
DePaulo began studying the psychology of how people make these domestic decisions when she embarked on a cross-country trip while researching her book, How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century. The book combines interviews with dozens of people, a survey of academic and popular studies, and an analysis of the cultural changes that led to the millennial move back to the nest.
For most of the last half century, few college graduates moved back home. “My parents would have wondered what went wrong with me!” DePaulo said, who graduated college in 1975. In the 1960s and 1970s, the country was “convulsing” with the civil rights, counterculture and feminist movements, driving a wedge between parents and adult children. Also, before the 1980s, “the relationship was more formal and hierarchical with parents seen as authority figures who children were supposed to listen to,” she added.
But that began to change, DePaulo said, with the millennial generation and their helicopter parents. Today’s “emerging adults actually like their parents, and their parents feel close to them. They stay in touch — by choice — and enjoy each other’s company,” she said. One reason is that many young adults stay single much longer than previous generations, so their connection with parents is a central one of their lives. The two generations also enjoy many of the same things, from binge-watching TV to yoga. Echoing DePaulo, a Fusion survey earlier this year found that more than half of millennials consider Mom or Dad their best friend.
We did an informal survey of our own at the Facebook group Grown and Flown Parents and found many moms who have tastes similar to their adult children in everything from clothes (J. Crew) and TV shows (Breaking Bad) to food (sushi) and music (the Police and One Direction).
“They have introduced me to many new artists — even making me mix CDs for my car — and they listen to ‘classic rock’,” wrote Joy Brown, of Mason City, Iowa. “My daughter and I, when shopping, often like the same clothes. We are all foodies together. We watch the shows, we go to restaurants to try things out, we try new recipes together. When I was younger, it was completely the opposite. My mom liked music I would never listen to, and she hated mine.”
Mary W. Quigley’s blog, Mothering21, tackles parenting of emerging adults and beyond.
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