Where Young Adults Live and Why
If you want to move out of your parent(s)’ home, go to college. And be sure graduate.
A recent report by the Pew Research Center found that living with parents is now the most common living arrangement for young adults aged 18 to 34. Using census data going as far back as 1880, young adults in this age group are less likely to be living with a marital or romantic partner than in the past. They are also more likely to be living alone, with roommates, or heading a single parent household today than in previous years for which we have data.
In 2014, 32 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds lived with their parent(s). Living with parents in early adulthood had been common until the middle of the twentieth century; in 1940, 35 percent of people in this age group lived with parents, but by 1960 just 20 percent did. Why did the percent dip, and why has it risen since?
We might think that where people live is mostly about choice or personal preference, but larger social forces are at work that explain why people live where they live.
Money is perhaps the most important factor influencing our ability to create a household away from our parents. Can you afford to live away from home? How much does housing cost, and how much money do you earn? These factors are probably the main reason that we are seeing more young people live with their parents as young adults today.
Perhaps not surprisingly, then, young adults with college degrees were less likely to live with their parents in 2014: 19 percent compared with 36 percent of those without a college degree. As you can see from the graph below, these numbers have been rising since for both groups in recent years, and after 2008 young adults without college degrees were more likely to live with their parents than with a romantic partner.
By contrast, in 1960, young adults without college degrees were much more likely to live with a romantic partner, beneficiaries of the postwar economic boom. It was possible to get a good job that supported a new household with a high school diploma then, and this prosperity made it easier for people to get married at earlier ages.
According to census data reported by Pew, in 1960, young adults were nearly twice as likely to head a household with their spouse: 62 percent of all young adults, versus 31.6 percent in 2014. In 1960 the median age at first marriage (the age at which half of the population is married) was 20.3 for women and 22.8 for men. By contrast, in 2014, the median age of first marriage was 27.1 for women and 29.3 for men, so people are marrying and creating new households together later.
There are many explanations for delaying marriage, but a central reason involves economic changes; as our economy has required a more educated workforce, many people have delayed marriage as they work to obtain more education and get a foothold in the labor market.
This has in part led to a prolonged period—sometimes called "adultolescence"—where people delay taking on some responsibilities associated with adulthood (like renting or buying their own home). While films like 2006’s Failure to Launch imply that living with parents is the result of personal failure and immaturity, some people might live with their parents as a rational decision response to an unstable labor market. Perhaps they move in with parents after having lived on their own and experiencing job loss or dealing with unexpected medical expenses or because they need help with their own child care needs.
Where do you live, and how does your living arrangement reflect the current economic climate? Have the living arrangements of people you know changed as a result of economic shifts, including the job market and housing costs?
What might be the economic and social impact of people living with their parents longer?